[Update: I made it!] My award alert, flight change, and a risky layover

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Update: I got up at 4am this morning and rushed to the Detroit airport. I needed to be there at the start of boarding to insure that my carry-on would fit in the overhead bin. Due to my upcoming and risky 12 minute layover in Newark, I couldn’t afford to risk having my bag gate checked. And, despite an exceedingly slow and attentive TSA Xray agent at security, I made it to my gate on time. The first minor hurdle was accomplished. The bigger challenge was to get to Newark and to my London flight before it was too late. My flight to Newark boarded on time and so I went ahead and cancelled my back-up flight. Next I learned that we were expected to arrive 10 minutes early. That was the good news. The bad news was that we were arriving in Newark’s new A terminal, but I needed to get to C terminal. I asked the flight attendant how to get there airside and he told me about the shuttle bus that goes from A to C near gate A28. I hurried over there and just missed a bus, but the next one left 5 minutes later. I got to my gate just as they announced “last call”! Whew!

Here’s the Instagram Reel (video) of my morning dash…

 

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The original post follows:

Last Friday morning, while dripping wet and with shampoo running into my eyes, I was on the phone with ANA attempting to change an award flight. I had previously set up an alert through PointsYeah to let me know when the specific flight I wanted opened up. When I awoke Friday morning, the alert had come in! I had a specific ANA star-alliance award booking that I wanted to change to this new date and time, but I couldn’t change it online. So, I called ANA and was on hold forever. But I had things to do that day so I figured I better get ready. That included taking a shower with my phone’s speaker blaring loud. And, of course, an agent finally picked up just as I lathered my head with shampoo. That was just the beginning of my multi-day award change adventure…

Background

In order to avoid having 86,000 ANA miles expire in March, I had transferred two thousand more miles from Amex Membership Rewards and had booked a round-trip business class award to Europe for 88,000 miles. Since ANA allows free date and time award changes (but no route or carrier changes), the idea was to book an outbound flight that I was very likely to use sooner rather than later, and a return flight that I hoped to use before the ticket expired altogether (a year after booking, I think). Full details can be found here: My final ANA sweet-spot award booking.

The import part for this story is that the outbound leg of the award was for United Newark to London in business class. And I had a specific trip coming up where I wanted to use that award. My flight options were extremely limited since I had a Monday night commitment in Ann Arbor (too late to fly out that evening) and a Wednesday daytime commitment in London. That meant flying one of the relatively few daytime flights to London on Tuesday. And, luckily for me, United’s morning flight from Newark would work since there’s a very early morning flight from Detroit to Newark that gets there in time. That’s not the case with a number of daytime options out of JFK: none of the Detroit to JFK flights on that day depart Detroit early enough to catch a morning flight to London. Fortunately, another option for me was to fly AA’s daytime flight from Chicago. I booked that as a back-up in case the United flight didn’t work out. That back-up option cost me 71,000 AA miles for business class to London from Detroit (Detroit to Chicago to London). The idea is to cancel the backup flight if it turns out not to be needed.

At the time that I booked the ANA award, the United flight I wanted wasn’t available, but I thought it was likely to open up as it got closer to departure. So, I had booked the flight for next year with the intent of changing to the date I wanted once the flight opened up. I had also separately booked a positioning flight from Detroit to Newark for Tuesday morning for 6,900 United miles.

Background Summary:

  • ANA 88K star alliance award booked for next year which includes outbound United business class Newark to London.
  • Desired changing outbound flight to specific Tuesday morning flight
  • Booked positioning flight Detroit to Newark for 6,900 United miles
  • Booked back-up business class AA flight for 71,000 AA miles: Detroit to Chicago to London. If the United change didn’t work out I would have used this flight and canceled the United positioning flight to Newark. If the United flight works out, I would cancel this AA flight.

Friday Morning: Alert Received, Phone Call Initiated

As described at the start of this post, an alert I had set up with PointsYeah to watch for partner award availability for the specific flight of interest finally showed up Friday morning.

I called ANA. After a very long wait and half a shower, I talked to an agent who confirmed that the award space was there, but then she dropped a bomb: in order to change the date, they had to reprice the award. This was a big problem because between my booking and now, ANA had increased award prices. The same award now costs 100,000 ANA miles. I needed 12,000 more miles to change the award! That’s a particularly big problem here because Amex points typically take several days to transfer to ANA. Who knew if the award space would still exist by then?

