How to Fix an Award Ticket that Your Airline Screws Up

Reader Susan contacted me about a problem with an award ticket she had booked.

She had business class awards flying Denver – Los Angeles – Honolulu – Sydney with travel to Honolulu on American connecting to Qantas.

She tried to rebook onto Qantas San Francisco – Sydney which was showing available. The agent changed her reservation and queued the award tickets for re-issue.

When the tickets didn’t get issued, she called and learned that her reservation was cancelled. I don’t know whether the agent set it up incorrectly, but they just couldn’t grab the Qantas seats.

Qantas Airbus A380 Business Class (San Francisco flight is operated by a Boeing 747)

In the meantime they had lost the less-desirable itinerary through Hawaii.

She asked, “Any advice on how to approach AA to get some kind of seats for our vacation? What should we have done differently?”

I talked her through what to ask for, and she got rebooked (and in my opinion with a better flight outcome than either she had been looking at before).

Mission accomplished! AA opened space on their own metal. Awesome agent who worked until it was done. Thanks for the assist Gary.

When your reservation goes wrong, the award space you want may still be there. That’s the easiest scenario, you can get it rebooked.

There may be alternate award space that’s just as good or almost as good. Things happen, just take the next best alternative.

But if there’s no good options available as awards for your trip – you thought you had an award booked, you’re relying on that award for your travels and perhaps have already even made non-refundable reservations in reliance on that award – you have options.

  • When an airline partner screws up your award – perhaps there’s a schedule change and you’re moved to another flight in a lower class of service when there’s a logical flight you could take in the same class of service – you want the airline to work with its partner or alliance liaison who will reach out to the airline you’re flying to get you moved.

    They can only ask, but reasonable requests for flights that aren’t heavily booked will usually be honored, especially when the issue was caused by that airline.

  • When the screwup is on the part of the airline who booked your award – hypothetically let’s say United failed to issue your award ticket in a timely manner and Asiana cancelled the reservation when they saw it wasn’t ticketed – then United probably isn’t going to be able to get Asiana to open up award space again. The answer is for United to open up award space on their own flights.

    In other words, if you were flying Asiana via Seoul to Hong Kong in business class, United can put you in business class on their own flights even if there’s no business class award space available.

You may not get exactly the flights you want. You may prefer one airline over another, and so you’re accepting a second best. But when things go wrong it’s all about rescuing your trip. You can’t really complain to United when they’re giving you a paid business class seat instead of one they had intended to make available as an award that you really prefer Asiana’s food and service.

In order to get an award fixed – either via an alliance liaison or via the airline opening up award space on its own flights – you’re usually going to need to talk to an agent, explain to them what happened, and get them to speak to a supervisor. Then they’ll usually have to document your record, make a request and queue it for review.

Expect that anything involving an alliance liaison can take a couple of days – they need to make it into the office (they may not works nights, weekends). Then they’ll need to communicate with their counterpart at the other airline who may be in a completely different time zone. The game of telephone with two cups and a string can take some time. Getting space opened up sometimes can be done quickly, other times can take a day or two as well.

Nonetheless, these are the things to push for and they’re usually successful in my experience.

In Susan’s case she’s going to fly Denver – Los Angeles – Sydney, saving a connection over her original itinerary. And flying American Airlines business class, she’ll have not just fully flat seats non-stop between the US and Australia but all aisle access and an aircraft with internet. American’s business class seat is much better than Qantas’ in my opinion.

American Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

American Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

And American has upped their game on the route, with better food and pajamas in business.

American Business Class Dinner, Los Angeles – Sydney

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. Thanks Gary. I had an incident like this with an AA flight on a BA ticket. The BA agents weren’t helpful at all (surprise, surprise) even when I ask politely that they get the AA liaison involved.

    Eventually I tweeted BA and they were helpful and apologetic that the agents didn’t fix it to start with. In the end AA opened seats on another flight (and I ended up with a flight at a better time!).

    But, patience is a virtue in these situations.

  2. “You can’t really complain to United when they’re giving you a paid business class seat instead of one they had intended to make available as an award that you really prefer Asiana’s food and service.”

    I understand that an accommodation is always nice, but I still say hell yes you can complain. Because of their screw up now you’re stuck paying the same amount for an inferior product.

