Why You Should Regularly Check The Status Of Your Award Booking

You’ve probably read that the best time to book award travel is either as far in advance as possible, or absolute last minute. I usually book award travel as early as possible and then potentially improve or upgrade it last minute, as unsold inventory changes into awards.

But when you book your dream trip 11 or more months in advance, plenty of things can happen to it during that time, and here are two unfortunate examples that happened to me.

Case Study #1: My ultimate first class trip

I’ve written before about my fondness for Dividend Miles (RIP). For my final Star Alliance Dividend Miles redemption, I booked an epic first class jaunt around Asia with my best friend, primarily on Thai Airways.

Thai Airways is notorious for making unexpected and undesirable changes to their schedules.

And this happened to me.

As soon as the schedule opened (11 months in advance), I’d carefully booked the exact flights I wanted in first class. I would occasionally check the status of the award booking on the Thai Airways “Manage My Booking” page. All was well.

Being a points aficionado, I check multiple sites for news and updates to the world of points and miles and the unfortunate news was reported on multiple sources at the same time.

Thai Airways had decided to change the aircraft type operating the Sydney to Bangkok sectors from a three class Boeing 747 (with first class) to a two class Boeing 777-300ER (without first class). Wonderful for those passengers in Business Class as their product was upgraded from a 2-2-2 angled flat seat, to a 1-2-1 fully flat seat with direct aisle access.

Awful for me in first class because there was no first class seat or service on that flight. I was flying out of Sydney specifically to fly first class instead of my native Melbourne (which had a double daily Thai Airways service but only a two class service without first class).

I was devastated.

My carefully constructed ultimate itinerary had fallen apart overnight.

And perhaps the worst part was this aircraft change was happening a mere week before my flight departed. I wished I’d booked the trip a few weeks earlier!

My course of action

On my side was time, as there were still many months until the flight departed. I also knew Thai Airways changed their mind like the wind, and nothing was set in stone. I got on the front foot, becoming extremely friendly with the Thai Airways Sydney reservations staff, who, to their credit, were helpful and just as shocked as I was about the downgrade. Unfortunately there was little they could do about it other than allocate me the best business class seats on the two class flight, as there were no first class flights to Australia they potentially could move me to.

They did hint that the decision was not final and I should not panic. Sure enough, two months later Thai Airways reversed their decision and operated the three class 747 as normal. That was a huge sigh of relief!

And it was a wonderful trip.

I guess in hindsight if I hadn’t checked the reservation I would have been saved the drama and worry. But if Thai Airways had not reversed their decision I would have been in for a nasty shock come boarding time. As it was only an equipment change and not a schedule change, neither Thai Airways nor US Airways proactively contacted me about this change despite having my contact details.

Thai Airways first class

Case Study #2: My parents’ first ever premium trip

Last year I offered to organise my parents’ flights from Australia to come and visit me in London. They’ve helped me so much in my life (I would not be writing this article if it wasn’t for them!), so I wanted to give something back.

I purchased Avianca LifeMiles and booked them in business class from Australia to Europe. They thoroughly enjoyed Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways to Europe and thought they were flying the same back home. What I hadn’t told them was that I had actually booked them on Thai Airways first class, from Frankfurt to Sydney via Bangkok. Because, why not?

But, Thai Airways being Thai Airways meant of course there was a problem!

I booked their flights about nine months in advance and checked the booking every month or so. About four months before the flights I noticed that the aircraft type for the Frankfurt to Bangkok flight changed from an Airbus A380 to a Boeing 777-300ER. This new aircraft type did not have first class (here we go again!). I checked this against Routes Online and sure enough, Thai Airways had decided to take their A380 off the Frankfurt route.

My course of action

I could have changed the flights to a different origin that featured first class but there was no first class available and I didn’t want to stuff my parents around by making them change last minute to leave from London, Paris, or Munich instead.

