FlyerMiles 101

How To Book Awards

In this section, we'll take a quick look at the process of booking awards, as I get questions on this fairly often.

Let's get started!

In short, there's two ways to book award flights; online, or by phone. If you're looking for a fairly simple award, chances are that it'll pop right up on the website, and the booking process is pretty much the same as booking a cash ticket.

For more complicated awards, or for situations where you've found available flights that your mileage program's website just can't quite manage, you'll have to call in.

When you call in, the following checklist will save you a few headaches. There's nothing worse than spending half an hour with an agent, building the perfect getaway, then having to hang up and call back because it turns out your account is short by a few thousand miles.

So, when you call in, have the following things handy.

Frequent-flyer account number

...and check that you've got the miles you need!

Passport.
For international bookings, a ticket issued with a name that doesn't precisely match what's on your passport can be a huge problem.

Credit card.
Even for a 'free' ticket, you're going to have some form of taxes and fees to pay, even if only a few dollars. Note that many credit cards that include travel insurance will only cover you for a flight booked with miles, if you used that particular card to pay any fees and taxes associated with the booking.

List of the flights you want to book

This should include dates, departure times, airlines and flight numbers. You'll cut your booking time in half, if the agent doesn't have to read off a list of all the different flights from Singapore to Bangkok and ask you which one you want.

A way of taking notes

You'll need to take down a few confirmation numbers at the end of the booking. Don't forget to ask the agent for the "PNR" for each of the airlines on your booking - this is the 6-character code you'll use to check in for your flight, manage seat assignments, that kind of thing, and sometimes you'll have a different one for each airline on your trip.

A bit of patience.

I've found over the years that about half of the phone agents at an airline mileage plan are fascinated by complex trips with a dozen flights, while the other half either trudge through it sounding bored to tears, or simply freak out because they're not used to booking anything more complicated than Vancouver-Montreal direct.

If you get a bad agent, and they want to argue with you, give them a minute to explain themselves. These programs can be complicated, and after years of booking these things I'll still sometimes run up against a new rule or a glitch I haven't seen before.

If they're just not helping you, tell them politely you’ve got to go, hang up and call back, you’ll get a different agent and it should go better. I've rarely ever had any issue with two agents on one booking.

For any itinerary with half a dozen flights or more, you should expect to spend half an hour to an hour on the phone.


 

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