It’s now more important than ever to monitor your upcoming reservations
Ever since I started traveling, I always logged into my upcoming reservations every few weeks to check on them. Why? Because you never knew what'd happen — there could be schedule changes, aircraft swaps or reassigned seats. You don't want to be left with a new departure time or a middle seat without knowing about it.
But now, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, there's even more of a reason to monitor or "garden" your upcoming reservations. For flights in the short term, you're hopefully looking to reschedule or cancel them. If you're seeking a refund, you'll need to wait until the airline cancels your flight, which'll be easy to check if you're actively monitoring your reservation.
For travel later in the year, there's a good chance that there's been a change in schedule or aircraft operating your route. After all, airlines are changing timetables by the day and more and more airplanes are getting retired ahead of schedule. There are many reasons it's important to monitor your reservations, so let's dig into them now.
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Check to see if your flight's been changed or canceled
This one's pretty easy. When you book a flight, you're asked for your email and phone number. One of the reasons is for the airline to reach out to you in case there's something wrong with your flight.
While some airlines are quite good at notifying you of changes to your upcoming travel, others aren't, even if they have your contact information. And now, even the good airlines are slow to inform you about changes. They aren't necessarily being shady; they are just overwhelmed by customer requests.
That's why it's imperative that you check your upcoming reservations to see if your flight's been significantly changed or canceled. Chances are it has, as most airlines are operating skeleton schedules for the next few months (and in some cases, longer).
Related: Why you should wait until the last minute to get a refund for your flight
If it's been changed or canceled by the airline, then you qualify for a refund according to the Department of Transportation guidelines, as well as the major carriers' contracts of carriage.
Getting a refund for your flight
As I mentioned above, if your flight time's been significantly changed or the flight's been canceled entirely, you're eligible for a refund. By monitoring your reservations frequently, you'll know when exactly you qualify for your money back.
Related: Why you should think twice before accepting an airline voucher — even with a bonus
In the interim, airlines may try to convince you to take a travel voucher — but there's no reason to accept that, unless you're committed to flying with the carrier again in the near future (or there's a good bonus offer).
Related: You are entitled to a refund for your canceled flight — even if the airline says you aren’t
And it especially pays to check your reservation right up until departure time. That's because the airlines are trying their hardest to give as few refunds as possible.
If you make a voluntary change or cancellation to your flight, all the carrier owes you is a credit. But if they cancel your flight, then it's a refund. That's why I always recommend waiting to cancel your flight until just before departure.
Understand your ticket's expiration
When monitoring your reservation, one of the most important things to pay attention to is the ticket expiration date. Almost all airline tickets have some sort of expiration date — usually one year from when it was issued. And if you're planning to change your flight, you'll need to do so before (and sometimes complete travel by) that date.
Related: All about airline-ticket expiration policies
Likewise another thing to check is whether there's been an extension to ticket validity.
Some airlines, like JetBlue, are extending the validity of credits that you receive from a canceled flight to 18 months (instead of the normal 12). If that's the case, you may have more time to use the voucher you receive.
Know when it's time to call your airline
These days, getting in touch with an airline customer service representative can feel like you've just won the lottery. But, there's often no reason to dial the 1-800 number, unless you've seen something happen to your reservation. If your flights are still operating on schedule, chances are that a phone agent won't be able to offer you a refund or anything outside of the guidelines in the published travel waivers.
Related: When is it time to call your airline?
That's why it makes sense to actively stalk your reservations. Once you've seen a change or cancellation, that's when it's time to pick up the phone. After all, agents only have flexibility when there's been an involuntary change to your reservation.
The coronavirus is taking a massive toll on the world, and especially the travel industry. Now, more than ever, monitoring your reservations is of the utmost importance.
If you're looking to get a refund for your flight, you'll need to wait for the airline to change cancel your flight first. Furthermore, by monitoring your reservation, you'll know when exactly your ticket expires, all without calling an airline. Lastly, this strategy will help you know when it's time to call your airline — once you're noticed something changed in your reservation.