Just Issue The Darned Tickets!

There are two ways to issue tickets — instantly, or queuing them for someone else to do later.

I like when tickets I’m buying or changing are issued immediately. I like the transaction to be done. I don’t want to have to think about it again, worry that it hasn’t been done at all, or that something may muck up my reservation along the way.

When I book an award ticket with US Airways, they issue tickets immediately.

United used to issue tickets immediately, before they combined operations with Continental Airlines and adopted Continental’s vastly inferior computer system.

United no longer does instant ticketing. Book an award ticket, though, and usually your ticketing is done after just several minutes.

First, United sends you an email:

We are processing your reservation and will send you an e-ticket confirmation once this has been completed. Typically, this process takes less than an hour, however, in some rare cases it could take a couple days. Please be assured that your reservation will remain confirmed during this processing period, and there is no need to contact us unless you are traveling within 24 hours.

(Emphasis mine.)

That’s pretty re-assuring. United promises all is well. Their website is equally reassuring:

Thank you for choosing United Airlines. Your purchase is confirmed. You will be promptly notified once the internal processing of your reservation has been finalized so that you can request additional receipts, export to Microsoft Outlook, refund or change your flight, view/change seats, check-in, or email or print your itinerary.

(Again, emphasis mine.)

Except this isn’t true at all, at least not the way most customers would understand it. You have a reservation, and all should be fine, but until tickets are issued you aren’t set.

(This also leaves aside the challenge United has sometimes had in passing ticket numbers on to airline partners, which has caused partners to cancel reservations — and the consumer doesn’t get informed of this.)

When something happens and a ticket isn’t promptly issued, it’s rare for a consumer to be notified. That is why it is important to make sure whenever you buy a ticket, that the ticket actually gets issued — that you see the ticket number, that if you change a ticket and it is re-issued that you see a new ticket number.

I recently changed a British Airways award ticket for travel on one of their oneworld partners. The reservation is confirmed with the new set of flights, but the ticket hasn’t been re-issued. I have a ticket that’s out of sync (returning to a different airport) from the reservation. I won’t be allowed to travel. It’s sitting in the queue. It’s been in the queue for more than a week, and travel is in a week.

If the ticket doesn’t get re-issued in the next few days I will force the issue — but the point is that I do need to pay attention to this, that I’m not done until I have a re-issued ticket. And you wouldn’t know this from the British Airways website, where everything looks completely fine (or from the partner airline website, which just shows my new flights).

The airline I’ve found that can take the longest to issue a ticket is Korean Air. When you book an award ticket with Korean they set up the reservation but they do not take a credit card number. The agent on the phone doesn’t take payment for taxes and fuel surcharges (if any). That’s a separate department.

I’ve gotten through to that department immediately (a couple of days after submitting my award authorization). But I’ve also seen them not want to issue tickets for travel months into the future into a lot closer to departure. They’ll put the reservation on hold until a few days prior to departure, and say that they will call you closer to travel to take payment details. I do not like that. Not at all. I like having tickets issued. I do not want to wait to be called (though at the point they’re calling you, they will happily transfer you to the department that will take your card information).

So I’ve forced the issue. Hung up, called back. And insisted that they take payment and issue tickets right away. It always works for me… eventually.

American Airlines doesn’t instantly issue tickets either. A ticketing email usually comes promptly. The only times it hasn’t for award travel, I’ve been contacted promptly. An agent failed to document a voluntarily downgraded segment (to business class) on a first class award. An agent reserved an embargoed Qantas flight.

Recently I used an American gift card but it turns out I had already used the funds off of it and just hadn’t take it off of my list (and failed to check the value before submitting). So the ticket didn’t issue, the email didn’t come, I realized it and called to rectify the situation.

There are airlines and airline systems that issue tickets instantly. Manual review may catch mistakes or undercharges, but it’s an expensive process, too. It can’t possibly be profitable to delay issuing tickets, and the chance that things go wrong is a counterveiling cost to weigh too.

Whatever review an airline wants to do, automate it, but take a cue from those carriers that issue tickets instantly. Just do it. You’ll have fewer travel disasters which lose customers. You’ll save on agent time and expense. And you’ll stop me giving me such frequent heart attacks.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. American Airlines is notoriously BAD for issuing tickets on partner airlines in general, it sometimes takes up to 3/4 days. Booking last minute (even same day) awards on partners is often impossible due to AA’s antique systems. A real pain the rear!

  2. As @Sebastian said AA is the worst in this practice as they queue both new tickets and re-issue of old tickets they must have a overload of tickets in the queue specially when there is a IROP involved

    for instance United will only queue the first Ticket once a ticket is issue re-issuing is always instant

  3. Had this problem on UA a couple years ago (just after the merger). I was trying to get a partner award with a lap infant, and the order went through online with no problems, though they didn’t charge any fees for the infant. I was expecting the fees, so I called in a couple days later, which is when they told me my award hasn’t been ticketed because they have to collect the fees for the infant ticket. Who knows what would have happened if I never called.

  4. @Sebastian & Dov

    They’re right. I’ve got a 12-segment 4-carrier (five if you count MAS Wings separately from MH) Explorer award I ticketed with AA miles.

