The Free Flight Primer, Part Seven: Booking Your Award Ticket
[box style=blue]The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.
I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.
I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.
- Part 1: Intro and Taking Inventory of Your Points
- Part 2: Determining Airline Routes to Your Destination
- Part 3: Finding OneWorld Award Availability
- Part 4: Finding Star Alliance Award Availability
- Part 5: Using Award Nexus to Find Award Availability
- Part 6: Getting Your Miles
Booking Your Award
You’ve picked your destination, found out what airlines fly there, checked availability of flights, and earned your points. Now you’re on the homestretch. The only thing left to do is book your award and pack your suitcase (which I promise won’t be part 8).
Step 1: Determine Whether You Can Book Online
For all airlines, if you are flying “metal”, which means that you are using that airline’s miles and only flying on that airline (for example, you are using AA miles to book flights and flying ONLY on AA and no partner airlines), then you can book online. And while each airline’s booking system is set up a little different, they are for the most part, pretty straight forward. You sign in to your account, search for availability, and click on the tickets. Then you’ll be taken to a screen that shows how many points you have, how many it costs, and what the total out of pocket cost you have to pay is for fees and taxes. After you enter all your personal details and payment details, you are finished.
The problem comes when you are using an airline’s miles but flying on partner airlines (using AA miles but flying Iberia, BA, etc.). Unfortunately, most airlines DO NOT let you book most partners online and you’ll be required to call in and book.
To make it easy for you, I’ve created a chart that breaks down what you can and cannot do online for the five most popular airlines that people in the States have miles with. I’ve also included how much the fee is to book by phone, the phone number to call if you can’t book your ticket online, and if there is a short notice booking fee. Some airlines charge a fee if the date of booking a ticket is within a certain amount of days of your departure (completely lame if you ask me). I’ve also linked below to their page of rules regarding award travel if you want to read more about it (thrilling stuff, let me tell you!).
Case Study: Rob will be using AA miles but flying on Iberia, meaning he will have to call AA to book the travel.
Step 2: Call and Book Your Ticket
If you can’t book online, then you need to call and book your ticket. It doesn’t sound too complicated, and it isn’t usually, but there are a few tips that might help you.
Always have your itinerary figured out before you call: Use the skills you learned in Parts 3, 4, and 5 to find flight availability. Write down all the information for the itinerary you want or keep the window open on your computer when you call. Don’t assume the rep on the other line will find you the right or best flight. Don’t waste all your hard work by failing to be prepared and then finding out later you are on a different flight from the one you originally wanted.
Ask to have the phone fee waived: Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I always just mention that I couldn’t book the ticket online because they don’t allow you to book partners online or else I would have. If you sound knowledgeable and prepared, making the job easier for the rep, there will be a better chance you get the fee waived. Of course, being nice helps as well. Hey, it never hurts to ask.
Ask to put the ticket on hold: If you have any doubts at all (about the dates, about the flight numbers, about the passenger names) then ask to put the ticket on hold and get everything in order. This guarantees you have the tickets if you want them but doesn’t lock you in to anything at the moment. Each airline has different rules, but AA will hold your ticket for 5 days. Just remember to call back before the hold is up and actually book your tickets or they will be released and you’ll be out of luck. Also, remember to write down your tracking number somewhere safe and save yourself a lot of headaches later.
After booking your ticket, you should be all set, which brings us to an end of the Free Flight Primer. I hope that you’ve found the information easy to understand and valuable. Based on your comments and emails, I’d consider it a success. If you have any other questions, suggestions for future video tutorials and guides or if the Free Flight Primer has helped you book an award ticket, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!