No one knows exactly why part of Andrew Smith’s business-class airline reservation from Salt Lake City to San Juan, Puerto Rico, vanished.
But when Smith clicked on American Airlines’ website to check on his in-flight meal, he discovered he was going nowhere.
Despite the sophisticated technology used in today’s reservation systems – or maybe, because of it – data go missing from time to time. Fortunately, there are ways to recover your reservation and salvage your trip.
Smith was temporarily working in Utah and commuting to Washington, D.C., and the business-class tickets were for a getaway with his wife. Oddly, one leg of his flight, from Dallas to San Juan, had been canceled.
American offered to re-book Smith on his original Dallas-to-San Juan flight in economy class, but he wanted his original class of service. The airline also offered an alternative flight in business class, but it would have arrived in San Juan too late in the evening for his preference, and Smith turned that down as well.
“A representative told me that she would have to kick it up the chain,” he says. A few days later, American restored his itinerary.
What happened? American says the glitch is unrelated to its recent merger with US Airways and that it would investigate the partially lost reservation. Perhaps it’s just as well; when things go wrong, travelers almost never find out why, but, in fairness, they almost never ask as long as the problem is solved.
Smith’s reservation wasn’t an easy fix. His airline continued to insist that he accept an economy-class ticket or a new, less convenient schedule. Smith says he was patient and persistent, which may be the first rules of finding a missing reservation. Smith also remained polite, even when it appeared his Puerto Rico vacation would be less than perfect. It’s a strategy that paid off.
What are the chances your next reservation will get lost? If you’re flying, Smith’s problem is 1 in 1 million, says Elizabeth Blount, president of Uniglobe Travel Designers, a travel management company. She’s never had an airline lose a reservation, she says. “Car rentals and hotels have lost reservations a handful of times for me.”
The problem is declining as travel companies upgrade their systems. But it’s far from extinct, and it probably never will be. The reason: human error.
Mike Danish says he recently lost a car rental reservation made online through CarRentals.com. The cause is unclear.
“When I got to the Dollar counter in the airport in Seattle, I was told there was no reservation,” he says. According to Dollar’s records, Danish had made two reservations for a different date. The error came at a cost: Instead of paying $26 a day for the rental, Dollar billed him a walk-up rate of $48.
Danish, an electronics repair consultant based in Aberdeen, Maryland, isn’t sure whether he pushed a wrong button or whether CarRentals.com booked the wrong day. But if it was his mistake, he wonders why the system didn’t catch an impossible pick-up or drop-off date.
One of the most common lost-reservation cases used to involve hotels, particularly rooms booked at the last minute. The reason was largely technical. As recently as a decade ago, many hotels used fax machines to handle reservations – and fax machines can run out of paper.
“The technology and products for last-minute bookings have come a long way,” says Leslie Cafferty, a spokeswoman for the Priceline Group, which owns Priceline and Booking.com.
A few simple precautions can ensure that your trip isn’t ruined by lost reservations.
Smith’s strategy is among the best. “It’s never a bad idea to contact a company 24 hours prior to the trip,” says Ben Hamilton, the president of ImagineAir, an on-demand plane service. “If there is a problem, you will have time to correct it.”
Even if you don’t remember to call ahead, you can still save an AWOL reservation by packing a hard copy of your confirmation. Nothing jogs a general manager’s memory like a printout.
If you’re inconvenienced by a lost reservation, you can ask for reasonable accommodations, Hamilton says. “There may be a policy in place to award a credit, upgrade or free room altogether,” he says. For example, at ImagineAir, if an important detail in a reservation is flubbed by humans or technology, your flight is free.
“Everyone understands that mistakes are made,” he says, “but it’s how they are handled that often makes the difference between earning new customer loyalty stemming from a lost reservation, or ensuring that the customer never comes back.”
And that may be your most effective tool for finding a lost reservation. Politely remind your airline, car rental company, cruise line or hotel that it has a reputation to uphold.
That should be all it takes to help it locate your ticket, car or cabin.
Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler’s reader advocate and author the of How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.