  3. @Justin – what I mean is sure you can complain but it usually won’t get you very far. The airline will see it as transportation between A and B in the ticketed class of service.

  4. I’d like to see your answer on the 2nd part of the question, “What should we have done differently?”

    What would you have done? Having secured awards on a hard to get route (US-Australia premium class), should she just have left things alone instead of trying to improve? Or is there a way she could have ensured that her original flights remained intact until the new ones were ticketed?

  5. @swag there’s some info about the rebooking that I don’t have and I haven’t looked at the PNR so I can’t offer precise advice on how to have avoided the issue since at this point I don’t know what happened… whether it was a Qantas glitch, an agent error, etc.

    In this case I probably wouldn’t have avoided it, I would rely on American to fix it as they did, and it’s a superior outcome.

    With United i make sure partner airlines not only confirm the reservation but make sure they see the ticket #s.

  6. Value added post. Not one of those nonsense “news” posts that have overtaken the blog.

    Thank you.

  7. I too moved my SFO-SYD flight forward by 2 days. The ExPlat agent stated he was unable to open availability on the LAX-SYD flight. He queued it for review by the liaison. He stated that the if they can’t get Qantas to release the seats then I will need to look at other dates. I assume it is unlikely they will release seats if this is phantom availability. Looking at other dates isn’t really an option as I have flights/hotels already booked in Australia. Should I let the liaison process play out or is it better to try a different approach with another ExPlat agent? Is there something specific I should ask for?The agent stated he was a supervisor so there wasn’t an opportunity to escalate.

  8. I just had an award screw up tale with a happy ending. I booked a BA first class trip from Moscow to JFK with a Heathrow connection using AA miles. A week after the booking, I noticed that BA had changed the time of the LHR-Jfk flight so I now had a 5 minute connection time. There was a later flight with no award availability showing. I called BA and they told me to call AA as they issuing airline. The agent at the Platinum desk took ownership of the issue and said she’d email BA requesting that they open a seat on the later flight for me. They did without any further action on my part, leaving me a happy camper.

  9. I booked an award ticket in J from LAX-SYD on Qantas yesterday but it won’t ticket or confirm. Called AA several times – they are aware of many people having this issue right now and are communicating with Qantas behind the scenes but say they don’t know when the ticketing issues will be resolved. I guess I will just have to wait it out.

  10. You title this article “How to Fix…” but you never say how to actually fix. In this case the person contacted you and you told her what to do. So is that the fix? How do WE contact you to find out the fix? Very disappointed in this post.

  11. Could the same be done for AA award tickets that are on courtesy hold? Had the same exact issue happen but this time it was during the hold period and the ticket got cancelled due to one segment having issue. Two AA agents I spoke to were useless.

  12. To have the airline contact the alliance liaison or open up their own space. This is the fix. And to do this you contact the ticketing carrier. What’s wrong with the post here? What are you disappointed about?

  13. @ Cindi
    Maybe the first thing you should do is re-read the post and understand that you have been provided with useful information that will help YOU to try and fix the problem direct with the airlines.

  14. A little bit of clarification. I changed the booking primarily to get a longer stay so we could visit friends in New Zealand, not simply to improve the connections (although that was a desirable side benefit). When I called to rebook, the agent said she could see the QF seats and thought she had booked them. I don’t fault the agent; she thought she had accomplished the change and had no idea of any problems with the reservation. When we called back the next day to find out why the reservation was not in the system, we were told that QF had denied the request. This happened three more times in subsequent phone calls; seats were requested and QF sent a message back denied. The agent who finally fixed the problem (in the third call to the airline) said she had never seen that happen and was as puzzled as I was about the “denial.” She said it was probably a computer glitch and took it upon herself to fix the problem because she said “the mistake is on the airline’s part.” I messaged Gary before my last call to AA for a little moral support and to get some advice on what to ask for. During the last call with reservations, I asked if they could possibly open up 2 business seats on the LAX-SYD AA flight. I certainly lucked out in getting an agent who felt as badly as I did that our ticket was messed up. In my opinion “the fix” was to be politely persistent. In this instance it paid off in spades. As to what I would have done differently, I think I would have asked that the new booking be placed on hold (until all seats were locked in) and not cancel the original booking until the change actually took place. Thanks Gary!

