The Deal Mommy

When Award Tickets Go Bad (& How to Fix Them)

Not how I intended to spend my Sunday.

Not how I intended to spend my Sunday.

Camp Mom Asia is just 90 days away and we are all getting excited. However, yesterday I got an email that threw our plans into chaos: the connecting flights to Tokyo, which I spent hours meticulously planning,  were cancelled.

The flights that replaced our cancelled flights allowed us just 50 minutes to connect. With 2 kids. In Chicago. For an international flight that begins boarding 40 minutes before departure. Obviously not gonna fly.

So I had to rebook the flights from 3 separate reservations, with two award programs, for 4 people.  The ordeal that followed is a textbook example of the labyrinth you have to navigate when working with complex reservations.  I hope the three hours I spent on the phone with 6 different agents from two airlines will help you if caught in the same situation.

While on the phone, I had a recurring thought: I work with award programs for a living. If rebooking award tickets is this hard for me, I can’t even imagine how it looks to someone who books award tickets once a year.  I only succeeded in the end because I knew the language award agents speak. Jason Steele gets the credit as my guide through the maze as his presentation at FT4RL covered award ticketing for families.

Some of the tricks I learned got put to immediate use:

  1. Before you call to rebook, pull up a list of all available flights for sale (search the website for a paid fare) and decide which options you’ll accept. You’ll have a lot easier time if you know your options in advance and can spoon feed them to the reservations agent.
  2. When a schedule change occurs, don’t necessarily believe what the airline considers a “valid connection”.  As I mentioned above, AA tried to get me to accept a 50 minute change time in Chicago as a legal connection.  I knew better and demanded a change. When flights are cancelled, you are in charge.
  3. It’s in the airline’s best interest to rebook you on the least full flight, which may not be the best for you.  When I refused the 50 minute connection, I was offered a  7 hour one and was told it was my only option.  Again, I knew better and demanded they re-route me through a different hub if needed to get a 2-3 hour connection window.
  4. The airline will tell you that they can only re-book onto their own metal, but that’s not quite true.  It is also possible to book on a partner airline as long as it’s operated as a codeshare flight.
  5. If you find a helpful agent, make him your partner and DO NOT LET HIM GO. Finally, an hour into my call, I got to Andy.  Andy stayed with me on the phone for the rest of the call and moved the immovable objects put into our path.  He was as happy as I was when we finally got rebooked.

Here are the phrases that saved my trip:

  1. I do not accept this change. When you receive an email with a change, it will direct you to the website to “accept” the changes.  DO NOT DO THIS as you lose all power when you accept the changes!
  2. Get your supervisor to release award space on the flight I want.  The agents might try to tell you they can only re-book you on flights that have available award space. THIS IS NOT TRUE. It takes more work, but award space can be released when flights are cancelled.

My reservation was especially tricky as the awards I had booked were with both US Airways and American, whose reservations systems are not talking to each other yet. But with EXTREME patience, knowledge of the system, and my hero Andy, we are re-booked on flights that work.

What are your tips for re-booking cancelled award flights?  Please share what has worked for you in the comments.

The Deal Mommy is a proud member of the Saverocity network. 

6 thoughts on “When Award Tickets Go Bad (& How to Fix Them)

  1. italdesign

    Good reminders. One rule I use to minimize wasted time is if by the first 2 seconds of an agent’s greeting I don’t feel the helpful vibe, I HUCA. This is hard when wait time is long, but might still save time and frustration in the end.

  2. Lynda

    When I get a true hero who can help me, I make a point of asking to speak with their supervisor to thank them for their excellent service…

  3. Dan @ Points With a Crew

    I know what you mean about wondering how most people navigate this. I have a co-worker who was trying to book a simple flight to New York for 25,000 American miles (I haven’t taught him how he should have just used 9000 Avios).

    He had to make a change, and they booked one of his tickets at the high level (30K ONE-WAY) even though there is plenty of saver space available on the exact same flight!

    He’s having to fight with American and if I wasn’t there urging him on, I’m sure American would be successful in stealing 17,500 miles from him

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Crazy, isn’t it? Makes me almost get the Chris Eliott “miles are a scam” stchick. Almost.

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