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Another Possible Airline-Ticketing Problem

I've just dealt with a new-to-me airline-ticketing wrinkle. It all started with something I did that wasn't a good idea; I acknowledge that. I just want to warn anyone else who might contemplate doing something similar.

Dealing with a medical issue and with one eye on COVID and the second eye on Putin, I took advantage of United's policy allowing free re-deposit of miles up to 31 (I think) days before a flight. In early April I booked two outbound flights for the same day in mid-June, one to Oslo (for which I feared reinstatement of stringent COVID entry restrictions) and one to Tallinn. I received both confirmation emails.

Overnight United sent me an email canceling the Oslo ticket. I called the 800 number on the back of my United credit card (reasonable response time there). The agent said the computer had automatically canceled the Oslo ticket because of the date duplication; fair enough. When I said Oslo was the destination I preferred, she volunteered to cancel the Tallinn ticket and reinstate the Oslo ticket. I said "thank you", and she did just that. I received a new confirmation email for Oslo with the original confirmation number.

A week ago it was time to cancel some other unneeded flights (don't ask). In doing so I noticed the Oslo flight didn't show up under my frequent-flier account. I could find the ticket via the locator number and my name, but I was nervous about not seeing the ticket under my FF account. I called United again and discovered somehow my FF number wasn't on the reinstated Oslo ticket. The agent added it for me. It then became visible under my FF account.

Today I decided to try to select a seat for the second (SAS) leg of the trip. I found my reservation via the SAS locator number, but there was a red banner across the webpage, saying the flight hadn't been ticketed. I called United, which insisted the flight was ticketed and gave me the (long, numeric) ticket number. I called SAS (much, much longer hold time than with United). The SAS agent said the ticket needed to be reissued; she could see the number in her system but it was no longer an active number. She said I had to call United to fix the problem.

I'm absolutely certain the root of the problem was my making the same-day reservation to Tallinn, which caused the United computer to kick out the Oslo reservation. Somehow, United's reinstatement of the Oslo reservation with the original ticket-locator number didn't flow through to the SAS reservation system.

So I called United again, which kept saying everything was fine. I kept replying that SAS said the ticket needed to be reissued. The agent contacted her technical people, who said the ticket couldn't be reissued because it was good in their system. There was something about maybe needing to do a new booking (which I knew would now require more miles). I kept politely saying, "That's not acceptable; you have to reissue the ticket." Finally I insisted on a supervisor. There was a considerable wait, but the problem was quickly solved by the supervisor. I can now see my ticket on the SAS site, which is even willing to let me book a seat for just $15--except it won't accept my US credit card. That's going to take another phone call but is no big deal.

Lessons learned:

  • Do not book two flights on the same airline for the same day that overlap, time-wise.
  • If an airline agent needs to reinstate a ticket for you, follow up immediately to be sure your FF number (if applicable) is in the new record and any partner airline recognizes the new ticket. Just receiving an emailed confirmation is not a guarantee that everything is in place.
Posted by
9772 posts

Oh WOW. I am impressed that you kept your cool in such a patient manner and were able to finally get a supervisor who could actually fix the problem when so many had spent so long telling you it couldn't be fixed !! Brava !!

And thank goodness you decided to check on that SAS seat today -- imagine getting to the airport next month and finding only THEN that SAS didn't know about you.!!

Posted by
27352 posts

It would have been really disturbing. Usually I have only my first hotel booked, but because of costs in Norway and limited availability of hotels and transportation, I've booked everything except museum tickets and meals for the first two weeks of the trip. Even today it would be a problem to change things, much less finding out at the airport that my trip was going to end in Brussels instead of Oslo. I want to see Belgium at some point, but not like that!

Posted by
3178 posts

I am glad you got it resolved.

But I don’t think the glitch had anything to do with the missing frequent-flier number on the new Oslo reservation. That missing number did lead you to find that the new Oslo ticket was not in the SAS reservation system, which is a good thing. But it is not the reason SAS did not show the ticket. Here’s what I think happened:

When United randomly canceled your original Oslo reservation because it duplicated another on the same date, that ticket number—-the long 13-character numeric figure that represents the actual e-ticket—-was gone forever; it could not be reinstated. So United did give you back your Oslo booking, apparently with the same PNR (Passenger Name Record) as before (the 6-digit booking code, mix of letters and numbers). But they still needed to get a new ticket re-issued with a new 13-digit number.

