Re-Booking a Trip Two Weeks Out

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So file this under the “do what I say, not what I do” category, but we have a family trip coming up in the next few weeks to go skiing.  I booked the trip using Avios on a direct flight from Dallas to Vail for just 15,000 Avios a person round trip.  Since I transferred a ton of points to British Airways during the Membership Rewards 50% bonus last year, that effectively was just 10,000 Membership Reward points per person to go skiing.  Of course, we did still have to drive the three hours from Houston to Dallas, but that is an easier drive than the three hours through the mountains from Denver to Vail, so it seemed like an okay compromise.  In fact, I’ve been pretty jazzed about that redemption for months!

However, I apparently never called British Airways to get the reference number to pull up my American Airlines reservation and select our seats until today.  It is a bit of a process as you have to sit on hold with BA for a while unless you have good luck and call when there isn’t a wait, so I put it off.  I called today to get our American Airlines booking reference/confirmation number and then went on American’s website to select seats.  As has happened many times in the past with American, there were only middle seats to select from.  Fantastic.  Normally that would just be annoying, but in this case it is a real problem since I am traveling with my daughter and there isn’t much leverage to trade to sit with her if all I have is three middle seats.

So, I picked up the phone to call and see if they had access to some different seat assignment options over the phone that I can’t see online.  I was told that they did, and there were at least two premium seats available (one of which was not a middle).  I asked if I can please get some type of forced seat assignments for at least two of us so I can prevent some day-of-departure seat drama.  I offered to buy the non-middle premium seat and was told I could not do that (I think because I was on an award reservation, but I wasn’t clear on the answer). I wanted that seat as it would be easier to then trade someone who was next to one of our middle seats.  Not sure why I couldn’t purchase that seat, but I then turned to Twitter since @AmericanAirlines is very responsive on Twitter, but ultimately they could not help either. They basically said the same thing that American said over the phone – work with the agents at the airport the morning of departure.

My husband was already not thrilled about flying American.  He likes that we have status with United, and has a very hard time understanding why we would ever fly another airline where we can’t even get seat assignments together.  Let’s just say he was now dreading the flights so much that it was clouding the trip.  I trust that in the end we would have been able to get at least two seats together, but it may have been difficult and unsure until the very last minute.  It also might have involved pleading, begging, and bargaining.  I would be okay with that uncertainty, but he would not.  Plus, he is a big guy and sitting in a middle seat with or without a three-year-old would not be a pleasant way to start what should be a fun trip.  With family travel you really have to take everyone’s wants, needs, and limits into consideration and then adjust accordingly.

So, we made an impulsive decision to cancel our great value Avios redemptions from Dallas and rebook with United miles direct to Vail from Houston.  We were able to get three E+ seats together and will be able to avoid airport/on-board seat drama to just try and sit next to our kid.  Am I thrilled about now spending 75,000 total United miles for the three of us instead of 45,000 Avios?  No, not at all.  I hate that part, actually.  However, this is supposed to be a fun vacation, so starting it with stress and uncertainty is entirely unnecessary, especially when there was an easy solution. I can always earn more miles.  Also, canceling Avios reservations is super simple and all I lost was $15 in taxes and I immediately was refunded my points.

I should have checked our seat assignments months ago, but the reality is it may or may not have been a better situation then.  American is uber stingy about releasing seats together sometimes.  I think it is embarrassing that airlines aren’t more proactive about sitting at least once parent next to a young child.  In this case it caused us to change airlines (and airports) all together, and in turn spend more miles.  That isn’t always a realistic solution, so as I often say, be very proactive about seat assignments if you have a young child.  Calling a couple of weeks in advance just isn’t sufficient on some airlines (ahem, American).  It is something that should be done when you book the tickets.

The other upside was not having to fly in/out of Dallas, and being able to fly from our closest airport.  In the end, the trip really is now easier anyway.  I hope to try again in the future using Avios to get to Vail or a similar destination for skiing, but it won’t be this year.  This year we are hitting the “easy” button and eliminating all likely points of stress and problem for the trip that we can.  United, here we come.

I know I’m not the only one who has had seat assignment drama, so feel free to share your stories!

