How many tickets is too many for one trip?


I’ve made no secret of my love for speculative booking, particularly when there are no fees to change or refund a ticket. And yet I’m still a bit worried I may have overdone it recently on our July vacation to Canada. For a simple round-trip itinerary it turns out that I had at least ten (possibly as many as 15!!) different bookings over the full course of the booking/travel process (max was 3 at a time, though). Still, I’m also not entirely convinced I was wrong to do what I did.

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The initial booking in April consisted of five different one-way trips. I was booking as one-ways because I wanted some mix-and-match flexibility as we finalized our plans and also because there was no reason not to and I get $5 per ticket booked online via United so there’s a sliver of extra credit to me there. I also needed flexibility as we were going back and forth with a tour operator about which dates would be available for the trip and the space was starting to dry up. I needed to “protect” a few different weeks and the free refunds let me do precisely that.

Some of the many routes we had booked at one point or another for this trip
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Of the five initial bookings I canceled three after we finalized things with our guide leaving just the two we planned to fly. No big deal there. Until Arthur got in the way and hosed up our travel nicely. Over the three days it took us to get from New York to New Brunswick we were booked on no fewer than eight different routings (EWR-YHZ-YDF 2x, EWR-YYZ-YDF, EWR-YYT-YDF, EWR-YYT, LGA-YYZ-YDF 2x, LGA-YYZ-YUL-YSJ) in an effort to finally get where we were going. That pile of plane tickets was ridiculous when all was said and done, but we did eventually get there.

And once that change to our travel was finalized we found ourselves in Canada with no ticket home. At least not from the province we were visiting. That meant another cancelation and booking various other options to get back. I ended up booking three different itineraries as options for return trips, a mix of Saver and Standard awards, one in business class and eventually one on a non-stop which was only 10,000 points because it is a short enough non-stop route on United metal. These three were very much a case of panic booking to make sure we had something available to get home and then refining the itineraries and keeping our options open.

So, sure, maybe I had a few too many tickets booked of my own volition early on in the process, but some of the many rebookings were also caused by flight cancelations and other changes which we did not really control. And, in the end, I refunded/canceled all of the “extra” flights as soon as I knew I was not going to be taking them. Still, there were points when I was holding a few more seats than I reasonably intended to fly. And I’m completely OK with that.

Or do y’all think I took it a bit too far??

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

31 Comments

  1. I’m headed to Newfoundland in August on my way to St. Pierre (France). I’m excited to tour Newfoundland, but had a few questions: 1.) Rental Cars seem to not have unlimited miles, which is hard to keep affordable if you’re touring the province. 2.) is it possible to get from St. John’s to Deer Lake with miles? I’m interested in see the national park on the West side, but getting there seems expensive/difficult.

    Otherwise, I found saver awards out of Newark on a direct flight, and my rental car was only around $100 for four days (Keeping the trip confined to the East Coast because of the mileage restriction). I’m really looking forward to seeing a slice of Europe in the North Atlantic.

    1. We rented a car in Newfoundland last month and it did offer unlimited miles. We were even able to pick it up at YYT and return it at YDF for a rather reasonable extra cost of 150 CAD. It worked out perfectly for us, especially since the west of the province turned out to be even more beautiful than we imagined. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Saint Pierre.

      We rented from AVIS but did so through our local (Belgian) site. That might have given us somewhat better rates/conditions, so you might want to play around a bit with different sites.

  2. I do the same thing, maybe not the extreme, but I do have several (5+) premium cabin trips booked, some of which I won’t end up taking. I do feel slightly guilty for holding premium award space which I may not use, but I figure in the larger picture everything evens out. I have 2 seats in business on SAA in January, but now I’m thinking Patagonia would be nice. And even if go on safari I’m partial to the new Lufthansa 748/380 seats. I would like to fly on the SAA A330-200 as well though. This ability to change award seats at will is what I will miss about 1k most next year when I lose it.

  3. I’ve done the opposite. Cramming 12 sectors on 7 airlines onto 1 ticket (well, technically 3 sequential ones), and it’s not even a RTW.

  4. Why do you think it is ok to hold several award seats that you are not expectiong to fly? Is that fair to your fellow travelers? I think you went too far.

    1. Yeah. You should find a fellow passenger and apologize. What if they had to pay a slightly higher fare class? For shame.

  5. why dont we all just hoard items of limited quantity and release it (or return it) when it suits us?

  6. So, what’s the magic number? At any one time I only held three different seats and I canceled them once I figured out what my actual plans were (took about a week, I believe).

    Is holding two seats while I check with my wife whether she wants the mainline connection or the non-stop regional acceptable? What about holding Standard seats rather than Saver as they aren’t limited inventory?

    1. I don’t know but you obviously had some thought you had gone too far or you would not have asked the question.

      1. Not really. I don’t think I went too far at all. I have no problems with the way I made these bookings and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

        1. You think you may have or it would not have occurred to you to even ask the question.

  7. You’re lucky that your bookings are on UA. Had it be on AA, you will be out of 60,000 miles when AA security czar is onto you!

