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Sunday Reader Question: Getting Better Seat Assignments on Partner Flights

by on April 22, 2012 · 10 comments

in Air France, Delta, Sunday Reader Questions

TPG reader Doug asks:

“I was able to get 3 tickets from Minneapolis to Sicily on Delta with a stopover in Paris for 60,000 miles each—something I didn’t believe was possible even after spending about a month reading mileage websites until I read your article.

On the Minneapolis-Sicily itinerary, one of the segments is an Air France flight from DTW to CDG. I see only limited seating options available through the Delta website, and can’t figure out how to access my reservation through the Air France website. Do you have any insight regarding how I can get a better seat on the Air France flight, or whether there’s the equivalent of Economy Comfort available to Delta award travelers on Air France.”

Alliances and partnerships are great for opening up more award options, but many problems arise from poor inter-airline IT systems once the tickets are booked. The issue that many people (myself included) run into is seat assignments. Remember that in most cases the operating carrier has final control over the seats on their plane, so even if you select a seat via their partner airline or online travel agency, its subject to change at any time. Most airlines have strong language stating that seating assignments are not guaranteed and subject to change. Also factor in constantly changing aircraft types (airlines will put bigger/smaller planes on certain routes to adjust to demand) and you’ll find that seats can change almost as much as ticket prices fluctuate.

However, if you are savvy you can proactively secure seat assignments in a number of ways:
1) Ask the airline who issued your ticket (in this case Delta) for your partner airline (Air France) record locator. Most airlines will generate partner record locators for each partner airline that you fly. Once you have that number, try pulling up your reservation on the operating carriers website. You can usually get these once your awards are booked, however not all airlines will provide them. I recently used United miles to book Newark to Singapore on Singapore Airlines and they couldn’t give me the Singapore record locator, yet when I used ANA miles to book a Singapore Airlines flight, the partner record locator showed up online so I was able to log-in to Singaporeair.com and choose my seat and “Book the Cook” option.

2) Call the airline who booked your award. Specifically with Delta, they have direct contacts with their colleagues at Air France and can often submit requests that get answered sooner than if you call yourself.

3) If you can’t get a partner record locator to select your seat online, call the partner airline and ask a phone rep to give you seat assignments. Air France often has long hold times to speak to reps, so I’ve emailed them ([email protected]) and asked for an exit row seat and they politely processed my request. Just include as much information including the exact seats that you want. I also ended my email with a line in French thanking them for their assistance. It never hurts to be nice!

If the seats you want aren’t available, you can set Seat Alerts with ExpertFlyer so if they ever become available, you can get a notification instantly emailed. For example, if the exit row is taken on an upcoming flight and there are only regular seats, you can set alerts on each exit row and if they become available you will be notified.

If you don’t have any luck before the day of departure, make sure you get to the airport early and ask for your preferred seats at check-in and at the gate. Often some of the most prime seats (like the bulkheads) are held for gate assignment so they can accommodate passengers with disabilities or those who need the baby bassinet. If there is no need for those passengers, gate agents will randomly assign people to those seats – unless they know someone specifically (and nicely) requested them.

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  • Tim

    I used @DeltaAssist on Twitter to get my Dad’s AF PNR. Took about a minute. Great service.

  • mmm

    another way to get air france record locator is to search by delta ticket number on af website. My award ticket reservation showed up this way, but could not do anything more on that website.

  • Austin Watkins

    Glad I am not the only one with this issue. Skyteam won’t even put my DL skymiles number on partner tickets. Creates a huge nightmare. I am walking away from my DL Gold because of the issues with their systems. I’ve never had *A not put my status and UA # on partner airlines.

  • Gavinmac11

    I recently called Air France to ask for a seat assignment on Air France flights that are part of a skymiles award. I called the U.S. number and I think the initial recorded voice said “Delta/Air France” and I may have gotten a Delta rep. Anyway, the rep told me that Air France only assigns seats 100 days out and there was nothing I could do until 100 days before the flight.

    I then figured out how to access the reservation on the AF website (using the Delta record locator or the ticket number) and was able to choose seats that way.

  • johnny

    where was the 3 tics for 60000miles article at ?

  • nelumbo

    You can no longer book long-haul C award on SQ’s 388 and 77W by US or UA miles, at least in foreseeable future.

  • Nick E

    Also, if you do choose specific seats and want to make sure you keep them, be sure to bring a printed copy of the itinerary with you. My wife and I flew AirFrance to and from Tahiti last year, and when we checked in for our return flight, we had been switched from one of the last rows of coach with only two seats (which we deliberately chose to be by ourselves) to new seats in the middle section of the 777. Needless to say, we were not happy. They wouldn’t do anything until I pulled up the itinerary on my iPhone and showed them which seats we had reserved.

  • studd

    anybody know how to get IB rec locators, its like a huge secret, they don’t give them out, nobody seems to be able to find them?? also tkt number for IB would also be helpful sometimes. thanks!

  • Raj B

    The ticket numbers never worked for me. I’ve always called DL to get the AF conf code to select seats and special meals on airfrance.us. Works like a charm, if only I can figure the best business seats on the A380 for my YUL-CDG trip next week

  • michaeljapan

    If your ticket was issued on AA stock (001) or BA stock (125) there will be NO Iberia ticket number (075). Your ticket number and issuing airline’s locator will always be included in your itinerary/receipt.

    If your ticket was issued by AA or other partner airline and you had no luck getting Iberia’s locator from them, you may try calling Iberia prior to your flight, give them your name, flight details (date and number) and ask for Iberia’s locator.

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