Update: I’m AA challenged, so there are lots of easier ways to get your booking reference number than (gasp!) calling in, so check out the comments section for some great suggestions!

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  1. You don’t need your AA record locator to access your AA reservation. All you need is your flight number, date and last name. Even as a lifetime PLT, I didn’t know this until I went through the same thing as you about a year ago.

  2. I thought you were crazy in the first place to drive 6 hours to/from Dallas. They do have severe ice storms(remember superbowl 2011). Houston to Vail on United is so easy peasy. It’s amazing the things you waste money on and then the times you want to be frugal.

  3. TrvlGuru, that is true – when I called in the auto system did pull it up off of my name, date, flight number, etc. However, to pull it up online I couldn’t get that to work without the record locator. Maybe it comes down to do you want to call BA or AA……;)

    • Vivek, we live North of Houston, so it is about a 3 hour drive for us. We technically aren’t in Houston, but just easier to list a big city than little suburb. 😉

  4. Chances are you would have been OK with the seat assignments. Next time, you could set up a seat alert on so you could grab seats at a moments notice. Other passengers inevitably change flights or are bumped up to first as you get closer to departure date, leaving you with some additional seating options.

    Though with a family and the 3-hr drive, I don’t blame you one bit for taking the easier & more expensive option.

    Enjoy your trip!

  5. AA is pretty bad about releasing seats. It seems like you made a very reasonable offer to buy one of the two. While other travelers usually help out to accommodate families, and its rare that there is a real problem, the rest of us do appreciate you not putting the burden on everyone else, even if it wasn’t your fault.

    It sounds like you made an even better/easier plan that will make the vacation more fun and less stressful.

    ….And I thought my family was nuts with flight/seat selections!

  6. I have a similar problem, I live out side Tampa.When I use BA miles to fly AA I drive to the airport the afternoon before the trip and stay overnight.Yes, it extends the trip a little but the will give me my seats 24 hrs before the flight.The last 5 times I have gotten exit rows.We just make it a fun night out and wake up already at the airport and well rested and ready to begin our fun trip.I know this won’t work for everyone or every trip, but it does make flying in coach tolerable.The exit rows help on a 4 hour trip to the Caribbean.however I can understand how convenient it is to fly from your home airport.It’s a hard call.I say do what’s easy you can always earn more miles.Any time you can remove stress you made the right choice.

  7. Since BA uses Amadeus, one can simply look up the reference numbers for other carriers on a BA booking by logging on to with the BA confirmation code to avoid the hassle of calling BA for getting the confirmation codes for other carriers

  8. Nice tip on adding the AA number. AA is admittedly not my primary program, so very helpful to pick up some tips. Who knows if getting on this earlier would have helped with seats, but sure beats having to call in. 😉

  9. Haven’t had to do it with AA, but I can report happily that BA can see Aer Lingus seats and was able to assign us seats upon booking 11 months out.

  10. @mommypoints: You can go to, enter your BA Conf # and your last name, and it will show all of your details (including your AA PNR). Works as quickly as a minute after you complete your online booking on!

    Also, while not as good as all of the ‘perks’ of an elite membership, an AA award via BA miles will give you Priority AAccess on your boarding passes. 😉

  11. I think you made a mistake. There’s no way your daughter would have ended up in a middle seat by herself. People will trade as no one wants to sit by someone else’s 3 year old. As for your husband, if he can’t survive 2 hours in a middle seat for the cost and miles saving you were getting, then he’s got problems. It’s really not that bad.

  12. My last Avios award, I found AA # from with my name & date & flight, but I called in and couldn’t choose a seat UNLESS I pay, says AA phone agent

    It was empty flights both ways so no big deal
    I did get Priority AAccess on my BP as well

  13. Great story MP, and I think you ultimately made the right choice anyway to fly from your home airport. Sometimes I think in chasing miles we overlook why we’re traveling in the first place: to enjoy our time together and relax.

    Your first trip this year is to Vail, ours is to Mardi Gras next month. Here’s to a great 2013!

