Tools and tricks: changing dates, social media strengths, and other tips


In last weekend’s Frequent Miler on the Air, Greg mentioned a quick tip that for what to (try to) do if you get stuck beyond the cancellation deadline on a hotel booking that you need to change. It was a great tip that I’ve found useful in the past and put to use fairly recently. That made me think of a few other things that I thought would be worth sharing together in one post with some of the tricks from our tool belts for making travel smoother and cleaning up problems.

Past the cancellation deadline? Try changing your dates

credit card due dates

The tip that motivated this post sprouted from conversation about how American Airlines recently lost my award ticket to Tahiti. I was concerned about whether or not I would make it there in time for hotel reservations that are now well beyond the cancellation deadlines. It’s been covered by a number of blogs that Marriott properties can charge you the cash rate for your points reservation if you no-show or get there a day late. What would I do if I couldn’t get there on time?

I don’t know for sure that this would work in the case of Tahiti (and in fact I’m very doubtful it would), but in the past I have had success in changing the dates of a reservation that is beyond the cancellation deadline — sometimes by contacting the hotel directly, sometimes via the 800#.

For example, back in June, I had booked a night at the Radisson Blu Milatos Crete for the day before I was due to check in at the Domes of Elounda. However, I waited to book my flight to Crete and we ended up deciding not to arrive on Crete a day early after all. I still wanted to check out the Radisson Blu, but it would have to be on the tail end of the trip — after my stay at Domes of Elounda. Unfortunately, by the time we made our final decisions, the cancellation deadline for the Radisson had already passed. Rather than just sacrifice the reservation to poor planning, I called the 800# and explained that my plans had changed and I would need to change my arrival date. The agent asked for my new arrival date and had no problem changing it to a week later without any mention about the cancellation deadline. That was awesome.

Unfortunately, as plans further fell into place, I realized that we just couldn’t make the Radisson Blu Milatos work. I was disappointed because it looked really nice and reminded me of a since-deflagged Radisson Blu outside of Dubrovnik that we loved — I really did want to check out the Radisson Blu Milatos. However, I had to cancel. Since the change in dates put me beyond the cancellation window (i.e. far enough in advance to cancel without penalty), I was able to cancel and get my points back. I definitely wouldn’t hold onto reservations until the last minute counting on this working, but it’s worth a shot rather than simply surrendering.

Hyatt playing games with availability? Try changing your dates.

One of the things that has at times frustrated me about certain Hyatt properties is the way that some game the system in only offering award stays when you stay X number of nights consecutively. I just ran into this situation last week: I needed to book a stay from Thursday to Saturday. The Hyatt hotel I wanted showed award availability from Wednesday to Saturday, but none if you searched Thursday to Saturday (or if you searched award nights separately). The solution? I booked Thursday to Saturday. Then, a few days later, I called the 800# for Hyatt and explained that I would need to change my arrival date. The friendly phone agent changed that for me within less than a minute and the points for Wednesday night immediately redeposited in my account. I’ve had the same work at a number of properties.

Searching for hard-to-find availability? Try multiple methods

That’s not going to be my room.

Last year, when the Marriott-SPG merger finalized, a window of opportunity opened to book top-tier Starwood properties that used to cost hundreds of thousands of Marriott points per night for just 60K Marriott points per night. With a 5th night free on award bookings, that dropped to 48K points per night. Top-tier properties have since increased in price and peak and off-peak pricing is coming soon. However, for a window of time, there was an opportunity to score a high-end luxury stay for mid-tier points.

The trick, which also sometimes applies to flight awards, was finding availability. The most desirable properties were almost impossible to book for a while. I was ultimately successful in booking the St. Regis Bora Bora for a 5-night stay. How did I score a 5-night stay when others were having trouble with even single nights? The app. The Marriott app was shows availability for a couple of days further out on the schedule than the website does, so I was able to see availability that presumably fewer people were looking at. And oddly, if you searched a stay for checkout on the last day on the calendar in the app, nothing is available — but if you search for a stay ending a day or two before the last date in the calendar, you can find see availability on days that aren’t yet loaded on the website. That’s how I found my 5-night stay. Keep in mind that there are only a couple of standard rooms at the St. Regis, so it’s not like it was widely available all the time (though now the overwater bungalows are available on points, so it’s not difficult to find anymore), but I kept my eye out and saw that trend repeat a few times. I imagine the same could work for other high-demand locales and in other programs.

Having trouble with something? Reach out to the Twitter team

This is something that I have come to realize is just true more often than not: companies empower their social media teams to get stuff done. The Hyatt Concierge is well known for being efficient, professional, and useful. However, I’ve more than once found airline social media teams much more helpful than telephone customer service. Added bonus: When I tweet, I don’t end up with a sore neck from holding the phone against my shoulder to listen to hold music for 45 minutes.

That hold music routine was my situation last week, when it took more than 45 minutes to reach a United Airlines phone agent about the website error I was getting when trying to pay for Economy Plus seating on an upcoming flight (intending to use Amex airline fee reimbursements to cover it). After another 40 minutes trying to find a way to make the system work, the phone agent finally took my payment information for the third time and told me that it worked and my chosen Economy Plus seats were assigned. I didn’t double-check that claim until after the phone call ended. That’s when I realized that the seats weren’t assigned, nor had my card been charged; an hour and a half of my life had just been vaporized. I tweeted my frustration, more as a way to vent than with any expectation that the social media team could do what the phone agent apparently couldn’t but was too afraid to admit.