  8. I’m actually disappointed when I hear people do things like this. I monitor space but don’t book anything until my plans are finalized. It becomes very frustrating if there is no space because award seats are theoretically “on hold” and then once people cancel those itineraries they might come back or sometimes not. It really destroys it for the rest of us. Get your plans in order then book. Mutual respect for the community. Same as I think MMS using a “gold coloured card” to get through priority lanes was just as much disrespectful to fellow FF’s. Just my 2 cents.

    1. It is a chicken-and-egg scenario. I cannot confirm with a guide until I know I can be in the location. And I cannot pick the dates unless I know I can get there. Are you saying I should buy one ticket then try to coordinate and if it doesn’t work refund the one and try anew? Either way I end up “taking” the same seats out of inventory, right??

      To the point of seats maybe not coming back once canceled, I get that. But I also know that just because a seat is there today doesn’t mean it will be there tomorrow, whether booked/canceled or just because it is now tomorrow.

      1. “I cannot pick the dates unless I know I can get there.” I know we’re a bit backwards up here in Canada, but it is possible to get almost anywhere in the country at any time necessary using a trick called BUYING a ticket.

        Locking up award seats you might not use just because there’s no cancellation fee is kind of a dick move. And let’s face it, we’re not talking about getting some elusive A380 suite award from St. John’s to Deer Lake.

  9. Do what you like – and likely you do not care – but – I have stopped subscribing to your blog based upon this practice – this is so unethical – IMHO!

    1. I agree 100% with David M. I too have stopped subscribing to your blog. I will also encourage my friends who I told to sign up for your blog to cancel as well. This kind of abuse of the system is one causes devaluations

      1. Sorry to see y’all go, but I’m still waiting for an answer to the follow-up question: What number is too many? Is holding three different seats for a couple days while figuring out the tour really that inappropriate?

        The eight different rebookings mid-trip were all a result of IROPs and I never held more than two at the same time, a typical way to act in a situation where there are lots of cancellations happening.

        And for the return I never held more than two at once and changed them as soon as my plans were finalized.

        So, is two at the same time while in the midst of rebooking a flight because I ended up in the wrong city really that bad? What’s the magic number??

      2. Unsubscribing seems a bit extreme. At least Seth isn’t constantly peddling credit cards like a drug dealer on a playground like most of the bloggers out there.

  10. I’ve no qualms with the strategy, but what I do have a problem with is folks that use hidden city award bookings to use inventory they never intend to fly, just to save a few thousand miles. At least when you end up canceling there’s a decent chance it becomes available for last minute bookings.

    1. I suppose the slightly good news on this front is that many of the hidden city options were killed, likely thanks to one kid filing a DoT complaint when he was denied boarding on one of them. Oops.

  11. I think you could easily hold 3 awards with the expectations of only using 1. If you are an elite, this is one of the perks that United officially allows. However it would raise some serious red flags if assuming enough miles you blocked the whole year, right?
    If it feels bad don’t do it, and especially not blog about it?

  12. @Nathan: If you’re looking for a slice of Europe, go to Quebec City. SP&M is a fishing village of 6,000 people sitting on a rock in the middle of the sea. France would have dumped it years ago if it weren’t for the fishing and mineral rights.

  13. You could only do this because you are 1K and have a bunch of miles to burn. Few people are 1K (relative to the flying populous). Fewer are sitting on X 100,000 miles. Nice war story but hardly useful to most who fly. You won’t be able to write about such adventure next year when your not 1K.

    The 10 CPM minimum spend has put a kink in this and many adventures in travel blog land. The final nails which will seal the lid on these coffins will be AA going to a minimum spend and credit card companies cutting continuing to tighten the noose on the churn.

    1. Interesting assumptions. Also worth noting they’re not entirely accurate.

      Yes, I am a 1K but it would also be possible as a Platinum which is still viable without a PQD requirement if you’re willing to deal with the UA CCs.

      And I didn’t use hundreds of thousands of miles to make it all happen. At most I had less than 100,000 miles in play and that was for two tickets. All but one of the reservations (the emergency one I made when I realized en route that we weren’t actually going to our originally booked destination) was at the Saver level so only 12,500 miles each one-way. In the end I booked us on the YQM-EWR which priced at 10,000 each. But even when holding the max of three different reservations I was only “invested” to 75,000 miles.

  14. Kinda thrown off by the ” I had at least ten (possibly as many as 15!!) ” part of your blog. Thought you had 10 to 15 awards booked at one time, not just at some time (I guess).

    How long will the credit card waiver last? Did Delta remove it from their 2015 program? Are American and Delta mainlining the CM’s cash flow as hard as United?

    1. I did have 10-15 different reservations from when I made the first booking until I got home. But never all at once.

      No idea if the CC waiver will extend to next year, but I’d bet yes. And also yes to DL/AA driving so much revenue from selling miles/points via 3rd parties.

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