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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Alexander, who had an unpleasant surprise at the airport before a trip to Europe:
Spain is the favorite travel destination for me and my wife, and I find that award availability is decent on Iberia if one looks as soon as the calendar opens up 330 days out. For our trip in March, I transferred 68,000 points from Ultimate Rewards to Iberia Plus to book two one-way business class tickets from New York-JFK to Madrid (MAD) with about $180 in taxes total (we paid cash for our return flight on Norwegian). I received a confirmation email with the record locator, and we selected our two favorite middle seats on Iberia’s Airbus A350.
We were all set for our trip, or so we thought. The moment of shock came while checking in at the airport, where agents told us they didn’t see our names listed as passengers on the flight. Several supervisors were called in to tell us we were never ticketed despite receiving a confirmation email and selecting our seats months earlier! Iberia had emailed me a request to call and confirm my identity in order to pay the award taxes, but that email had gone straight to my spam folder. Meanwhile, my credit card was never actually charged.
We weren’t able complete the booking at the airport because a separate office handles award requests over the phone. Since we had already made all the restaurant, hotel, and activity reservations, we were still inclined to fly that night, but we were told Avios redemptions couldn’t be made for same-day flights. Our only option was to buy economy tickets for $1,200 at the desk. The lesson here is that when making an award redemption, you should check to see that your credit card is actually charged and a ticket number is issued.
Anyone who flies regularly should be familiar with confirmation numbers (also commonly referred to as record locators). These are the six-character codes you use to reference your reservation when checking in for a flight or making changes to your itinerary. You might reasonably expect that holding a confirmation number means your reservation is locked in, but in reality it may not be confirmed in the conventional sense of the word. A “confirmed” reservation is one for which a passenger name record (PNR) has been created; however, holding a confirmation number doesn’t mean you’ve actually been ticketed. Until you have a ticket number, your reservation remains in limbo.
Confirmation and ticket numbers are often issued simultaneously, but not always. Award holds are a routine example: you’ll get a confirmation number when you activate a hold, but you won’t be ticketed until you pay for it. Ticketing can also be held up when booking partner award flights, since the issuing airline has to contact the operating airline and confirm availability. That process takes time (I’ve waited as long as a week), which can be problematic if you’re booking at the last minute. An unprocessed payment is another potential delay, though it’s less common.
Alexander has the right idea: you should get in the habit of checking for a ticket number after you book a flight, though I recommend doing so for both revenue and award fares. Airlines may include a ticket number in your confirmation email, or you can check the itinerary in your frequent flyer account online. Otherwise, you’ll need to speak with customer service from the issuing airline to verify you’ve been ticketed. In any case, do not show up at the airport without a ticket number and expect to fly. Finally, Alexander’s story is a reminder to review your itinerary before you travel (I think a week is a good amount of lead time). If something is amiss, it’s better to find out while you still have time to set it right.
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 Alexander 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 email@example.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 by DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images.
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