So, after much deliberation I decided to leave the booking as is. I hoped Thai Airways might reverse their decision, but unfortunately they didn’t, so my parents had a mixed-class booking. It was still an upgrade on what they were expecting to fly and at least there were no nasty surprises at the airport because my expectations were managed.

They thoroughly enjoyed it and they sent me all sorts of funny messages like ‘we have just been escorted to the FIRST CLASS lounge in Bangkok!

Again, no one contacted me about this change.

No Thai Airways A380 awaited my parents at Frankfurt airport

How often should you check?

No matter how excited you are for your dream redemption, don’t check it every day.

You will go mad.

I would set a calendar reminder to check it once a month.

What to check

Check that there are no changes to:

  • Flight times, origin, or destination (including which airport in cities with more than one)
  • Aircraft type
  • Seat assignments

And make sure that your ticket number is still showing.

What to do if something has changed

This is where it can get very frustrating.

While the airline who made the change (such as changing the aircraft type resulting in a downgrading of your fare class) can easily make changes, they will usually refuse to touch the booking if you booked it through a partner airline.

So, firstly you should contact the airline you booked the award through. You may have to persuade them to contact the operating carrier, so be prepared to be patient, and always be polite.

What are your rights?

If there has been a downgrade in the class of travel for the whole journey, you should be entitled to a refund of the difference in miles to what you paid, and what it would now cost in the lower fare class.

If the changes are unacceptable to you and there is availability on other carriers or dates, the program should be able to make those changes for you, and will hopefully waive any change fees, although every program is slightly different.

There is a good chance they will tell you to call the airline who made the involuntary change and you’ll then be shunted between operating airline and booking airline like a ping-pong game. This is maddening because it feels like no one will help you, and you’ve been abandoned with something that was not your fault.

If this happens, stand your ground with the airline you booked with and insist it is their responsibility to help you. Escalate (politely) to a supervisor if need be.

Bottom line

It’s rotten luck if your carefully constructed award booking suffers an involuntary and negative change.

At least if you check the booking regularly you can be on the front foot to try and resolve it, manage expectations, and you won’t be in for any nasty surprises when you go to check-in, or board.

How often do you check your award bookings?

Comments

  1. Useful information, James. Some people might know this already, but for the rest of us it helps to know what could go wrong so we can guard against it!

  2. Oy, this just happened to me. Booked Royal Jordanian AQJ-AMM-FRA as a single partner reward ticket on BA.com. The AQJ-AMM leg got canceled and BA had thoughtfully auto-rebooked me on the next flight WITHOUT changing the AMM-FRA leg, so now I’d land in Amman 8 hours after my flight to Frankfurt took off. Had to call in and get it fixed, otherwise that would have been quite the unpleasant surprise next month…

  3. Award Wallet sends out notifications of flight or aircraft changes if you are a subscriber. I’ve gotten notice months before the airline told me about a change.

    As far as checking with the airline, I would mention to check with the operating carrier, not the one that issued the ticket.

  4. I try to book as far out as possible as well. I’ve had similar issues, specifically, on a United award they changed the first segment of our NZ trip from the US. Instead of the original nonstop transcontinental flight, we were switched to a conecting flight with inconvenient times. They had removed the flight from the schedule.
    I don’t remember if we were notified of the change, but I would periodically check on the reservation. We definitely were not notified when the original flight was put back on the schedule. Thankfully, I continued to look for available alternatives and was able to get them to switch back to the original flight for free.

  5. Also, sometimes connecting times get drastically shortened as well when you book way out…had a connecting flight into ATL on the way to UVF (st lucia)…went from a 3 hour layover to a 30m layover and there was only one flight to UVF that day. Having had lost a day in prior years from the same issue with the same two cities involved, I wasn’t going to take the chance. Fortunately, was able to move to an earlier flight and went to a 4 hour layover in ATL.

  6. Welcome James! I have a similar situation happened to me for my May 2018 trip from HKG-BKK-SYD. Thai downgraded me from First to Biz on the HKG-BKK leg due to aircraft change and I booked the trip with UA miles. What would you recommend the course of action to be?

