Booking an Award Ticket: An Anxious Ordeal


The process of booking an awards ticket is characterized by highs and lows. The life cycle goes as follows:

The seed is planted: 

You’re at work bored. You see a display banner ad about visiting a destination. You email your friend asking if she is interested in going to [insert random place]. She says yes. You get to work. 

The search begins: 

Hotels or airlines? Where do you start your search? Hyatt, SPG, Hilton, perhaps Club Carlson? No rewards hotels? Should you change the destination or realize there’s more to travel than the confines of a luxurious hotels? You switch to the flight search which is by far the most enjoyable part of the process.

  • Step 1: Which airline should you fly? Check Award Wallet for your balances.
  • Step 2: You can burn American points, you have too many. Wait, do they fly to [random place]. Check Wiki airports.
  • Step 3: Go to British Airways,, perhaps to find availability. Begin with the long-haul route then add in the extra segments.

The call to the airline: 

“Hi, I’m your automated useless helper. How can I help you?”

It begins.

“Rather than wait on hold…” You have your flight numbers ready, you have the phone on speaker. You wait.

The agent gets on the line, says her name and then promptly hangs up on you because she apparently didn’t hear you say hello.

Call back.

On hold.

The agent gets back on the line. You scream out your AAdvantage number. You proceed to tell the agent the route and hope that you got a ‘good agent’ that will work with you price and ticket an amazing itinerary.

“So you want to go from Cairo to Los Angeles. I have a British Air…”

You interject as soon as you hear British and Award Reservation,I have the flight numbers if that helps.”

Inevitably, the agent comes back and says one of three things:

  1. Please give me your credit card number.
  2. I’m not seeing that seat available.
  3. It’s pricing out at [insert incorrect number of miles].

I’m not sure which is more nerve-wracking among the three. With the first, the anxiety is at a fever pitch as you hope that your phone doesn’t drop the call before the transaction can be completed. With the second, you wonder how you can convince the agent that there is availability because your own search shows there is. With the third, your patience is tested as you try to convince the agent you know more about their routing map than they do. (This may not be true. see Seychelles booking on US Air.)

If the call isn’t dropped or you don’t hang up and call again to find a better agent, there is a chance that the award booking ordeal may soon be over. If the reservation is confirmed, make sure you actually write down the ID locator number. Many times the confirmation email never comes, leaving you back at square one.

The wait to be ticketed: 

Off the phone, you’re not foolish enough to believe that you’re out of the woods quite yet. Checking your inbox, you find no email confirmation of the flight. Logging into your AA account, you notice that the ticket is still ‘on request’. Hitting refresh does nothing. All you can do now is wait.

No wonder there’s a market for an award booking service.

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