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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!