Should I transfer the points or not? If not, I could keep my existing AA flight and hope to use the United flight on the originally booked date and time. Unfortunately, the originally booked date and time was not very good at all. I had booked it purely as a placeholder without considering if I’d want to actually fly it as booked.

Friday Evening: Rolling the Dice

After thinking about it all day, I finally decided to transfer the 12K points needed to change the award. Yes, it was true that the award I wanted might be gone by the time the miles transferred, but at least then I could use the award some other time without being stuck with the originally booked date and time.

I initiated the transfer from Amex on Friday evening just a few minutes before 11pm. AwardWallet has a cool Balance Watch feature which I initiated. It would check my ANA balance regularly and alert me when the points arrived.

Roll your own hold: ANA doesn’t allow putting awards on hold while waiting for miles to show up, so I rolled my own hold. I booked the flight with United miles with the intention of cancelling the booking once my ANA miles showed up just in case there were no more seats available by then. There was no guarantee, but the hope was that canceling the United award would cause the seat to go back into inventory for partner bookings. I would have preferred to book with Air Canada miles at the freely cancelable rate, since it seemed to me more likely that cancelling a partner award would cause a partner award seat to go back into inventory, but I didn’t have enough miles in my Air Canada account to do that. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. There were still award seats available by the time the ANA miles transferred. I cancelled the United booking once I determined that.

Sunday Morning: Making the Change

Sunday morning at 7:09 AM, AwardWallet emailed me that the points had arrived. That was quicker than I expected. It took only 32 hours to complete the transfer instead of several days. I checked Air Canada’s website (just because it’s easier than checking ANA) to see if the partner awards were still available. Yes! On Friday there were 5 seats available. Now there were only 2, but I only needed 1 so I was good to go.

I called ANA. And waited. And waited. And waited. I sweated and sweated as I imagined other people booking the last remaining award seats.

Finally, after two hours on hold, an agent answered and the change was made within a couple of minutes. Done! Additionally, for some reason the taxes were less for the new departure date, so ANA refunded 97 cents to my credit card. Woo-hoo!

Sweating the Positioning Flight

Now that my preferred flight had been booked, I turned my worries to another issue: the positioning flight. In order to get to the 8:30 am flight from Newark to London, I had booked a 6am Detroit to Newark flight which was scheduled to arrive in Newark at 7:48am. By the schedule, that would give me almost 45 minutes to get to the international flight before departure. But United recommends getting to your international departure gate at least 30 minutes in advance. Yikes. If my flight arrives on schedule at Newark and I get off the plane in 0 minutes, I’d have only 12 minutes to make the connection within the recommended 30 minutes in advance.

Via Google Flights I saw that there were no alternative flights to get me to Newark earlier that morning (and no flights late enough for me to take the night before considering my Monday evening commitment in Ann Arbor). Yikes.

Via FlightAware, I found that the morning Detroit to Newark flight usually arrives in Newark by 7:30am or earlier. That would give me some sorely needed breathing room. But, sometimes it arrives closer to the scheduled 7:48am. That makes me nervous.

Partial solution: sit up front. I decided that I wanted to be in the front of the plane going to Newark. I want to be the first off the plane if necessary. I also want to be first on the plane in Detroit so that there will be space for my carry-on. I can’t afford the time at arrival for retrieving a gate-checked bag. I checked award availability for first class Detroit to Newark. United wanted 30,000 miles. Ouch! Via Air Canada or Turkish I could book the flight for 15,000 miles. That’s better (and it shows that United’s partner award blocking isn’t universal, even within the US). Then I checked cash rates. The first-class flight was only about $165. That’s better yet. And the best part of all? I had forgotten that I had about $168 in United flight credit that would have expired this summer. If not for this flight, I’m sure it would have expired without my noticing. I used my flight credit to book the positioning flight into first class and got back 6,900 miles and $5.60 when I cancelled my economy award. Good deal.

Connecting the segments. Next, I called United and asked them to connect the two flights together. The hope is that if the flight to Newark is slightly delayed, maybe they won’t give away my seat. I don’t know how realistic it is that this will help (probably not), but it couldn’t hurt. I was cautioned that I’d have to ask at the check-in counter if I wanted to check bags through. No problem. I’ll be going carry-on only.