Your statement that “Somehow, United's reinstatement of the Oslo reservation with the original ticket-locator number didn't flow through to the SAS reservation system” confirms this. You had the original PNR (also referred to as the record locator) but not the ticket—-yet. It is not unusual for there to be a delay between getting the booking confirmation/PNR and the actual e-ticket when there are changes. I have had this happen with British Airways—-I made a change in a booking, got a confirmation code right away, but had to wait weeks for the thing to be ticketed. I could not choose seats until I had the actual ticket, so I had to call back and ask them to hurry up.

Posted by
27352 posts

Thanks, Sasha. I'm sure you're right. The reason I was worried about the missing frequent-flier number was that I figured if something went wrong with one of my flights and a bunch of people needed to be rebooked, I might get a bit of an advantage if they knew I had a United FF account; at least it wouldn't hurt. And it just felt wrong to have that flight be invisible after I logged in. Knowing there had been the problem with the FF number probably made me extra nervous about the problem with the (non-existent) SAS ticket.

I think everything would have been fine if I had canceled the conflicting Tallinn flight online myself and then rebooked the Oslo flight immediately. At that point, everything would have been new, and the new booking would have gotten to SAS properly. It's a bit scary that so much could go wrong when an agent tried to help me out by fixing things. Some things I'd have expected to be automatic were not.

Posted by
1567 posts

Not all US airlines seem to prohibit booking multiple award tickets for the same dates though I’ve been aware of UA’s rule for awhile since I fly them so much. I’ve been using the new flexibility on canceling and reinstating award miles to book lots of double bookings to different destinations for the same dates on one of the other big US carriers. I keep watching for auto cancellations but haven’t seen this yet. Will keep my fingers crossed that I can continue to get away with it.

For my upcoming summer travels, I decided to play it safe by booking my primary trip with UA miles to S Africa, and then using the excursionist perk to fly to Mauritius and then return from Seychelles. My backup booking is on the other airline to Copenhagen and returning from Helsinki - booked for the same dates. This way in case of new Covid restrictions I’m hoping to pivot.

Posted by
11391 posts

Makes sense to have the computer system programmed so that one person cannot be on different planes at the same time.

That it took a supervisory level to resolve your situation.......hmm

Posted by
27352 posts

Arnold, I'm glad you'll (probably) be able to take advantage of the excursionist deal this year. I haven't been able to yet, but I am keeping it in mind.

Posted by
15559 posts

For the future, you should be able to go into your airline booking and add your frequent flyer number yourself. Just go to "Manage My Booking", log in using your six digit locater number, and there should be an area for frequent flyer numbers.

I'm not sure if this is true for all airlines but it might save you some time on hold in the future.

Posted by
27352 posts

Thanks, Frank. I don't remember whether I tried that or not--probably not, because it does seem as if it would have worked.

Posted by
9772 posts

And thinking about this again -- THIS is what is crazy to me !!

Just receiving an emailed confirmation is not a guarantee that everything is in place.

I mean, I would have absolutely assumed that since I had a come-back email, I was okay !! Oooofffff

Posted by
16706 posts

Thanks for posting this. I have wondered if the airline’s system would catch duplicate/conflicting bookings with miles. As Joe says, it “makes sense to have the computer system programmed so that one person cannot be on different planes at the same time“.

In our case, British Airways did not notice the duplication, but maybe we just got lucky. Or maybe it was because I booked the two reservations with different mileage plans (one pair of tickets with BA Avios, the other pair with Alaska Airlines miles). But we (my husband and I) each had two different seats on the exact same plane flying from London to SFO, one seat in business class and one in Premium Economy. I had booked the Business Class seats a year in advance as I usually do, and then I booked the PE seats as an alternate much closer to the travel date, for covid-related reasons. Obviously we could not each occupy two seats in different classes on the same plane, but the conflicting tickets remained in the system for two weeks before I canceled one set.