  7. Great tip. Had the same thing happen to me last when when I booked KE F from SIN to ICN. I checked the reservation one day and noticed that the aircraft had been changed from a 777 to a 747-400 which didn’t feature the 2.0 Kosmo Suites. I ended up flying out of KUL instead of SIN but what a horrible ‘surprise’ that would have been.

  8. This is insightful? Take “award” out of title and you have Travel 101 advice.

    That being said these examples really don’t even come close to the awful problems people have encountered, like finding out tickets were not issued when they show up at airport. Or an itinerary change with an impossible connection.

  9. @Al you can keep monitoring for another change in aircraft. If no F comes back, you can always go back to United and get the difference in miles back if you end up flying biz.

  10. Delta changed the schedule and didn’t notify me. I rushed to the airport for nothing. Good advice to check.

  11. Great tips. Sometimes these changes can work to your advantage and you can ask them to open up space on a better flight than you originally had.

    Gary at View From The Wing had a great term for this: gardening your reservations, as in these needed to be “tended to” from time to time.

  12. It’s funny how all these airlines ask for all your details, phone number, cell, email, mailing address, pager, 2 way and yet when something changes will never contact you!

  13. What a crappy article? Not sure what the point is? You basically are saying if airline changes planes you should do nothing and hope you get lucky? I am not sure why anyone needs an article to tell them to do nothing.

  14. Also: social media in the event of an equipment swap.

    Had a trip book on SQ in Suites SIN-FRA specifically to fly in Suites using KF miles. About two months before the trip SQ equipment swapped to a 777. I left a comment on their Facebook page asking about rebooking onto a flight still operated by the A380 but on which no award space was available. It took some gentle cajoling but they opened up space for me. Always be polite and thankful for the the agents’ help, and you can get a lot done.

  15. A couple years ago, I was flying from BCN to LAX on BA with stops in LHR and PHX. It was an F ticket. About a month before the flight, the LHR-PHX-LAX was changed to a nonstop flight on AA F. I preferred this because no layover, but I wonder if I should’ve asked for a refund of my fuel surcharges. It would’ve been win-win. Instead, I settled for just 1 win.

  16. James – maybe you could stop posting about USAIR DM experiences. This is your third story including DM information. The program is long gone. Is your next topic how to max TWA miles? Seriously, welcome and good luck. But let the past go.

  17. Good article.

    In some respect the same precautions could be said of tickets that have been purchased with real money.

  18. Really enjoyed this article. Thanks James! I’m a fellow Aussie, and it’s great to read your articles- I appreciate a non US perspective.

  19. James, those must have been incredibly frustrating experiences but I agree with @Pete, unfortunately this is really a story (or really, non-story) about TG. You point out yourself in Case Study 1 that equipment changes are extremely common on TG. Indeed so common that seasoned TG flyers on Flyertalk have a name for it: “being TGed”.

  20. Currently have five 1st/Business reward seats through Nov. booked.
    I check them multiple times a week!

  21. BA outright canceled our award flights without notifying us – at all. So, we had two business class seats TO Europe with no return. Caught it randomly when checking the app for some reason- the return flights had simply vanished.

    After hours and hours on the phone with BA, we eventually got our avios and fees refunded, and booked our return flights on a other airline. BA kept trying to push us into alternative, undesirable flights. Never got any explanation for the failure to notify us of the cancellation (“this never happens- we have no idea how it happened” blah blah). We were just lucky we caught their error in enough time to book elsewhere.

    BA still has not refunded the $ we paid for seat assignments on the flight THEY canceled. We’ve been waiting about two months now.

  22. TG oh TG! Basically if I have a F booking with TG, I’d check airlineroute regularly. It happened to me twice in a row as well. BKK to Japan is the most risky. They shuffle planes like a deck of cards. My BKK-NRT has been changed from A380 to 77W to 788 to A330 (can you see the gradual decline in product?)

    At the end not only I got downgraded from F to J, I got the worst possible J seat available!

