Q: I wanted to book a flight with my American Airlines frequent-flier miles to catch a cruise, so I contacted an AA agent. She offered to book me on a better flight with Brussels Air, an AA partner. A few days later, customer service called me up and told me that Brussels Air is no longer a partner of AA and my ticket was invalid. After a week of phone calls with AA agents, I was given only one flight option: fly into Dallas/Fort Worth International one night and lay over until the evening of the next day. Not great at all. Peter, is there any way to avoid mix-ups like these?
—Sara McClure, Long Beach, Calif.
A: Unfortunately, Sara, the bottom line is that you can't be 100 percent sure this type of thing won't happen. American Airlines and most other "legacy" (more established) airline carriers are involved in a web of alliances with other airlines.
The Brussels Air/American Airlines alliance was a "side alliance" between the two companies, which was discontinued as of June 30. These side alliances are more common than you might think. For instance, AA also has contracts with Air Pacific, Alaska and Horizon Air, El Al, GOL, Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, and Jet Airways.
So, how do you avoid the same cancellation mistake happening again? The safest thing you can do is to stick with alliances between legacy carriers when cashing in your frequent-flier miles.
One World, Sky Team and Star Alliance are more stable alliances in comparison to a pact between two airline companies. Also, throw a little of your own elbow grease into the mix. With a quick internet search, you can check when these side alliances expire, what new alliances are created and which airlines are aligned with each other. The best way to make sure that you are not booted off your flight is to double-check before the agent creates your itinerary. When trying to redeem your frequent-flier miles, don't let the agent book anything without a little background research. Chances are that they won't mess up, but mistakes happen. The only thing you can do is be prepared as possible.
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