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.
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.