Last week I had an issue with British Airways when, six days before my flight, I was moved from my exit row aisle seat and put in a middle seat near the rear of the plane for my 4.5hr flight to Larnaca (Cyprus). The cause of the issue is BA’s tendency to expand its short-haul faux-business-class cabin when it thinks it can sell more business class tickets – and this is done by moving those in the exit rows, situated just behind the business class cabin, to open up more space.
This is how two online services helped me discover the problem and helped resolve the situation.
Not satisfied with involving me in an unwanted game of musical chairs, BA’s systems appear not to be set up to notify travellers when their seats are involuntarily changed. Luckily, a service called Award Wallet had my back and emailed me as soon as BA changed my seat. This gave me the opportunity to pick another, better, seat and saved me from the dreaded middle seat at the back of the plane.
Award Wallet is a service that allows users to keep track of their loyalty points balances across a variety of programs, from airlines, hotels and car rental agencies to credit cards, grocery stores and gas stations. In addition to keeping track of your point balances (and warning you if you’re in danger of letting any points expire), Award Wallet also keeps track of your reservations and monitors them for any changes.
This is particularly handy when an airline alters something in your reservation and fails to inform you of the change – as happened with me. In my case, Award Wallet detected that BA had changed my seat and I got an email to let me know. The service will also notify you of any schedule changes or aircraft swaps allowing you to stay on top of your bookings and keep one step ahead of everyone else on your flights (well, you’ll keep ahead of everyone else without a service like Award Wallet).
Award Wallet isn’t able to keep track of all airlines but it does a great job of tracking most (some airlines have restricted Award Wallet’s access to their information so they’re not supported). It’s also not restricted to just US loyalty programs – UK readers may be interested to know that the service will track your Tesco, Nectar and Shell points balances as well as quite a few more – especially useful for anyone who is concerned that their Tesco account may be compromised (as has been happening a lot over recent months).
There are two levels of Award Wallet membership “Regular” (free) and “AwardWallet Plus” (where you get to choose how much you’d like to pay)
The second service that came to my aid last week was Expert Flyer.
Expert Flyer (EF) is a service that has access to a good number of airline systems and this allows it to show its users all kinds of useful information about flights they’re on (or flights that they’re considering).
Information that you’ll find incudes (but isn’t limited too):
- Airline seat maps
- Detailed information on what paid inventory is available on specific flights
- Information on upgrade inventory on specific flights
- Information on award inventory on specific flights
On top of all this, EF allows users to set alerts to be informed when:
- Specific seats (or types of seats) become available on a particular flight – users can ask to be alerted when an exit row seat becomes available, when a window or aisle seat becomes available or when a specific seat (e.g. 11D) become available.
- Award inventory is released – users will be amongst the first to know when an airline makes seats available for award travel on specific flights they’ve highlighted.
- Upgrade inventory is released – users will be amongst the first to know when an airline makes seats available for upgrades on specific flights they’ve highlighted.
Like in the case of Award Wallet, not all airlines are supported (Delta just withdrew all it’s information from EF) but it’s still an amazingly useful tool for a lot of flyers.
The free service is primarily a seat searching service while the two Pro services have some great features:
Personally I don’t know what I’d do without EF. It allows me to organize my travels around flights where I know upgrade space is available (more comfort for me) and, when upgrade space hasn’t yet been released, it allows me to grab the upgrades almost as soon as the airline has released them. It also lets me know when award space is opened up meaning that I no longer face the prospect of having to check availability every day just so that I don’t miss out.
In the case of my issue with BA, EF came through again:
Thanks to the guys on the British Airways board over at Flyertalk I knew that the exit row seat I was ejected from wasn’t actually occupied by anyone – BA had kicked me out and then blocked the seat for its own purposes. With this in mind I decided to set a seat alert on EF figuring that there was a chance that BA wouldn’t sell the seats it was hoping to sell and that the exit row seats may become available once again.
Sure enough, 48 hours before departure, I got an email from EF letting me know that all the exit row seats I had highlighted (all of row 11) were suddenly available – BA had given up on trying to sell more Club Europe seats and had released the exit row seats back in to the general pool – so I logged in to my BA account and put myself back into the exit row seat I’d originally booked.
You could say that all’s well that ends well but that wouldn’t be the full story. If it hadn’t been for Award Wallet I probably wouldn’t have found out until after I had arrived at the airport that I’d lost my exit row seat. And, even if I had noticed that my seat had been changed, if it hadn’t been for Expert Flyer I wouldn’t have known that my exit row seat was available once more. There was absolutely no communication from BA at any point in all of this.
The savvy flier doesn’t leave anything in the hands of the airlines if he/she doesn’t have to – airlines can be very poor at passing on information and that can make a big difference to your trip. If you fly at all frequently (more than once or twice a year) you should probably be considering both the services mentioned above – it takes a lot of hassle out of travel when you know a computer has your back!
Note: by clicking on the links above you’ll be taken to the websites of the services described. We don’t receive any form of payment or commission from the service providers and they have no say over the editorial content of this blog.