American Airlines is by far the most generous carrier when it comes to letting you hold award space prior to ticketing. While neither United or Delta allow award holds, American not only permits holds whether you have miles in your account or not, but allows holds of up to five days, even on most partner award flights. But sometimes that space cancels early and AA is unable to recover it. Read on for how to reduce your risk of this happening to you.
One of my award bookers emailed me with a record locator and the following–
Hey, do you know why this AA space cancelled early? It was supposed to hold till Sunday.
There are a few reasons why it could have cancelled, but I had a hunch. The award was Washington National to Hong Kong via Boston, on American and Cathay Pacific. While Boston to Hong Kong booked into business class, the Washington to Boston segment booked into economy class.
I called American Airlines and at first the agent expressed puzzlement. Upon digging deeper, however, she confirmed my suspicion: the space cancelled because “the agent did not notate that there was a voluntary downgrade on the DC-Boston flight.”
That’s right — because the passenger did not consent to flying economy on one segment of a business class award, the whole itinerary cancelled.
AA has an archaic rule whereby you can fly a mixed-cabin award if business or first class is not available on all segments, but it must be noted. Without this “waiver” accepting a voluntary downgrade, the system will not hold or ticket the reservation. At it is not supposed to — sometimes it does anyway.
Thus, the key is whenever you make a mixed cabin award booking over the phone, ensure the agent notes your “voluntary downgrade”.
What about online?
I figured this was a mixed-cabin issue because I dealt with a similar one in the past…booked online. This was all AA metal, Chicago to Miami to London and back the same way. Once again, the domestic segments were only available in economy class.
This reservation was not only held, but confirmed: credit card details for taxes were entered. It never ticketed, though. After a few days it cancelled with no notice from AA.
A phone call to AA fixed both issues, but imagine a situation in which you had partner space booked that when cancelled was either booked by someone else or did not return to inventory. AA’s policy is that if not ticketed, the reservation is not guaranteed. Now you might find a nice agent to help you, but that is sadly about as likely as finding a needle in a haystack. Maybe not quite.
To avoid any complications, whether you book online or especially over the phone, ensure that the agent notates your voluntary downgrade. Half the time you must remind agents and most of the time it does not seem to matter anyway. But clearly sometimes it does, so save yourself a future headache and do not leave it to chance.