    I’ve made a handful of changes to the ticket over the last few months, and there’s been issues with about half of my changes. THEY NEVER NOTIFIED ME. Now, I knew enough to keep tabs on the ticketing, but if I didn’t, well, “wow” is all I would have to say. I can’t imagine the less seasoned traveler knows to keep an eye out for this. Not withstanding that if I do have to call back and it happens to be during IRROPS or whatever, hold times can really suck. There was a stretch where an hour wait was common.

  5. Just went through 2.5 hours on the phone with United (and Air China) to resolve their award ticket mess up and still lost one segment from F to Y. I found out when I called CA for seat assignments and they said UA had not properly done something. ;(

    I was never notified either. One agent actually told me that my trip would be cancelled and my miles refunded. Definitely HUACA!

  6. Call me crazy but I think the myriad of “I think I’ll buy $240,000 in quarters” from the US mint may have just a bit to do with them dragging their feet until a human being takes a peek.

    Lol, I’ve already had agents directly bemoan ( better yet indirectly) bemoan things that in a “perfect” world should be none of their business. Alas it’s the world we’ve created. From Shreveport to Kalamazoo, everybody’s looking with those Owl eyes.

  7. @Montanta Mike what would the source of any miles earned (and truly, US mint purchases were a miniscule portion of miles for which airlines were fully compensated) have to do with an airline queuing tickets for issue on the redemption side? Not sure I follow the theory there.

  8. Oh I’m with you, Gary. But that’s just it. It’s not logical.

    We have these computer systems but humans feel the need to get involved. Then the computer systems themselves don’t behave “logically”.

    If you’re looking for a deductive pathway, I’m afraid I can’t offer one. I’m just saying “this” world has gone from something that at least purported to make sense on some levels to some very strange logical tangents in the past few years. I think it’s hilarious.

  9. i recently booked a ticket from winnipeg to churchill on calm air, using aeroplan miles, but never received a confirmation email from aeroplan. when i called to follow up, i was told that calm air is a weird partner, and that they do not issue tickets, and that i’m supposed to just show up at the airport. when i put the record locator into their website, my flight itinerary comes up with this note (it has now been well over 48 hours):

    Note: Your reservations for any connecting flights that are not operated by Air Canada (including Air Canada Express flights operated by Jazz), or an Air Canada code share partner are subject to acceptance by the operating carrier, who reserves the right to decline this sale within 48 hours of purchase.

    In the unlikely event that this should happen, an Air Canada Customer Service representative will contact you to find alternative availability on eligible flights or to refund your booking.

    If you wish, you may want to confirm the status of your booking by contacting Air Canada Reservations.

    i called aeroplan, and they confirmed i was booked, but then i called calm air to follow up. they said that my ticket showed up as booked and confirmed, but that it was on hold until april 3 because a service fee was still due. the calm air agent said i should pay her directly, and that once i did, everything would be sorted. i was a bit confused, as i’ve never paid additional fees to an operating carrier before, but she insisted that it was fine, so i went ahead and gave her my credit card information, as it was only for $20-something dollars.

    i now have a receipt from calm air with no ticket number, but they do say that the status is “confirmed.” am i okay, or should i call back with more specific questions?

    any advice is greatly appreciated! i fear getting to the airport and being told that i have no ticket–and calm air is the only airline that flies the route!

  10. First, no haven’t heard of that (except once flying Thai when United had failed to collect airport taxes on a ticket). But I wouldn’t worry about undoing the $20. I would ask the operating airline if they can read back to you the ticket number, if they can assign you seats, and if you are travel-ready. Normally though this would be an issue I’d have taken up with Aeroplan.

  11. thanks for the input. i’ve already tried the assigning seats trick–i was told that it was open seating and they don’t do that!

    my first instinct when calm air said that a service fee still remain unpaid was to contact aeroplan again, but there seems to be little communication between the two–and when i had called aeroplan (prior to the calm air call), they told me that my ticket was good to go–a point disputed by calm air.

    oddly enough, my credit card info appears on my itinerary when i pull it up on aeroplan, but no charges appear on my credit card statement. however, charges for the companion ticket (booked on a separate confirmation because they can’t put air canada and calm air flights on the same confirmation) have been charged.

    after booking hundreds of award flights, i’m finding this one to be a totally different type of animal!

  12. AA also has a recurrent problem re-issuing award tickets on their own metal after changes. Of my last 15 or so changes, exactly zero have ticketed without further intervention. Some of the agents know this and will cancel/reissue with a new PNR, but otherwise beware.

  13. If we’re going to blame the mint for this, why not the bloggers?

    Oh he’ll, let’s just cut to the chase…. We all know it’s Bush’s fault!

  14. Oh my. And to think I was on the phone with Delta last night booking a flight that wouldn’t work out on the web site – at all (stupid web site…). Called, got it routed and booked, paid and received the notification from AMEX and my confirmation email before I was done talking to the agent. She even had me check it to make sure it was correct before we hung up AND she saved me about $35 in the process.

    The miles might be darn near useless but the service was excellent.

  15. I also had grief with AA. I have booked 2 awards with them so far, both times the ticket didn’t issue due to wrong credit card info. No alert whatsoever, the itin just sat there waiting. Worse, the agents had no clue the cause for the stall. They keep saying it should issue soon.

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