  14. Well spent points!!! We flew home on Delta several years ago-Bucharest,Romania-SAN with a very ill newly adopted 1 yr old, a sick hubby who ended up hospitalized when we arrived and a 7 year old all in different parts of the plane. NO ONE would change seats. Delta handled it all so poorly, we haven’t flown them since. You made a good call.

    • MilesQuest, I hope to visit Utah next year. Have skied there in the past and did love it….though Colorado will always be my favorite. 😉

  15. My cousin had to fly with his three year old on his lap because no one would change seats and he wasn’t going to leave a three year old alone in another part of the plane. They still had to pay for that seat they didn’t use.

    I don’t know why the legacies do this kind of thing. This is one of the reasons I prefer to fly Southwest for domestic travel. People knock the boarding process, but families get on during family boarding and there is no problem to find seats together.

  16. I don’t know…sounds worth it to me. 30K UA miles for 6 hours driving time and elite benefits.

    Don’t worry, you’ll get a decent 15K redemption in the future!

  17. Like you, most of my flying is on United, but I had to fly AA over the holidays. And I had the same trouble trying to get two or three seats together with my three year old and husband. I booked the flight 2 1/2 months out, and only middle seats and exit rows at a premium were available for non-elites. I ultimately was randomly assigned three seats together (in the last row of the plane – ugh) when I checked in, but the whole experience has definitely made me less likely to book AA again. The stress of wondering whether I’d have to ask someone to switch with me or plead with a gate agent was annoying. AA is blocking off too many seats on a lot of these flights and they really risk alienating families. If they could just guarantee that children under some reasonable age (8? 10?) will be guaranteed a seat next to at least one adult in their party, that would go a long way to alleviate the problem.

  18. @milesquest. Well Utah definitely has way more snow than Colorado this year and the drive from the airport is 30 minutes. Do you have any good restaurant recommodations in Park City? I was just looking at the SLC airport website the other day and I was very impressed. (Squatters, French Meadow Bakery, Krispy Kreme.)Who would mind a layover.

  19. I cannot believe that American would not accommodate you, especially since your 3 year old can’t sit by herself on a flight! As usual they pawn it off on someone else to deal with. By the way, how do you manage to drive from Houston to Dallas in 3 hours?? My husband is back and forth often for work and it always takes him 4-4 1/2!

    • Ashley, we actually live a bit north of Houston, so it is 3 hours for me. Would be more if we lived in the heart of Houston. 😉

  20. I have the same issue with Avios, once you reach a certain level with UA, it becomes less viable to fly other carriers vs the benefits of sticking with UA. I usually pay cash for myself and use miles for the fam.

  21. I am a lifetime Gold with AA and never had issues with seat assignments with them. My parents always fly internationally with AA and since my mom has knee problems I always call AA in advance and they place my dad and my mom on the bulkhead of coach class all the time. They never asked for any proof of her medical problems (she carries a letter from the doctor and X-rays just in case) and have been very accommodating.

  22. @pippa actually Utah has more snow than Colorado MOST years. Enough that it is on a consistent basis. Wolfcreek in Colorado has the highest snowfall avg @ 392 inches. Alta in Utah is 531 inches. I had a season pass to Alta for the 07-08 season and it was a 700+ inch year. A very good year at that.

    Don’t forget a Popeye’s at SLC.

  23. Yikes! Thanks for the warnin! We 5 are flying Friday ORD-TPA on AA awards, two of which are BA Avios. I had better go figure this out. I had no idea.

  24. I had an issue on an overbooked flight from San Francisco to Sydney where they wanted my 5 year old son to sit by himself. They had rebooked us on this flight from an earlier flight and so we had no seat assignments. I was frantic and I finally told my son that he wouldn’t be able to sit with me and whispered to him that I wanted him to start crying and making a scene. He did this, and it worked out for us. Nobody wanted to spend 15 hours next to an unhappy 5 year old!

  25. MP, I know that one person questioned this and you already responded but I just want to point it out because I haven’t never seen it covered before and it is huge!

    The online Avios cancellation fee is never more than the taxes paid. I was pleasantly surprised a week ago when I cancelled a return ticket from JFK to SJU and was only charged $10 (taxes paid)!

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