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Cautionary tale re: phases of flight reservations

My son thought he had a flight today SFO-PDX which he booked a couple months ago, or thought he had. Last night he realized he hadn't gotten the email reminding him it was time to check in for his flight, and when he went on line he discovered he couldn't check in. It turned out there was a problem and the payment never went through, so while he had made the reservation, he was never ticketed.

Fortunately, after call-waiting-hold hell, Alaska was able to re-book him for an earlier flight today and even honored the original fare (!).

Pro Tip to Remember: There are three phases to flight bookings: Reservation, Ticketing, and Issuing the boarding pass. When you book online, you should get a confirmation of the booking, then after payment goes through you should get a ticketing confirmation with your e-ticket number. (United has always sent me two separate emails.) If you don't get an e-ticket number, you need to follow up (I've seen my e-ticket not show up until the next day).

The boarding pass phase doesn't come until you check in for your flight. Usually this is 24 hours prior, but these days you may have to check in in person if the agent needs to verify documents.

Posted by
9718 posts

Thank you Alan. A good reminder as it's easy to get into a whirl when doing reservations and not realize things didn't go thru.

I'll add that even before the pandemic caused airline disruption, I made it a habit of checking my flights every few weeks to make sure there were no radical changes. For my most recent trip Delta completely eliminated my return flight from CDG to Seattle and if I'd not checked I'd not have known. Had to change my return day. And yes, I get every Delta marketing email there is so I am never sure why they can't email me when a flight is completely eliminated??

I also have my American Express card set to text me if there is a large charge which a plane ticket usually is. It usually pings before I've even completed everything on a transaction.

Very nice of Alaska to honor the flight price and get him on a plane. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by
4262 posts

For reasons that Delta can't seem to explain, sometimes I do not get an email confirmation of a ticket purchase. I also sometimes do not get emails of schedule changes. I just make it a practice to check on the airline website (in my case, usually Delta) and then periodically check my flights to see if changes have been made. It's also worth checking for fare differences. I typically watch for fare decreases, but for my ticket this past September to Poland, I got what we thought was an incredible rate. A week later, I needed to call Delta with a problem, and the agent happened to see that the ticket price had dropped by $150 per ticket. THAT was a cheap trip!

Posted by
2580 posts

I've always thought a boarding pass was odd, it's just a duplicate of your ticket ...

Posted by
218 posts

@phred: Back in the day (late 70s) I remember taking my ticket directly to the gate and checking in, whereupon I was issued the boarding pass (assuming I had no baggage to check). That was back when virtually everything was refundable (and fares were federally regulated). The boarding pass indicated you had in fact checked in, since there could well have been ticketed passengers not showing up. So the boarding passes comprised the final nose count.

Posted by
218 posts

As a follow-up, son learned a painful lesson last night when he disclosed he hadn't booked flights for Christmas yet. He's now booked: SFO-PDX: about $800 in economy.

Posted by
45 posts

These tips are excellent. I always check my flights about a week out and then again three days out. This year I had a code-share flight from LHR to SEA that was really on Virgin Atlantic but also had a Delta flight number. The reservations were made through Delta. I looked at the flight on the Delta site three days before leaving and it had a small notice that said "canceled." I never got an email about the cancelation and Delta did not automatically reroute my itinerary. Can this really be true, I wondered? I verified on third-party sites that the flight had been canceled. Then there was a long wait on the phone to reroute my itinerary. It ended up OK for me, but what if I hadn't checked ahead of time, I would have been stuck without a flight home. Always check and the double-check that your flights are really flying.

Posted by
3030 posts

I have the Delta app on my phone. That makes it super easy to check my flights from time to time.