Remember to Garden Your Reservations After You Book Them

One of the most important things you can do after you buy an airline ticket is “gardening” your reservations, especially when you book travel far in advance.

I take the term gardening from Nicholas Kralev, tending to the bookings — checking up on them, and doing minor maintenance.

Some common things that happen to reservations between the time of ticketing and travel:

  • Schedule changes: This may cause you to have connecting flights that no longer have enough time to connect, or upgrade requests tend to drop out of bookings.
  • Tickets out of sync: A schedule change, especially involving partner airlines on an award ticket, may require a ticket to be reissued so that it matches your reservation.
  • Aircraft swaps: changes might cause you to downgrade cabins, or to lose seat assignments.
  • Disappearing seats: Seats sometimes disappear for no apparent reason, or perhaps because you’re assigned a bassinet seat and not traveling with an infant or you’re in a premium seat that your status or fare may not entitle you to.

It’s much better to get than done in advance than when you are trying to check in for your flight. It’s better to get seat assignments handled early, when more seats are left unassigned in the cabin.

I find it’s worth checking a booking right after you make it to make sure everything was done correctly — are traveler names accurate? Can you assign seats? Does a partner airline see the booking and does it appear ready for travel? If the reservation is for some time in the future, scroll through your reservations at least once a month. Do it again a few days in advance of travel, too.

  1. Checking your reservation right away will make sure that it’s been made for the correct date and for the correct flights. It’s also the time to make sure that you don’t just have a confirmed reservation, but also ticket numbers (you tickets were issued) and that any partner airlines you may be traveling on can see those ticket numbers (they can tell your booking is travel-ready and won’t likely cancel your reservation).
  2. Checking your reservation between the time of booking and time of travel will identify any problems early, when there’s a good chance that other options could be available — whether alternate flights or seats.
  3. And finally checking your reservations prior to the date of travel will suss out problems with a booking while there’s still time to get it fixed and you aren’t running up against the clock of a pending departure.

One of the many things I like about Award Wallet is that in addition to updating your frequent flyer account balances it grabs your itineraries as well — and then continually compares those itineraries to find changes. They’ll email you when an itinerary has changed, whether it’s flight time or class of service, seat assignment or aircraft type. That helps serve as an early warning system especially for those times you forget to proactively tend to your reservations.

If you’re worried about losing your seat assignment, you can set a free Expert Flyer seat alert for the seat you’re assigned to. Although if someone has you moved so they can take it this may not come up, but Award Wallet’s searches should catch it.

Gardening now also includes repricing your reservations, since most non-Basic Economy fares no longer have change fees, so you should be able to get a credit for the difference if the price falls after you’re purchased your ticket. But you have to notice it and ask!

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. This is great advice

    I would add that it is very important to get the TICKET number and take a screen shot of your actual ticket, if you have important seats

    I bought an MSP to Paris Business class ticket on points last year.
    A few months later, they schedule changed it to an Air France flight operated by Delta.
    Every few weeks I’d get another schedule change email from Delta.

    2 months before the trip the ticket just vanished. Couldn’t see it in either AF or Delta, o the app or website.
    AF said it was a Delta issue.
    DL said it was an AF issue.

    The only info I had was my confirmation number in an old email (which followed all the changes above) but it did not include the ticket number.

    Delta said I was confirmed for the flight but never had a ticket, and that my current confirmation was not valid for the remaining tickets on the flight. Since I had no ticket, I had to contact AF
    (**I did have a ticket and a seat assignment, but I had no screen shot proving it)

    AF said that the flight was confirmed, but not my seat. My only option was to buy a new ticket (for 4x the price) or change flights. This meant we had to change to MSP-AMS-CDG

    Thus I now screenshot all of my ticket numbers and confirmation numbers because the app doesn’t save them when the airlines make a change.

  2. Another key- make sure operating airline has your contact information, and check the flight on their site, not the ticketing carriers site, who usually doesn’t pass along your contact info.

  3. I always screenshot everything about my flight. Confirmation #, Seat # and of course who’s on the flight, to name a few.

  4. One of the many things I like about Award Wallet is that in addition to updating your frequent flyer account balances it grabs your itineraries as well — and then continually compares those itineraries to find changes.

    Yup, Award Wallet ist alles, especially for complex itineraries, so don’t leave home without it !

    Last weekend I completely booked flights and hotels for my upcoming, 4-week long, 11th annual Year-end Asian Escapade(tm) that will consist of 8 hotel stays in 7 different cities in 5 countries in Southeast and East Asia, flying from cities to cities with TG or SQ, all in business, using UA or SQ miles.

    As I made a flight or a hotel booking and got a confirmation email, Award Wallet automagically grabbed it, pulled out the booking information and entered it into my “Travel timeline”, so that when I was done, I was able to quickly check whether each booking was chronologically correct. That allowed me to detect and correct right away a couple of hotel bookings that were out of order. They showed me checking in before I arrived to where I was going, which is an error I sometimes make when I have “red eye” flights.

    In short, not only are all my bookings all set, Award Wallet will keep monitoring them all for me and alert me of any changes. Did I say don’t leave home without? 😉

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