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. Hi Gary, great post. The same thing goes for hotel stays especially using points. I have been able to get a better deal by rechecking availability.

  2. Absolutely correct, Gary. Had a 6-leg trip to Tel Aviv, 3 legs on Delta and 3 legs on Air France. Inexplicably, the 3 AF legs disappeared, and when my travel agent called them, he found they had been cancelled out without explanation. Took 6 hours to straighten out ahead of time. Unfortunately, the people in line ahead of us at check in in Tel Aviv had the same thing happen, and were still standing at check in when my wife and I went to the gate.

  3. Great reminder. I think you used to call it babysitting a reservation in previous posts. Gardening sound a little more mellow and romantic vs what it is really is. I need to constantly protect myself from the screw up of others.

  4. I learned to book an A or C seat when going on a wide body. Several times lost my assigned G or H seat and ended up in a middle seat at the back when the aircraft was downsized from a wide body to a narrow body.

  5. I started doing this recently after Royal Air Maroc canceled my December 2019 Libreville to Malabo flight with no notice. I had booked the ticket in mid-July and apparently the flight was canceled later in July. I picked this up about a week in advance of the trip when I checked all my flight bookings, and then had to scramble to find an alternative route that didn’t require a consular visa in advance, as I had no time to get another visa. There was only one feasible option and it was expensive. Do not rely on TripIt Pro to let you know about changes, as TripIt did not alert me to this change. So I no longer trust third party services to keep me updated and instead check monthly with the airlines myself.

  6. Totally agree. Just yesterday, I checked a reservation and found a change with a 2 hour connection at YYZ reduced to 46 minutes. In fact, online showed a 60 minute MCT, so I’m not even sure how that happened..

  7. Great post! Agree 100%.

    I check all bookings made for myself & others for any/all flights be they on the same airline where the initial booking is made, or code-shares operated by partner airlines as soon as ticket numbers & confirmation codes are received.

    Sometimes, I’ll even call airlines to confirm everything is showing up on their side & to confirm arrangements/seat assignments for reduced mobility passengers in the itinerary – or to finalize elements that could not be confirmed online.

    And as Gary notes, to ensure all names are spelled correctly within 24 hours while changes can be made without penalties & onerous service charges.

  8. Hi Gary, 100% agree. However, Award Wallet has let me down on this – I bring it up because of the importance / faith ascribed to them in this post. My example is for my family’s spring break trip where Turkish has now cancelled both segments, yet AwardWallet still is telling me everything is fine. Multiple email exchanges with their support team has lead nowhere. Similarly, I never received notice from United saying my reservation was cancelled!

    Your message rings true – tend to your reservations YOURSELF. Thankfully, by catching this issue myself a couple months out I was able to find AC saver business class space to rebook into.

  9. I’ve learned to always print out a paper confirmation of my booking right when I made it. Yes, a bit old school, but I’ve had countless situations where times and even days were changed on me and having proof of my original itinerary has helped to rectify rescheduling when the changes just won’t work. This was especially helpful when Finnair changed the DAY on me on a flight from Hong Kong to Helsinki. I did received a notification of a change, but I saw that the flight times had changed slightly and so I thought that was it. It never occurred to me that the date had been moved back a day! Of course, did not realize this until I was at the Hong Kong airport, looking for the Finnair check in counters, that were nowhere to be found that day…

    I have had good luck with Award Wallet notifying me of changes, most recently on AA. An upcoming trip to Ecuador went from a 2 hour layover to just over an hour layover. It took AA 4 days to send me a notice after Award Wallet did.

  10. Good advice, especially with small airports. Family had a reservation which suddenly changed to give them a 19-hour layover because the airline went from three flights a day to one into that airport.

    Might also be worth noting that some airlines are offering a credit if your flight’s price goes down and you request it. Makes sense: with current policies you could cancel the flight and re-book.

  11. Perennially correct! I see my 2020 post up above.

    Anyway, I have been in the habit of putting every available kind of change alert (aircraft change, seat) for every flight on expertflyer. It has alerted me to changes early enough to do something about it many times, and usually well before I get an alert from the airline – if I get an alert from the airline at all. Even though flying less in the pandemic, it still helps because the schedules and aircraft are changing around so much.

  12. Is this just a repost from a few years ago? Is the takeaway, look at your reservations and spend money on the affiliate links?

  13. @Joe – Umm.. I do not receive any money from Award Wallet, and I’m recommending something from Expert Flyer that is… free. So go back to whatever you were smoking on Sunday afternoon?

  14. Hey, that a gratuitous slap at smoking whatever. ;-). Smoking whatever doesn’t make one snarky (eye roll)

    I babysit/garden all my reservations (air, hotel, car, etc.) often for the sheer joy of anticipation! 🙂
    And potential savings

  15. How about when there are no IR changes (Air Canada/Aeroplan award) of 30 minutes and the emails ask you to confirm. Is it wise to ignore the change in case you end up changing last minute so you do not pay any change fees or should I just confirm the change fearing the award ticket may be cancelled?

  16. I check all my flights and hotel reservations twice a day. Have caught a few issues doing this.

  17. @Allison I’ve learned to always print out a paper confirmation of my booking right when I made it. I do the same.

    B6 Jet Blue canceled out seats for no reason on our last flight. BA did the same after we paid for an upgrade . Took 2 months to get the upgrade fee back.

  18. Great reminder, @Gary!

    With all the cancellations and chaos around staffing changes, I’ve had every single one of my summer vacation flights changed. Most recently, Delta changed the date on my return requiring a complex rebooking. Never got the email — the app Flighty notified me.

  19. As the “Aceman” Adam Carolla says, “Drew’s wife goes over their itinerary with a jeweler’s loupe.”

  20. Great reminder. This week I noticed that a Silver Airways flight I had booked for my family sent a schedule change email back ins December. I didn’t pay too much attention to this as it was only about a 45 minute difference. It wasn’t until now (June) that I noticed it was also a whole day later and required me to shuffle a lot of my reservations around!

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