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Are You Booking Your First Award Tickets by Phone? Here’s How

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You’ve been painstakingly saving those miles for a special trip and you finally reached your goal. You’ve got enough miles to book that award flight you’ve had your eye on. Booking award travel can be a bit intimidating if you haven’t done it before—especially when booking over the phone. But, have no fear. It’s easy to master the art of booking award tickets. Just use our handy script if this is your first time trying to book a free flight from your frequent flyer program.

Set Aside Time for the Phone Call

Before you pick up the phone to book your first award, be sure to set aside plenty of time. The hold time for some airlines’ award booking desks can be long and even the process of reserving a simple award reservation can be time consuming. Even when you know the exact flights you want and you are sure the seats are available, the process can take longer than you’d expect. This is, in part, due to the older computer systems most airlines use and also because some agents haven’t had as much training as you might wish they had. Keep this in mind. So, don’t make the call unless you’ve got the time to see it through to the end.

Have Your Flights (and Some Alternates) Selected

Have your dream trip mapped out before you dial the award booking desk. Know the exact flights you want. Have a detailed plan written out that includes dates of travel, flight numbers and departure and arrival times, as well as all of the contact information for each passenger for which you are booking an award.

Use services like the airlines’ own websites or ExpertFlyer to determine if award seats are, in fact, available on those flights. Even when it looks like award seats are available on your preferred flights, be sure to have a few backup flights in mind. Sometimes the agent can’t see the availability or there is some other issue (like too short a connection time) that prevents him or her from booking your original preference. If you’ve got some backup flight ideas, the call won’t be a bust and you should be able to book your dream trip.

Check available seats on your flight
Check available seats on your flight

Before the Call, Vow to Be a Light in the World

If you’re new to frequent flyer programs, you may not know this but the reservation agent’s job can be a frustrating one. He or she may be working in a large call center using finicky computer systems. The call volume can be heavy and not every customer calls in with a plan. The agent may have trouble booking what the customer wants and that makes the customer and the agent unhappy.
When you call to book any award ticket, try to be a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary day. Always be polite and upbeat—even if the agent isn’t answering your questions the way you want him or her to. Most agents do their best to help you reserve the tickets you want. But, sometimes you will run into an agent that isn’t all that knowledgeable. If you do get the feeling that the agent doesn’t understand your issue enough to help you book your award tickets (and that can happen sometimes), simply say thank you and hang up—after making an excuse like, “Someone’s at the door” or “Dang, the baby just woke up and is crying”—and call back to talk with a different agent.

Use This Script to Book Your First Award Flight

Here’s a script you can use when calling an airline award desk to redeem your miles. Just plug in your name and destination:

AGENT: Hello. Thank you for calling the award desk. This is Susan Davidson in the Cleveland call center. How can I help you?

YOU: Hello, Susan. I hope you’re having a terrific day! My name is Barbara and I would like to book some award flights.

AGENT: Hi Barbara. I am having a nice day. Thank you so much for asking. I’d be happy to try to book some flights for you with your frequent flyer miles. Do you know where and when you want to travel?

YOU: Yes, I’d like to redeem miles for two first class tickets from Newark (airport code EWR) to Honolulu (airport code HNL) departing Newark on Sunday, December 3, 2017.

AGENT: OK. Let me check availability. What day did you say you wanted to depart?

YOU: I would like to depart Newark (EWR) on Sunday, December 3, 2017, on flight 15 leaving Newark at 9:15 a.m. and arriving in Honolulu (HNL) at 2:04 p.m. on the same day. I’m looking for two first class seats.

AGENT: Hmm. It’s tough to get award seats on the nonstop flight to Honolulu but I’ll check. Sorry. I don’t see anything. Do you want to try a different date?

YOU: That’s odd. I’ve done some research and I’m seeing availability for December 3. Can you check again under fare class “O”? (O is the airline’s fare class for awards in first class on a three-cabin plane)

AGENT: Let me see. Ah, I see the seats now. Yes, two first-class seats are available on this flight. What day would you like to return from Honolulu?

YOU: I’d like to depart Honolulu on Sunday, December 10, 2017 on flight 14 that departs at 8:10 p.m. and arrives in Newark at 11:57 a.m. on December 11. I’m looking for first class / “O” fare class.

AGENT: It’s your lucky day! Those seats are available too. Shall I reserve these seats for you?

YOU: That’s terrific news, Susan! You’ve made my day! Yes, please reserve those seats for me.

Booking flight by phone is so easy

Note: If the agent can’t find award availability on the return flight, this is when you’d feed her the flight numbers for the alternate itineraries you researched earlier.

The agent will then review the cost per ticket in miles plus any cash you’ll pay for taxes, booking fees, and any applicable fuel surcharges. Once the agent creates the reservation she will give you a six-digit alphanumeric confirmation number (sometimes called the record locator or PNR, passenger name record).

If you booked a flight on a partner airline, ask for that airline’s confirmation number. The two are sometimes different and you may need the partner confirmation number in order to make your seat assignments with the airline you’ll be flying on.

After you get off the phone, the airline will email you a confirmation and then follow up with the e-tickets once the flights have been ticketed. Stay alert during this process and make sure the flights are actually ticketed and you have access to the e-ticket numbers. Your flight is not confirmed until you have e-ticket numbers.

The e-ticket is a 13- or 14-digit number consisting of the airline’s ticketing code (three numbers), a form number (four digits) followed by a six-digital serial number and then sometimes a check number. Check your online frequent flyer account to review the reservation and make sure everything is fine.

Congratulations! You booked your first award flight. Let’s hope this is the first of many nearly free trips you get to enjoy thanks to frequent flyer miles.

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