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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Chris, whose flight times were changed before he could finalize his itinerary:

I have been using frequent flyer miles from a couple different airlines for many years. I thought myself pretty savvy, but I was recently surprised by American Airlines. I had two award tickets to the Caribbean on hold, and waited until the hold was about to expire before buying. When I logged on to purchase the tickets, I saw there had been a major schedule change that involved my flight getting in several hours later than what I had originally reserved, complete with a four hour layover.

Normally AA will let you rebook at no charge if your schedule changes by at least 60 minutes, and in my experience they will move you to any flight that has seats available. However, they would not let me change the routing for my flights, since the tickets had not yet been purchased. I either had to take the itinerary as it was or spend many more miles in order to get a better one. I decided to keep the less desirable itinerary at the low mileage redemption rate, but you can be certain I’ll keep checking to see what’s available. If there’s another schedule change, I’ll be switching to a more convenient flight.

American Airlines gets kudos for being one of the few airlines that lets you put award tickets on hold, but those holds can backfire in the event of schedule changes. Once you know you’re going on the trip, you should complete the purchase as soon as possible to protect yourself from those frequent and pesky schedule changes.

Award holds allow you to take advantage of availability even if your plans are uncertain, or if you need time to transfer in points or miles before you finalize your booking. However, an award hold only entitles you to buy your ticket at that held price; it doesn’t provide any of the considerations you’d normally receive from an airline once your reservation is complete. In the event of a schedule change, an equipment swap or some other unwanted modification, you’ll likely face the same dilemma as Chris: either buy the new itinerary as is, or lose your hold and start your search over.

This isn’t meant to dissuade you from placing award holds, but Chris is right that once your travel plans are set, you’ll gain little from waiting until the last minute to buy. Apart from the potential for schedule changes, you run the risk of letting your hold expire, in which case you’ll have no recourse. Ultimately, Chris’s decision to buy the less expensive award was a good one, since there’s still a chance more desirable award space will open up at MileSAAver rates. In that case, he may be able to change his flight at no charge, which wouldn’t be an option if he booked a better itinerary as an AAnytime award initially.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Chris a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo courtesy of Airbus

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