Travel Troubleshooter: 'Leftover seats' instead of 'award miles'?
A Cathay Pacific representative told me that, as this was an award ticket issued by British Airways, there was nothing Cathay Pacific could do and that I should work with British Airways.
I contacted British Airways by phone, where the representative told me all it could do was search Cathay Pacific's "award inventory" - where there wasn't anything for a month. I asked whether it could try to rebook on British Airways or another line, but my parents were turned down.
I feel I am getting caught between both carriers. Using rational, common sense, I feel one of these airlines should offer assistance to my parents. I feel they should offer the same treatment to all passengers who travel with them, and not make my parents second-class citizens.
Answer: You're right, one of the airlines should have promptly rebooked your parents on the next available flight - not the next flight with available seats.
It helps to know a little about how award tickets work. A sophisticated computer algorithm determines how many seats per flight become award seats, which is to say, seats for which the airline is willing to accept frequent-flier miles as payment. What the system is actually calculating is the number of seats that would go unsold. (Maybe they ought to call them leftover seats instead of award seats?)
This seems perfectly rational to the airline; after all, it's giving you something for nothing. But from your perspective, it's an insult. You worked hard and spent lots of money to accrue those miles, and to ask you to wait a month is unacceptable.
I notice that you spent a fair amount of time on the phone with British Airways and Cathay Pacific after the storm. (This incident happened several months ago, but I am just now writing about it.) That's fine, but you also want to put your grievance in writing so you have a record of it. At some point, British Airways will realize it ticked off one of its best customers, and a written record tends to help everyone reach that point sooner.
I contacted British Airways, and it worked with Cathay Pacific to find your parents two seats on an acceptable flight.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley) and cofounder of the Consumer Travel Alliance.