    It was a LM booking SYD-BKK-NRT for 50k. I still have my SYD-BKK in F so overall still a good deal. I was still allowed in F lounge in BKK, which is really what TG F is about. I showed the lounge staff my original booking in F and managed to get 60 min massage. (However, the neck and back pain came back after the red eye flight to NRT on their A330 angled slider)

  23. I had the same thing happen to me. I used Alaska Air miles to fly in F from Melbourne to Dallas via Sydney on Qantas. I was originally flying on a Wednesday but when I went in to check my seat assignment for my Sydney – DFW flight I noticed it had changed. Turns out QF are no longer flying to Dallas on Wednesdays and I was put onto the flight the following day. If my seat assignment hadn’t changed I would never have picked up the date change and would’ve spent 24 hours in Sydney waiting for my connecting flight! Called Alaska Air and they changed my Melbourne – Sydney flight to the following day. Luckily the 1 day change doesn’t affect any of my plans.
    Great tip to always check your bookings for changes!

  24. I had the opposite experience with Thai! Was flying KUL-BKK-TPE in J. KUL-BKK was originally scheduled to be a 77W with 1-2-1 lie-flat J but day of departure was swapped to a 744. I saw this when I checked in online and assigned myself a seat on the upper deck. I noticed the F cabin was blocked. When I got to the airport I asked the check-in staff if I could be assigned seat 1A and they gave it to me! And it was new F!! Was a lovely ride, though service was meh.

  25. I have a Delta itinerary LAX-SEA-PEK. The original plan included a 3+ hour layover, which was not ideal, but bearable. Well, recently Delta changed the SEA-PEK flight time to about an hour later. This gave me an opportunity to call and rearrange the itinerary to give us a much later LAX departure that wasn’t available to book online with points. So yeah, early bookings often and be ready to call if the change is negative!

  26. Perhaps you should *always* check the status of your reservation no matter if you booked a paid or an award ticket. I once had an equipment change on LATAM on a flight to London from Asuncion. The Asu-Gru leg was originally operated by an A320, I checked my ticket a couple of days before departure and the equipment was changed to a Boeing 767, they downgraded my *paid* business class ticket to economy just 2 days before departure, after some back and forth, several compliants and emails they finally asigned me again a business class seat, i should nothe that I got a flat bed on a 2 hour flight, that is always a treat. They NEVER contacted me about the equipment change, and if had not checked my reservation this story probably would have ended differently.

  27. Similar panic moment just yesterday: I have (semi-randomly) clicked on “details” for my AS award on Cathay, only to be greeted with “There is a problem with your booking, please contact us”. Agent looked it up and stated that there was schedule change. I was reaching for hyper-ventilate-paper bag, when she calmly stated that plane is departing 5 minutes later. And she did whatever she needed to “re-issue” the tickets. Really Cathay? 5 minutes schedule change invalidates award booking? And nobody sent me an email (I have added booking references to both AS and CX accounts)?
    I guess I will be clicking on “details” every week for the next 4 months.

  28. I am hoping my booking get changed by the airline as i want to cancel it. Due to life i have to change a 4 person Bus Class ticket from GIG-OKC on Delta. To get my 240k miles back it will end up costing me $600. I am hoping they have an aircraft or schedule change so i can cancel without penalty.

  29. The frequency that this type of change happens is amazingly high and the repercussions can be significant. One AC booking to New Zealand from Kelowna was originally scheduled YLW-LAX-SFO-NRT-AKL-CHC basically to avoid AC YQ. The first leg was back when UA was flying to YLW. They did a schedule change (no announcement to me) that had me arriving in SFO and not connecting at all. I noticed it a month in advance and contacted AC (Aeroplan). They ignored the issue even though I kept calling back. Finally a week out I called and requested a supervisor.

    The upshot was they asked how I would like to fly to my ultimate destination so they changed the flight to YLW-YVR-SYD-CHC which was almost wonderful and they did not add YQ. They even booked the SYD-CHC link on Qantas as a paid ticket. Unfortunately I left my brain at home and did not add my OW FF number to the Qantas flight and was unable to add it later so did not score some extra points over the whole affair.

