|Air France/KLM Flying Blue||24-48 hours – only by phone|
|Alitalia Millemiglia||14 days for Alitalia flights; varies for partner awards – only by phone|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||5 days if booked more than 15 days from departure; 1 day if booked between 1-14 days from departure; up until two hours prior to departure if booked within 24 hours of departure – online and by phone|
|Korean Air SkyPass||up until 48 hours prior to departure for Korean awards; 5 days for partner awards – only by phone|
|Lufthansa Miles & More||3-5 day holds for Lufthansa Group carriers plus Asiana, Ethiopian, and Jet Airways – only by phone|
|United Mileage Plus||24-48 hours holds on partner awards on beta website if insufficient miles in MileagePlus account – only online|
|Virgin Atlantic||24 hour holds on Virgin and partners – only on phone|
For a full-timer award booker, the most valuable tool any airline loyalty program can offer is the ability to hold a ticket prior to booking. Few things are for more frustrating than finding ideal award space, alerting the client, then finding after the client gives the green light that the space is no longer available.
Truth be told, I am surprised airline award space does not disappear more quickly than it does. Think about it — usually just a couple seats are allocated for premium award space on a relatively limited number of flights. That two seats made available to the whole world even last for several hours is a surprise.
Airlines That Offer Award Tickets Holds
Does a Hold Really Guarantee the Space?
Great, you’ve got the space on hold, but what happens if something goes wrong through no fault of your own? What if the space cancels early and you find yourself empty-handed?
The short answer is that you are probably out of luck.
Here’s a recent situation I ran into. A family of four was headed to Anchorage using their AA miles and we stitched an itinerary together that included a couple of Alaska Airlines segments. A schedule change occurred and the 90-minute connection in Seattle became a 15-minute connection. There were no other alternatives available.
I contacted American looking for a solution and the agent, after also failing to find alternate space, said that the reservation is not guaranteed because it was on hold and not ticketed. We went back and forth and a supervisor confirmed this unwritten policy. Subsequent calls were met with the same answer.
I go to bat for my clients and finally found a sympathetic agent who talked a sympathetic supervisor into opening up some space on AA, but it was made very clear that this was being done as a favor to me, not something AA was obligated to do.
Another story with a not-so-happy ending — I had a Flying Blue reservation on hold and the agent told me the hold was good for 48 hours. Less than 12 hours later, I transferred points into Flying Blue from American Express and called back to ticket but the reservation had cancelled and the saver space was gone. The agent refused to help. No agents helped — not in the Mexico call center or the French call center. I spent hours on this too, but the space was lost. We did eventually find another solution, but it was a stressful 10 days since once points are transferred the action can usually not be undone.
Held reservations are not ticketed reservations, when stricter consumer-protection regulations apply. The DOT mandates that airlines allow either a 24-hour cool-off period or a 24-hour hold for revenue (paid) tickets as long as the tickets are purchased at least 7-days prior to travel, but there are no consumer protections for held award tickets.
The Solution: Confirm Held Reservation Quickly
The way to avoid an unnecessary heartbreak or hours on the phone is to ticket the held reservation immediately. If you place a reservation on hold in order to transfer points in (and note, you should always do this when possible), initiate the transfer immediately and ticket the reservation as soon as the points post: there is absolutely no upside to waiting.
Realize that even a held reservation is not 100% safe, but that if you move quickly the chances of losing the space diminish greatly.
Temporary Phone Holds with Aeroplan, British Airways and Delta
One last tip: if you are booking a trip through Aeroplan, British Airways or Delta, I like to call it in and have the agents set up and “hold” the reservation before I transfer in any points. Yes, this does mean you will pay the telephone booking fee but with websites glitch-prone, this ancillary fee is worth the peace of mind of knowing the space you see online is actually available. The points must transfer immediately — if there is an unforeseen delay, the agents will not hold the space beyond the phone call.