How to Foresee Travel Problems in Advance, and Fix Them Before They Mess Up Your Trip

When readers shared their own travel tips and several really stood out as worth highlighting.

Here’s one that offers important advice.

MrChu said,

Always double check your reservations a few days before your scheduled travel to make sure everything is fine. It will prevent you last minute headaches and even being stranded without an airline or hotel reservation!

Many things can go wrong after you make a reservation.

  • You may never really have a confirmed reservation in the first place. A third party hotel booking site may not have properly communicated with the hotel you’re staying at, or a problem especially common to United an award ticket may never have been issued in the first place.

  • Schedules change. Sometimes it’s a modest change but even 15 minutes could change when you’d want to leave for the airport.

  • Schedule changes can ruin connections. You can’t always count on being automatically rebooked to the next-best flight combination. Sometimes your reservation will have an impossible connection, other times you’ll be rebooked to something entirely undesirable.

  • Upgrade requests can disappear as a result of schedule changes, or maybe you’re in first class but get moved to a flight with no first class cabin or one that’s full. It may be the best you can do, but a modest change that works for you could keep you in the desired cabin.

  • A ticket might need to be reissued. It’s a pain to turn up at the airport to find that your ticket is not in sync with your reservation. That can take time to sort out, time you may not have at the airport.

  • A schedule change may cause the whole thing to cancel, or another problem might. United is especially bad at not passing ticket numbers through to partners properly on award tickets, the partner doesn’t see you ticketed and you no longer have an award reservation. This doesn’t happen every time of course but it happens surprisingly often, United does know about the problem (I’ve told folks about it, for instance) but it continues. When you can get a sufficiently empowered supervisor on the phone they’re generally pretty good about opening up space on their own flights to re-accommodate but that’s less than desirable, takes time, and isn’t something you want to try to figure out at the airport.

It really amazes me how frequently problems creep up. And how helpless many travel providers seem to be at least initially when you contact them. I am more or less a professional when it comes to travel and my reservations get screwed up, not all the time but not infrequently either and I often wonder how the inexperienced traveler can possible handle getting from A to B with all of the roadblocks thrown up in front of them.

Virtually every problem is fixable if it’s discovered in advance. The key is to make sure you know the status of things before they become too difficult to fix.

  1. Always look over your confirmation, make sure the flight or hotel information matches what you expect and the travel dates do as well and also class of service or room type.

  2. Confirm, check, and double check anything that doesn’t match, with more than one agent. If everyone says you’re fine you probably are. If anyone is unsure you likely have a problem.

  3. Check on your reservations frequently, if you book really far in advance then it’s worth pulling it up at least monthly to see if anything is different. That gives you plenty of time to fix things like misconnections or flights that disappear from your reservations.

  4. Especially in the case of international award travel with airline partners, since that’s where most of the problems I encounter are, check with each operating airline that they see your reservation and they see the ticket number. Get seat assignments. Any time there is a schedule change call again to make sure they still see the reservation and ticket number and that your seats are still intact. Don’t trust the website of the airline whose miles you used.

  5. Whenever possible, check in online far in advance. Having a problem checking in doesn’t necessarily signal a problem, but it signals it’s worth checking to see whether there’s a problem (and also a flag that you may wind up having to get to the airport super early to sort through any problems that cannot be verified and corrected in advance).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. May be overkill, but with UNITED I check DAILY, even for reservations several months out. Last week 2 partner segments literally vanished into thin air and when I called same day they weren’t available in Biz. Agent answered with cancel whole thing or go in Econ. After 3 hours of hold, etc. supervisor bought a cash ticket on Air New Zealand and then overbooked United metal back from Australia, rather than going on original Thai with 2 connections!

    Pays to check DAILY with UA.

  2. …Then there are the vagaries of travel in foreign countries. I just visited China, on my return flew a domestic segment to Beijing connecting with an international segment back to the US on Air China. I thought a 2 hour connection in Beijing was very comfortable. WRONG!! China requires you to reclaim your luggage, check in again, and clear security again in Beijing (or any domestic to international gateway). When my domestic segment ran a little late, I missed my international connection.

    Lesson learned: When traveling in an unfamiliar country, check the Flyertalk boards for advice first. Had I done so, I never would have booked a 2 hour domestic to international connection in Beijing (3 to 4 hours is much safer).

    PS – when irrops occur, Air China policy is to book 2 people in each hotel room. They actually would have forced me to share a hotel room with a total stranger!! The fact that I am Star Gold and was flying business class saved me – this time :-). (Occasionally DKNWIA helps…)

  3. My travel planning starts when I first book. If I am going overseas or to the Caribbean where time is important (not wanting to get delayed and miss a meeting or days of fun), I look at the routes, alternative flights, flexibility in schedule, etc.

    In the winter, when traveling to the Caribbean, I fly the day before. Out of ROC, I will take the second to last flight of the day before and overnight in Atlanta. Often the first flight might need deicing or other weather related delays and one can miss the single connection for that day. By leaving the day before, I don’t have to be at the airport at 5 AM and have two alternatives if my flight doesn’t go on time. This is where status counts in changing.

    I also start watching weather patterns a few days before and am ready to be proactive on change flights. A change fee is minor to missing events. Again, status might help in waiving fees.

    Being observant when at the airport is valuable. I watch the flight boards and apps for delays and at the gate watch the crew. A few years back, I noticed that the First Officer had not boarded and wandered up to the counter. I was able to get rerouted on another airline before my original flight was officially cancelled for lack of a crew member.

    Finally, if I do encounter an issue, I am usually ahead of the game. I am on the phone with the airline and hotels looking at options. Politeness and status mean everything when you call.

    Sometimes when I am onboard and if we are delayed, I have my apps ready to search. I can’t count the number of times people ask about their flights, what gates, times, etc. This is often information that the FAs do not have. I am amazed by the number of flyers that really don’t pay attention even to their boarding passes though many may be infrequent travelers. I get somewhat enthusiastic showing the information that can be obtained from websites like FT and MP or from different apps.

    I know that many do what I do but never hurts to repeat it.

  4. I like to figure out where my bird is coming from, and then check whether it leaves there on time. If I’m in Cleveland and it’s still in Dallas, we aren’t boarding soon, no matter what the Departures board says.

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