However, United responded and asked for a DM. I humored them and sent a DM explaining what had happened. I was clear that my card hadn’t been charged for the seats and they hadn’t been assigned despite the agent telling me that those things had happened. At this point, I thought I was still mostly just venting frustration with the process — I figured I’d still ultimately need to call again since I could’t pay for the seats via Twitter.

But United surprised me: the Twitter agent asked which seats it was that I wanted. I responded with the seat numbers I had chosen over the phone. Much much to my surprise, the Twitter agent came back and said that the seats had been assigned and they had gone ahead and waived the charges for it. I was floored: between my two segments and three passengers, the fees were ringing in close to $500 — a number I was prepared to split over a couple of cards to use up airline fee credits — but the Twitter team was able to just make it right without making me spend another eternity on hold to pay for it.

I’m sure that somebody is going to say that only happened because I’m a blogger. I obviously can’t say for sure, but somehow I don’t think my 438 Twitter followers scream “Social Media Influencer” to United.

You can be #439 by following me on Twitter.

Maybe I’m wrong about that and Oscar Munoz is shaking in his boots about my impending review of the United Airlines Economy Class experience — in which case, let me note right now how much I appreciate it when airlines serve vintage champagne and deep dish pizza in economy plus, Oscar.

Looking for something specific? Ask for it.

Ok, you’re not really going to get “no blackout dates” just by asking for it.

This might seem like simple advice, but if you want something, ask for it. You just might get it. No, you’re not going to get the moon and the stars every time, but you are infinitely more likely to get what you want if you ask for it than you are if you leave the other party to guess at what you want. I find it helps to be specific.

For example, when I’m looking for some sort of upgrade at a hotel, I don’t generally ask whether “there are any complimentary upgrades available?”. I generally ask for what I want: “A room with some extra space for my son’s pack and play would be very much appreciated” or “I’d be thrilled with a view of _____ if possible”. I find that being specific about what I want increases satisfaction and decreases disappointment — which is a win-win. Again, it doesn’t work every time but has the potential to work out better than not asking. As noted above, I stayed at the Domes of Elounda in Crete a few months ago. I wrote to the hotel in advance asking for a room with a nice ocean view. We did have a partial view of the ocean that was lovely, but since the hotel was full they didn’t have something better than the room we had booked (which is totally fair). Still, I emailed again a couple of days before checkout to ask whether anything may have opened with a more direct sea view as our son naps for a few hours in the afternoon and goes to sleep before we do, so it would be nice to be able to really take in the view for our last couple of days. The manager responded to that by saying something had indeed come available and they moved us to a 2-level private villa with its own private outdoor pool — and it’s own private indoor pool. The view was certainly more direct.

That kind of upgrade totally blew my mind — I do not usually get that kind of upgrade — but I have found that being specific in my requests often leads to a better solution. You do need to be reasonable in what you request; I doubt they would have arranged a private helicopter transfer to the airport, but I was reasonably confident that a room with a better view would be doable.

I’ve found the same to be true with compensation when things go wrong. Readers occasionally email me asking what they can expect in the way of compensation based on this or that going wrong. My response is always the same: I’m not sure what you can expect, but your chances of getting what you want are exponentially higher if you ask for it. You have to be reasonable; you’re not going to get a bajillion points and lifetime Stardust Infinite status, but if you want XX,XX points, it makes sense to just say that you think this much would be fair. That’s a better situation all around: remember that both you and the agent want a satisfied customer in the end. Some agents are better than others and some situations easier to resolve than others, but by and large I think this strategy is more efficient and effective than simply waiting to see what solutions are offered.

Want to win the Southwest shuffle? Ask the flight attendant how many winners there will be.

In last weekend’s week in review around the web, I included a post from Richard Kerr about getting the best seats on a Southwest flight. He writes about his strategy for ending up with the empty extra seat when a flight isn’t fully booked (he calls the quest to score that extra empty seat in your row the “Southwest Shuffle” since Southwest does not have assigned seating, which leads to the last passengers to board scrambling to find an open seat). My wife and I have also had a pretty high win percentage on the Southwest Shuffle, but our technique is slightly different since we have often been traveling with a lap infant: Like Richard, we head directly to the back of the plane. Since family boarding is after the “A” group, we usually get to the back before any other passengers are considering those seats, so it’s usually empty apart from the flight attendant. We always say hi and inevitably ask whether there may be a few empty seats on this flight. When we have booked our son as a lap infant and there are going to be empty seats, the FA will almost always tell us to go ahead and put him in his own seat for now and they’ll come to us if they need the seat. I haven’t yet had to take the CARES harness off of the seat after installing it.

Bottom line

These are just a few items in the tool belt, but I realized that some of these are things that can be useful when you find yourself in the situation to need them. Really, the biggest takeaway for me over the years has been to try / ask. Admittedly, that’s not always in my comfort zone, but the more I travel and the more I get to know others in this space, the more I see that being proactive and being willing to try even when you’re not sure it will work tend to pay dividends. Indeed, that’s what leads to many of the best ways to generate points and some of the fun finds along the way.

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