    Recently was able to score a J class reward on Qantas from YVR … only to discover that the ticket was cancelled a week later. I called AS and they informed me that the ticketing (done by them) never reached Qantas in time so Qantas cancelled the ticket. Took about a week to get that straightened up but the booking still seems to have a problem and it will require more work for sure before departure in December. When a J class ticket shows no baggage allowance it seems to me that a problem may exist.

    The advice is good and I think that many people will benefit from this. Thanks James

  30. such a great post, mate! You’re quickly becoming one of my favourite writers!

    is this only valid for award bookings or ca$h as well?

  31. Wow, when my award booking gets changed, it’s usually cancelled or the schedule has changed so I’m now departing a week later. I wish it was just an equipment change. But yes, I’ve had equipment changes too, most notably on Air France who decided to swap my 3pm flight on a 777 to an a380 at 7pm for no discernible reason.

  32. And perhaps the worst part was this aircraft change was happening a mere week before my flight departed. I wished I’d booked the trip a few weeks earlier!

    My course of action

    On my side was time, as there were still many months until the flight departed.

    Was this section proofread? From few months in advance, to the flight happening a week later, then back to a few months in advance

  33. I think this is applicable to all reservations. That’s why I use AwardWallet to keep track. It notifies you automatically. No need to check.

  34. Case #2 also happend to me in April 2017 on BKK-FRA. I almost acted in panic and booked CA F via PEK, but luckily Thai had a few random Saturdays with B747 on that route which I managed to get 2 award seats on.

  35. I think one should always check their flights…no matter what…I have 2 1st class tix on JAL via my Alaska miles…I have had the flight about 6 months or so….It has been changed 5 times..One time it was ridiculous. The second leg arrived 30 minutes after the flight to Tokyo left….They never caught it. It is a loooooooong flight from Alaska..and no matter how good it is, it is always longer. Now they have given me a 3 flight option….:(

  36. Good article James, just what the Non US readers want to know. Asian airlines, routes in Asia/Australia ………………….less US bias.

  37. Change the plane, as in the Thai example, or just decide to bump you completely out of J and into Y , simply because you are flying on points, as happened to me on Iberia , MAD-JFK.
    Turned up for the flight, well within time, told J is full and that I was traveling on “only a points ticket” that I would have to go in economy. This was a Qantas redemption that had been booked 6 months in advance, with seat allocation and online checkin. The flight supervisor was quite shameless in saying “it’s only on points”
    I decided to call Qantas and got out my FF card to find the number and the guy saw my card shows o/w emerald and that made him change his mind and decide to kick someone else out of J ( I suspect a friend/relative/staff who had been bumped up into my seat).
    So yes, be mindful of the risk of a Points booking , vigilant to ensure they don’t boot you, and insistent/persistent in the event something like this happens.
    I would never trust Iberia again, although I do still fly them for convenience.

  38. I had a QR (cash) booking to BKK and HAN for early Feb that had been changing schedules on an almost daily basis. Each time the schedule changed I was offered a refund but I just ignored it as the equipment and dates were still the same.

    Then my partner had to pull out for family reasons at the beginning of the year. After that, of course, there were NO changes whatsoever so I had to cancel the booking and forfeit part of the ticket cost.

  39. @ Jonathan Lim – the news about the schedule change was announced months before my flight (giving me time to do something about it) but was due to actually commence only a week before the flight departed. Airlines usually give their customers fair notice before implementing these changes.

  40. @ schar – many thanks for the kind words!
    Where you have made a cash booking the airline should be far more proactive about contacting you where they are basically downgrading your fare. You are likely to have more options on a cash booking because the availability compared with an award booking should be far greater.

  41. @ BrooklynBoy – of course sometimes aircraft changes can work in your favour – I wish I had 2 happy stories rather than 2 unfortunate ones!

