A reader asked me to cover how I successfully book my award travel and asked if I would write about it. So here it goes:
I first think of the circumstances of the individual taking the call. In most cases they are overworked, tired and have spent xxx # of hours working with people that try to book award travel once a year or maybe once in a lifetime. My first goal is to make this a better experience for the agent I’m speaking to. I need to show I have done my homework.
Secondly, I need to be aware that they are going to offer the easiest solution which may be “no availability” so they can move on to the next phone call that is blinking in front of their face. They are looking at all the calls on hold. I must show them that I expect more from them that the quick and easy solution.
My responsibility is to come into the conversation fully armed with options and information that they need to be successful in my request. And I must have my parameters clearly set out so we can explore all options. Examples are: flexibility in dates, splitting up your party into more than one flight, taking an overnight layover if it gets the job done, using alternate airports, being willing to pay for the higher redemption level award and using partner airlines.
My conversation may go something like this:
Hi Mary: I’m looking for award flights for two passengers from Hilton Head Island or Savannah to Germany and I do have some flexibility in dates, and arrival cities. Do you have time now to help me find two tickets?
She’ll then come back with which dates and city do you want to travel. It is my responsibility to be as flexible as possible with the dates and cities by saying: My first preference is Munich from HHH on October 25th returning on the 31st. Let’s check that first.
Her response may be: Sorry nothing available.
OK I can also use Savannah as a departure city and can you check from both departure cities for two days either side of my preferred dates. You have now greatly expanded your options.
If she comes back with: I can only get one seat from SAV on the 25th returning on the 1st of November, ask her to “hold it” as you have no problem splitting the travel into two separate awards.
You can then ask about nearby cities in Germany to get yourself to and make your way to the mutual destination. And you need the names of those cities you are willing to fly into where you can easily and cheaply get to Munich.
And if still no success then you’ll need the partner route. Here is where the airline’s alliance comes in. In the USA it is either Star Alliance for UA or US and soon Continental, Skyteam is Delta and Northwest and for now Continental, and the One World Alliance is American Airlines. If you are requesting a domestic award that is probably all you need to know the domestic partners.
Your conversation may go like this for domestic:
Thanks for checking Mary, now how about using one of US airways partners for part of the award. If I can get out of Savannah on US to Charlotte, can we connect there to a United flight through one of their hubs to my final destination. How about ORD? IAD? DEN? SFO? And I think it is your responsibility to provide the hubs for the agent. That way they are obligated to check that routing for you.
And the last trick I use particularly on international awards, is the overnight layover at an intermediate city. Say I’m going to Munich on UA and there is no availability from the Frankfort hub to Munich the day I am scheduled to fly. Ask them to overnight you in Frankfort and then get the early morning flight on to your final destination. The layover period can be up to 24 hours on international tickets without causing ticketing problems. And if you are doing an international award, you have many more options with all the airlines in the partnership alliance and all their separate hubs.
As you traverse this conversation, the agent will tell you if they have availability at a higher redemption level. With United it is saver award or standard award for US domestic. 25K or 50K. You decide what you are willing to spend. It is part of your initial parameters.
You also may find that there are seats in First Class on Saver awards, for less than coach seats with only standard award inventory available. If you are willing to spend 50K for coach, you certainly would spend 45K for business or first class. It is your responsibility to ask the redemption options available.
In my personal opinion, (which I get to express here, hooray), if you are requesting a domestic award for more than one person, I think it is very likely you will spend at least one half hour prompting the agent to check all the available options. If less than that time is spent, I’m not sure you have thoroughly checked all options. And, I have easily spent an hour online doing an international award request.
So there is my two cents worth. If you have other tips or tricks you would like to share, or have worked for you, write in and let me know. We’ll post any other good ideas on future posts.