How to Manage Airline Award Seats and Schedule Changes
Savvy travelers book award tickets months in advance. But when the airline later adjusts its schedule, you’ll need some tricks up your sleeve.
A frequent-flier program member recently asked me how to deal with a common problem that people experience when they plan travel far in advance. She had booked a flight award several months before her trip, just as all the frequent-.flier experts suggest travelers do in order to secure one of the few seats available for purchase with miles.
But here’s the problem with booking so far in advance: Airlines tend to make flight schedule changes. In this case, United called the traveler to tell her that her connecting flight in Munich on Lufthansa had changed, so she would now have a five-hour layover—and a much later arrival time into Florence, her final destination.
Unhappy about the prospect of spending five hours in an airport when she could be living la dolce vita with a glass of wine and a view of the Piazza del Duomo, she checked Lufthansa’s Web site and noticed the airline had two earlier flights scheduled from Munich to Florence.
However, when she asked a booking agent about those flights, she was told there were no award seats available.
I told this traveler that there’s some hope from several different angles. Given that her flight was still not for a while, I suggested she continue to check with the United awards desk to see if additional award seats become available for one of the earlier Lufthansa flights. Most members are not aware that, on average, 25 percent of all awards are changed, meaning seats may become available again on that route. I recommend checking back biweekly, although weekly is even better if you have the time.
Another option was to look into flying with another United partner airline between Munich and Florence, in this case, Austrian or bmi. And yet another idea—if she planned to hire a car and use Florence as a base to explore Tuscany—she could consider flying into Pisa, near Florence, which is also served by Lufthansa. As with most award redemptions, it pays to be flexible and do your homework, so you know the right questions to ask the booking agent.
A final idea for her to consider, although not the optimal one, would be her luggage. If she could not secure a better connection before she left the U.S., she could try her luck at the Munich airport during her layover and ask Lufthansa for an earlier flight—but this would work only if she had her luggage with her onboard, or if she just checked her bags through to Munich. That way, if she did manage to get an earlier flight, she could simply recheck her bags for the new flight to Florence.
My final bit of advice was to prepare for the worst and check to see if any fellow travelers could give her a day pass to one of the airport lounges in Munich. If you have to sit around for five hours, it’s a lot more comfortable in an airport lounge than the terminal.
RANDY PETERSEN is publisher of Inside Flyer magazine and president of Frequent Flyer Services. Email Randy at email@example.com.