Skip to content

I booked a backup flight on another airline. Was it wrong?

July 20 2022
5 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

It has been an abysmal summer for airlines and flight cancellations. You don’t need me to tell you that.

U.S. airlines canceled 2.3% of their flights — with another 21.5% of flights significantly delayed — from Memorial Day weekend through mid-July, according to data from FlightAware. In other words: It is more prudent than ever to have a good backup plan.

But I recently found myself in a situation questioning if maybe, just maybe, I was doing too much to ensure that my family gets home from vacation. Was I being a savvy traveler — or pushing an ethical line too far?

Sign up for our daily newsletter

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Here’s the situation: I’m flying JetBlue back to New York with my family from Aruba at the end of August. The following day, we start a week-long beach house rental with some friends. In other words, we don’t have any flexibility if our flight gets canceled and the airline doesn't have a good solution readily available.

Given the operational challenges the airline industry is facing, I don’t trust any single airline to get us home on time.

There are three later flights that day on JetBlue to the New York area, plus one on Delta and two on United. But given how full planes have been, I’m not sure I want to gamble on there being three empty seats available for my family in the event a whole plane full of travelers now needs to be re-accommodated from Aruba.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Since I don't trust the airlines to have a readily available Plan B right now, to create my own backup plan, I used miles and booked three separate backup tickets on the Delta flight an hour later.

I want to emphasize: It’s not that I don’t trust JetBlue specifically; it’s that this summer has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen in this industry and I like having backup plans — especially when we have no flexibility to just fly later without messing up other plans.

Related: How I used points and miles to book a backup vacation

Leveraging added airline flexibility

This double booking is largely possible thanks to the pandemic-era relaxation of change and cancel fees.

American, Delta and United all eliminated change fees from most tickets in late 2020. Southwest never had change fees to begin with.

Except for basic economy fares (which generally can’t be changed or canceled), you can now switch your flight with those big four airlines and only be on the hook for a possible fare difference.

The policy even applies for those redeeming miles (except on United) — which is especially helpful since most airlines will simply redeposit your points and refund the taxes, without any additional fees, if you cancel your award travel plans.

Is it against the airline rules?

I reached out to the six largest U.S. airlines and the industry’s trade group, Airlines for America, and none of them were eager to talk about the topic.

The general response was: Given this summer’s “challenging environment” — and yes, several of them used that phrase — they could understand why savvy passengers would do this.

Most airlines prohibit double bookings on their own flights: It’s spelled out in their contracts of carriage.

They also have systems in place that will automatically cancel a second reservation — American calls its “Revenue Integrity and PNR Automation.” But airlines don’t have visibility into what flights passengers might have also booked with another carrier.

So what about the ethics of it all?

Again, I was met with the response that airlines can understand why in this — you guessed it — “challenging environment,” passengers would do so.

Yes, this would tie up a seat an airline might otherwise sell, but airlines think it's a small group of people who are willing and able to take this added step.

To pull this off, you either need a hefty balance of frequent flyer miles to make spare bookings or, if paying cash, are confident that you will use the resulting voucher good for a year that you'll get when you cancel the flight that you end up not using. (So basically, that's the Venn diagram of TPG readers, right?)

If done on a larger scale, this type of strategy could hurt the airline revenue management teams planning for next year’s flight schedule. But again, there don’t appear to be many folks doing this. No airline could confirm that with hard numbers, but none I talked to seemed overly worried, either.

Related: How to decide whether to use cash or miles for your airline tickets

Bottom line

This might seem like an unusual step, but given how full airplanes are and how limited rebooking options can be when an entire plane full of people is scrambling for a new flight, it somehow seems prudent.

Between summer thunderstorms, air traffic control delays, staffing shortages and continuing COVID outbreaks — well, it’s rough out there.

If a flight is canceled, there isn’t always going to be a seat on the next one. And airlines today are reluctant to rebook passengers on other carriers who might have an open seat.

So while I don’t love the idea of holding extra seats we very well may not use, it seems like it is the right time for travelers to take whatever precautions they can to protect themselves and their travel plans.

Featured photo by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees