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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!