  15. The thought of this has always been a little scary with award tickets where one issue could cause a ripple effect messing up hotel plans and other flights…

    This year while monitoring a tickets South African Airways award booked on United miles and fully ticketed months ago I noticed something seriously wrong…not only was I missing a flight segment but the other flights had changed out of order.

    I called United and was able to get things fixed up, but ultimately had to take a different SA flight from JNB->CPT. I don’t know what would have happened if there hadn’t been an alternative, but the United rep didn’t help things along. First it was my fault, then it was South African’s….and finally when everything was fixed, I was “lucky”.

    I understand there could be issues between when a reservation is queued and ticketed, but the thought that a fully ticketed reservation could leave me high and dry was unsetting.

  16. @cj How long have you waited. I waited almost 4 days for the QF flight to ticket. I wouldn’t worry, they just take a while.

  17. “Not cancelling until the change takes place” isn’t always an option, you might hold the seats and they’d cancel when you go to ticket. And held reservations that conflict with ticketed reservations may get cancelled out as duplicates. So that may work, but it won’t always, and may not solve the problem in any case.

  18. @Cindi you ask the airline to contact the alliance liaison or you ask the airline to open space on their own flights instead. That’s how you actually fix the issue. As for how to contact me, I publish an email address on the blog. Best, Gary

  19. @J dub if they can’t get the space via a liaison, then request they open space. New agent, they can put in a request. (The agent cannot do it themselves)

  20. Have tried to ticket a Qantas business itinerary five times over the last 2 days via AA, multiple attempts with each agent. The seats are found and confirmed, ticketed, and then Qantas’ systems reject them. The agents have never seen anything like it, it’s apparently quite clearly Qantas’ fault.

  21. I had an AA ticket with a long segment on MH F. About a week before departure, I found some onward F space open on a flight, so all I wanted to do was replace a J segment in the middle of the booking with two more segments that would add another J and F segment. All the other flights, including the MH F flight, would stay exactly the same.

    The existing ticket was all ready to go, and since there is no change in the origin, destination or class of ticket, there would be no change fee and it would be a simple reticket. Things kind of went odd when I tried to call AA USA first – as I normally would – and the lines were so busy that even though I asked for award bookings not involving USA flights, I was directed to the wrong departments. So I tried calling another AA office, in my case Australia. I put my request through and was told 24-48 hours later I should have a new ticket ready to go.

    48 hours later, nothing. Called, and they said that the ticket was still being confirmed. A few days later, and about 48 hours to departure, they said that the MH F sector was still waiting on confirmation. What I don’t understand was this sector was not being affected by the change and was already confirmed. This was a weekend so they couldn’t confirm anything with MH until business hours in Malaysia.

    Less than 24 hours to departure and they tell me that MH have still not confirmed the sector, even though there should have been no confirmation required – it was an existing sector. The whole booking and my scheduled departure was only saved by some last minute availability found on an alternative routing which was offered to me free of fees, though the agent implied rather non-subtly to me that it was a case of “take it or we’ll happily refund you and leave you high and dry”. My final revised e-ticket was issued a mere 5 hours before scheduled departure.

    Whilst some would say my reroute resulted in a superior outcome – much like Susan’s here – that wasn’t the point. I maintain AA screwed up, especially when the AAgent that helped me make the change assured me that it was “all good to go – just wait for the reticket”. Had I known there was a potential to put the entire booking at risk, and told as such, I wouldn’t have continued. And then for AA to leave this ticket completely and openly hanging until I manually intervened and made clear I had just days or hours before I was scheduled to depart is paling ridiculous, especially when I’ve been proactively called by AA before for other imperative reasons.

    One moral I’ve taken out of this is that AA Australia is pretty useless for processing anything except maybe payments (because AA’s retarded payment systems in the USA can’t process non-USA credit cards). The other is that if you have something good that you want and/or need, avoid tinkering with it, even if you think you’ve found something better – you might just lose everything. Had AA not found the space they did for me at the last minute (absolutely no AA way to get to my destination), they would have refunded my miles and I would have been done for… but they screwed up. If you’re going to assure a customer they can get something, then you beat the drum and make it happen. Otherwise, better to warn of the risk first! Maybe that’s just a risk, part and parcel of “playing the game”.

    Where have all the great AAgents gone… (with apologies to Pete Seeger)

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