Keeping my back-up. Remember that back-up flight on AA? I haven’t cancelled it yet. If I get to the airport and find that the United flight to Newark is going to be late, I can still catch the AA flight which is scheduled to depart 6:46 am from Detroit (vs. 6am for the United flight). If all goes well, though, and I board the United flight to Newark, I’ll cancel the AA flight before departure.

Conclusion

My original plan of using up my expiring ANA miles and locking in an 88K round-trip business class award to Europe didn’t go as expected. It turned out that I had to pay the new award price in order to change the date and time of my flights. It was a huge hassle (mainly because ANA takes so long to answer calls!), but 100K round-trip is still an awesome price.

Next, I realized that my positioning flight wasn’t ideal because it would arrive so close in time to departure of the international flight. I did what I could minimize likely delays, but ultimately I may have to switch entirely to my back-up flight on AA if things go sideways. I’d be okay with that.

If things go well, though, I’ll have successfully used the first half of my ANA award booking, and I’ll get back 71,000 AA miles when I cancel that backup flight.

If you’re thinking “this is crazy! Greg should have just planned on flying AA from the get-go,” I don’t blame you. As I write this up, I’m thinking the same thing. Wish me luck.

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bilo34

For positioning flight, do you need to exit security and reenter?

Points and Miles Doc

Air Canada cancellation for free? Only with the flex awards – the last time I had to cancel a standard economy ticket it was $150 CAD per person … ouch!!

Pierre

Glad you made it! Getting the first flight of the day out definitely helps a ton with a crazy move like this.

Points Adventure

Glad you made it. Another reason I love Asian airlines departing from Asia is that I can walk to the boarding gate 10 minutes before departure and be on time.

MarQ

Glad you have the inner-calm to do this. I got heart palpitations just watching your video! I get so stressed about time and connections when traveling I go overboard with allowing enough time.

Jimmy

We’re not worthy!!

Points Adventure

Is the ANA reprice normal for a date change?

Last edited 29 days ago by Points Adventure
JohnB

Sometimes. American was famous for doing about 6 years ago.

Gary

It is this behavior that drives me nuts. I wish airlines would put a lose your miles if cancel within 24 hrs policy in place. Your backup AA seat that you will cancel at the last minute could be used by someone who legitimately wants to take that flight.

The worst part is you think you are clever for making a d**k move. It is selfish and self serving.

Ned

Gary,
Trust me, USA airlines are LAST companies on earth offer anything in terms of customer reservation flexibility that would cost them revenue. Just the opposite. What about full fare passengers, allowed to cancel last minute? If this troubles you, you’ve definitely found yourself on wrong website.

Kevin

May I introduce you to Etihad Miles …

Ethan

They’ll clear someone still waitlisting SWU, but you know this already.

Lrdx

Well, partially this is why I’m (mostly) team cashback. Yes, you can get 2-3-4 cpp value from random miles and various transfer partners, but you are also paying your time and sanity for waiting 2 hours on hold to book. I just transfer from any bank to KLM and get a nice 1.6 cpp for a reward I would otherwise booked anyway, and play a game or soothe a crying baby (who am I kidding, it’s always the latter)

Crabcakes and Football

Explain how you get flat 1.6 cpp for transfer to KLM. Book with CSR or Amex biz plat is 1.5…is that what you’re referring to?

Lrdx

I didn’t say flat 1.6 cpp.

Lee

CPP is highly variable and dependent on the specific redemption. My target for FB redemptions is 2.5cpp. Maybe I’m just lucky.

TorpedoJo

Love the postured contingency planning.

Kaza

Last year while traveling, my kid said, “why is traveling always so stressful??”

Sometimes I wonder if I should just book an itinerary and not worry about backups like a normal person. I haven’t needed to use back-up plans yet, but remembering to cancel the backup or monitoring the first-choice option does add another element to an itinerary.

Good luck with your trip!

Amy

Make sure you tell us what happened!

Julie Garrison

That is some fancy dancing Greg!

Loopdan

I ain’t reading all that. I’m happy for u tho. Or sorry that happened.

Darin

Hang on… since partner award space was available DTW-EWR, why did you not just have ANA book you DTW-EWR-LHR instead of just EWR-LHR? If that was possible, you would not only save miles, but would be protected from a potential misconnect.

AG

The MCT for such a connection at EWR is 50 minutes, so it wouldn’t be possible to book this 42-minute connection on the same reservation (not to mention that ANA wouldn’t have allowed a change of origin anyway).