  42. @ Tom – this will probably be the last post on USDM from me even though I still have plenty of humorous stories about it! I’ll be diving deep into Avianca LifeMiles in future posts as that program is the current Star Alliance premium seat consolidator.

  43. Hi James,

    I have a round trip flying Thai F booked via UA from SYD-BKK-HKG. Now the Syd-Bkk leg has been downgraded to J. Is it possible to call UA to have the booking cancelled without any charges?

  44. Hi James! Something similar happened to me for my TG First Class trip from HKG-BKK-SYD in July.
    Thai downgraded me from First (747) to Biz (77w) on the HKG-BKK leg due to aircraft change. This is an award flight via UA. But the second from BKK to SYD is still F so that UA refuse to refund miles to me. What should I do if this circumstance happened? Danke schön!

  45. I booked two one-way award bookings on Qantas points from Gold Coast to Sydney to Bangkok to Dubai to Paris and Amsterdam to Dubai to Sydney to Gold Coast back in September 2017 for travel in May and August 2018 and of the 7 original flights I booked only one is totally unchanged, another has had a slight time change and the other 5 are totally different flights due to time changes not allowing enough connection times and flights being cancelled. I will say I got an email from Qantas each time there was a change and they were great on the phone when I wanted to change some of the replacement flights they booked me on. Looking forward to my business class flights with Emirates, as it is s hard to get on actual Qantas flights internationally in business class.

  46. I knew there would be great stories in the comments on this subject. Mine is that is when Delta changed the domestic legs of my Air France booking by a few minutes, AF considered those flights CANCELLED – GONE! They disappeared from my reservation (at AF), but not at Delta. As with many others’ experience, there was no notice – I found this when checking on the reservation.

    I obtained the info. on the small changes from Delta and a wise agent there coached me with what to tell AF. After five calls to AF they finally understood – ooohhh, the flights were only changed, not cancelled, and they added them back to my itinerary. It made them look like clowns – I have times change on United all the time and they just update the itinerary, asking for approval.

    As a systems-ish person, the no notice for a lot of this stuff is pretty obvious bad faith on the part of the airlines. It would be very easy to have the system kick off an automated email whenever anything changed with the reservation, but they choose not to do so.

  47. I thought I would lose my mind in 2016 during the US Air/AA merger. I had six international itineraries, five paid J, one award J and every single one of them had major changes. The “computer” rescheduled three connecting flights to land in PHL three to four hours after departure of my TATL flights. My award ticket outbound itinerary to CDG was changed six times in three months. Fortunately, I was able to get everything fixed satisfactorily however, I never felt comfortable until I was seated on the aircraft. I had changes within two days of travel in one case.

    Fortunately, since then, things have stabilized and other than a few schedule time changes, I haven’t been rerouted through different cities or suffered any big changes. Even flights on partner airlines have been stable. I check my flights often.

  48. @ Josh – when you pull up your booking on Manage My Booking on the website of either the airline operating that flight or the airline you booked through, it should list the aircraft type, either in full, such as ‘Airbus Industrie A380-800′ or an abbreviation, such as ’77W’. If the aircraft type has changed then google image search the name of the new plane product, such as ‘Thai Airways 747 business class’ and see if its better or worse than you were expecting.

  49. @ Marius Trip – everyone seems to have a horror stop about their reservation changing. Fortunately if you are aware of it before hand you can do something about it/manage expectations!

  50. @ RK – if the change is involuntary, unacceptable to you and there are no valid alternatives you should be able to cancel without penalty but YMMV. I’d be interested to hear how you get on with this.

  51. I find that a subscription to ExpertFlyer is well worth the money. After I set an alert, it emails me right away if there is an equipment change.

    My wife and I often fly in Coach, selecting seats A and C and hoping middle-seat B will remain empty. This strategy usually works, except that the airline sometimes quietly moves one of us into B to free up the aisle seat C. To know if this has happened we set an alert on ExpertFlyer to notify if B becomes reserved…then we log in and move me/her from B back to C.

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