Hitting a Moving Target, aka Booking Continental Reward Seats This Week

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Over the past week I have been working to book four reward seats for my family to Canada and Upstate NY.  The plan was to fly into Canada, and then fly back out from Upstate NY.  We are planning a pseudo family reunion for next summer and unfortunately I was in a situation where I needed award availability on pretty specific days.  Whenever possible, don’t lock yourself into specific days if you need award availability.  It can lead to stress, irritability, and baldness (from pulling out your own hair!). 

I was booking using OnePass miles on Continental Airline’s website.  I don’t know if the universe was playing a dirty trick on me or what, but I swear that the availability was changing wildly by the second.  It didn’t happen once or twice, it happened for over two straight days.  It would go from zero or one non-desirable flight available one second, to several available options the next.  I was lucky enough to snag a decent outbound flight when the options were pretty wide open, but the return flight was much more difficult.

I was using miles from two different OnePass accounts, so I needed to make two separate reservations with two people on each reservation.  That sounds simple enough, but snagging two sets of available seats when the availability was changing so insanely quickly proved to be harder than bashing a super-quick Whack-A-Mole on the head.  The good news is that you can cancel without penalty for 24 hours after booking, and you can make date/time changes, without penalty, to reward reservations on Continental until 21 days before departure.  So, if I booked the first two seats and couldn’t get the second two seats, I would be able to back out of the whole reservation.

I first searched for four seats to gauge availability and then started to book in groups of two.  Booking #1, snagged two seats.  Then seconds later, the second two were unavailable.  I wait 30 minutes and then see four seats available on another, better flight.  I change the first two to the better flight, and then can’t book the second two because all of the sudden there was no more availability.  I then try to call in and see if I can get help over the phone.  I tried two different agents and both pretty much don’t believe what I am telling them about how quickly the award seat options are changing, and they say they see nothing available on their end.  Great, thanks.

I check a few hours later that night and again find four seats available on yet a third flight option.  This time, I was able to snag four seats before the system snatched back the option.  I was so excited that I was running around the house dancing.  I told The Man that I have never been so happy to book such a crummy flight.

The flight I booked had a 5 1/2 hour connection in Newark.  That’s a long time for anyone, but since Little C will be with us on this flight, it was really not a desirable option.  However, it was better than nothing, so I locked it in.  My plan was to get a room at an airport hotel so we could take a nap and swim to kill some time, if I couldn’t switch to a better flight between now and next summer.

Irish Luck must have shined down upon us, because the next morning a perfect flight was available for all four of us.  I called into Continental hoping that the agent would see what I saw, and be able to help us secure all four seats.  I explained to her how quickly seats have been disappearing on me, and she promised to help get all four.  Thankfully, she did.  Hallelujah.  I spent way too much of my life over those few days trying to book some simple reward flights.  I still can’t figure out why seats were popping in and out that quickly.  I have never seen anything like it.  I can only assume there was some bug in the system.

At the end of the day(s), we did get flights that worked for us.  Hmmm, 25,000 miles and $10 for two of the tickets or $2,523.20 to purchase the seats with cash…..I’ll go with Door #1!

Persistence really is the name of the game when it comes to finding reward seats.  I stuck with it and now Little C will get several days with her grandparents, cousins, and other family members in Canada and Upstate NY in the middle of summer when it will probably be 120 degrees back at home.  What could be better?  Well, maybe a reservation system that doesn’t change availability dramatically every 2.5 seconds, but hey, take the good with the bad!

Have you seen anything like that before with Continental?  Were me and my computer just cursed?  I truly felt like I was playing some type of crazy game show: No Whammies, No Whammies!

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  1. You probably know this, but OnePass availability varies greatly based on whether you have elite status or not. If one or both accounts do/do not have elite status or are/are not logged in, you can see varying award availability.

    • Helixcardinal, good thought – that’s actually what the agent on the phone thought was going on, too. Sadly none of us have elite status, so all of the accounts are just normal old accounts.

  2. You might want to black out the specific flight details in the image in your post. Check out the story Ben posted on One Mile at a Time recently. Some internet nutcase called the airline, pretended to be him, and cancelled his award itinerary. They did it twice!

    • Bluto, I read about that. Crazy! I really try to be careful about that – we didn’t actually keep this flight and I blacked out the days, so hopefully that is enough……hopefully. Very much appreciate the head’s up! The internet is a crazy place. 😉

  3. You might also want to look into using Aeroplan. They are an Amex MR transfer option and are often cheaper for shorter flights on their own metal.

    • Phil, thanks for the info! In this case they actually required more miles, but I will keep checking them for flights in the future. Being a MR transfer partner is a very helpful thing.

  4. Have you tried the two browser trick? For example use IE to book one set of tickets and Chrome or Firefox to book the other? That way you can have both browsers open at once and flip back and forth until you see award availability for the same flight available on both browsers, and then you can reserve them both at virtually the same time. I haven’t tried that with Continental, but I have done similar tricks successfully on Delta.

    • Good thinking! Most of the time I was on a computer that only has one browser (thanks, work computer!), but I will have to try that next time I am in a similar situation. Thanks for the tip.

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