In booking award tickets on a daily basis, I often encounter situations in which I must split a record before ticketing. Put simply, say there are two people on an award reservation and they want to use their own miles to pay for their tickets. If miles are coming out of two accounts (with some Household Account exceptions), the reservation must be divided. Each passenger will subsequently have their own confirmation number from the ticketing carrier. The point of this post is this: when an agent tells you it is not possible to split a record, push back.
This may seem so trivial, but the ramifications are tremendous. An interaction with a United employee today prompted this post. A client told me they had 150K United miles and asked me to book a one-way trip from Tanzania to the USA for two passengers. The cost of such a ticket is 60K for business class and I was able to find some pretty nifty space on Swiss/Austrian during the peak safari season. As is customary for me, I placed the reservation on hold and presented the client with the space.
The client loved it and told me to ticket it–but when I asked for his MileagePlus info I found he had 80K in his account in 70K in his wife’s account. Consequently, I could not just call United and tell them to pull 60K from each account–I had to split the record so that the tickets could processed correctly.
As I expected and am told so often, an agent informed me that it was not possible to split the record. We would have to remove one person from the reservation and request the space again she claimed. That works fine when there is additional award space in inventory, but in this case (as is often the case), there was no extra space. Now to be honest, oftentimes when you release award space it instantly or quickly returns to inventory and you can book it again. But playing that game is an inherent risk because sometimes the space does not go back–it is an unnecessary risk.
I pushed back (gently) against the agent and told her it was possible to split the itinerary and I did not want to risk losing this space. Bottom line, I don’t think she knew how to do this, but she offered to check with her support desk. Five minutes later, the reservation was split and tickets were in the queue for issuance.
This is not a problem unique to United Airlines. US Airways, Delta, and American (though much less so on American) all have given me similar stories. And to be fair, there is a chance something could go wrong when records are split with partner airlines, because in you are technically requesting the seats again from the carrier (meaning the carrier could say no). But in practice (and remember that Award Expert redeems millions of miles each week), this risk is much smaller than removing someone from the ticket and crossing your fingers that the space will become available again.
If an agent says splitting a record is not possible, push back or hang up and call again.