Through my award booking service (and my personal travel) I’ve booked hundreds of millions of miles worth of award tickets. Despite that I learn something new all the time and frequently deal with challenges I’ve never dealt before that leave me shaking my head. After all, we are dealing with the airlines, and without a good bit of cluster@#$%ery, would they really be the companies we love oh-so-much?
But I’m facing an issue on an award ticket right now that I’ve never faced before. And the funny thing is that the entire situation got to where it is because an airline was actually being proactive, which I supposed they should be commended for… kind of. Let me explain.
I have a couple booked to Europe over the summer in business class, and their return is from Nice to Vienna to Chicago to Savannah. The catch is that one passenger booked through United and one through Aeroplan (Air Canada’s spun off loyalty program). I do this frequently for people that have diversified miles, since sometimes they won’t have enough miles in a single program for two awards, but fortunately many programs have similar partners.
This was booked months ago and everything was fine. Fast forward to last week where I get a “what the heck, dude?” type email, because the wife (booked through United) still showed the same itinerary, while the husband (booked through Aeroplan) showed a return routed Nice to Munich to Charlotte to Savannah.
My first reaction, naturally, was “hmm, how drunk was I the night I booked that ticket?” Okay, not really. But I’ve never just miraculously seen the routing and airlines change, especially when partner airlines are involved. I called up Aeroplan, they opened up a case, and I got a call back the next day.
As it turns out the Chicago to Savannah flight had a schedule change, and now leaves about four hours earlier than originally scheduled. It was supposed to be about a five hour layover, but instead turned into a 42 minute layover, which clearly isn’t legal for an international to domestic connection. So Aeroplan proactively booked him on a completely different routing and he wasn’t actually informed of this. The catch is that meanwhile the wife is still booked on the original routing with a 42 minute connection, and United hasn’t contacted here.
Now I’ve written before about alliance liaisons, and basically how they’re able to help when situations involving multiple airlines in an alliance get “sticky.” But this situation just got stickier than the bathroom of a Bangkok nightclub, and the options are fairly limited.
On one hand I’m impressed by Aeroplan. Amazingly enough they found award space on Lufthansa (I’m shocked it was available in the peak of summer), but at the same time I don’t think they should have assumed the passenger would be willing to switch to Lufthansa, given that Austrian and Lufthansa have completely different business class products. And the problem is that once they “released” the Austrian seats to instead pick up the Lufthansa ones, the Austrian seats disappeared.
Meanwhile Chicago to Savannah would have been available the next morning, so in the end we would have just kept the itinerary the same and only changed Chicago to Savannah to the next morning. But now we have a situation where there’s no more award space on either routing, so the husband and wife are separated.
So in this case what could a Star Alliance liaison do? Here are a few general thoughts about how this works:
- Usually the airline through which you booked would be able to open up award space on their own flights (for example, if you book an award through United and a schedule change puts you in a situation where there are no alternatives, United will almost always open up award space on their own flights… but only if you booked through them). The catch is that since Aeroplan is a spun off loyalty program they don’t really have the ability to open up Air Canada award space, and for that matter since one ticket is booked through United, that still wouldn’t help get both passengers on the same itinerary.
- There’s no way to get from Nice to Savannah on a single Star Alliance airline. So even if a liaison were able to open up award space (which requires putting in a request with a single airline at a time), this would still be booked on more than one carrier, so it would be more difficult than a request with a single carier. And not only would this require travel on two airlines, but we’re ticketing through two airlines as well.
- We could try to find a different routing altogether that has award space for two passengers. This would be the ideal scenario given that we’re ticketing through two carriers, and getting a change fee waiver would of course be easy.
Anyway, in the hundreds of millions of miles of award tickets I’ve booked, this is the most complicated schedule change I’ve had to deal with. So while I think Aeroplan had the right intentions with rebooking the passenger on an alternative routing around the same time, I think it was a bit presumptuous, and for that matter I’ve never seen an airline do that before.
So how am I hoping to solve this? I think there are only two routes we can go:
- Have Aeroplan contact their alliance liaison and have them open up the Austrian award space from Nice to Vienna to Chicago again, and then we can add on a Chicago to Savannah segment the next day. Meanwhile on the United ticket (which currently has an illegal connection) we’d just have to switch the Chicago to Savannah segment to the next day.
- As stated above, find an alternative routing with award space available for two and book them both on it.
So this is certainly an adventure to untangle…