Ticket routing/purchasing quandary

Old Sep 18, 19, 7:52 am
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Ticket routing/purchasing quandary

Moderators - apologizing in advance for not knowing how best to title this thread. Please feel free to change; Thanks.


I have a problem that I'm not certain how to address my more efficiently than I have been. Due to some family issues it's become challenging for me to predict in advance with reasonable certainty, which one of two cities I'm going to be in and departing from, more than a few weeks in advance. Mostly I've solved this by sucking up the cost of last minute tickets and last minute scheduling. Generally it's worked OK for most of my destinations, because I know the markets cost ranges fairly well and there is usually late availability, even in F. Worst case I've ended up with a bunch of ticket credits I have a year to use and eat a few $200 change fees.

Where I've run into harder challenges is the holidays. Late availability is scarce, especially to vacation destinations. A ticket I can buy for $600 today is probably going to be $2000 on December 20, if it's available at all. This year, I know now I need to be in XX city on YY date. Being in XX city on YY date requires a connection through IAD to city XX. But I'm still working out the departure city and may not have it nailed down for some time. Ideally I will either depart from IAD on a non-stop United flight, or will connect to the specific non-stop United flight through IAD.

Appealing to the expertise of flyers on this forum, is there a way to handle this? I'm hoping some knowledgeable folks have better ideas than what I've thought of. :-)

I've thought about two refundable tickets. But even with refundable tickets, I don't think any fully fare changes will allow changing the origination city - assuming availability without repricing, which is basically a new ticket. (Is there??) But I also can't imagine United (or any airline) allowing let me hold two refundable tickets, in parallel, partly on the same flight route. (??) (Nor would I even know how to book the second ticket without holding two seats on the same flight in the same name.) Probably a non-starter?

So it would have to be two refundable tickets, one on United, and one on another airlines? (Or non-refundable, knowing I will eat a change fee and have a credit to use.) Or purchasing just the IAD portion and worry about getting to IAD later if needed? Would United ticket my luggage through, if I added a positioning flight to IAD later?

P.S. I don't have United or United partner status, if that matters for any options or not.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 7:57 am
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Does Southwest fly between your cities? I believe they allow you to get credit toward future flights, without buying expensive refundable tickets.

Some award tickets (AA?) let you change ticket dates for free up to a year after ticketing dates.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 8:07 am
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Originally Posted by cmtlatitudes View Post
Moderators - apologizing in advance for not knowing how best to title this thread. Please feel free to change; Thanks.


I have a problem that I'm not certain how to address my more efficiently than I have been. Due to some family issues it's become challenging for me to predict in advance with reasonable certainty, which one of two cities I'm going to be in and departing from, more than a few weeks in advance. Mostly I've solved this by sucking up the cost of last minute tickets and last minute scheduling. Generally it's worked OK for most of my destinations, because I know the markets cost ranges fairly well and there is usually late availability, even in F. Worst case I've ended up with a bunch of ticket credits I have a year to use and eat a few $200 change fees.

Where I've run into harder challenges is the holidays. Late availability is scarce, especially to vacation destinations. A ticket I can buy for $600 today is probably going to be $2000 on December 20, if it's available at all. This year, I know now I need to be in XX city on YY date. Being in XX city on YY date requires a connection through IAD to city XX. But I'm still working out the departure city and may not have it nailed down for some time. Ideally I will either depart from IAD on a non-stop United flight, or will connect to the specific non-stop United flight through IAD.

Appealing to the expertise of flyers on this forum, is there a way to handle this? I'm hoping some knowledgeable folks have better ideas than what I've thought of. :-)

I've thought about two refundable tickets. But even with refundable tickets, I don't think any fully fare changes will allow changing the origination city - assuming availability without repricing, which is basically a new ticket. (Is there??) But I also can't imagine United (or any airline) allowing let me hold two refundable tickets, in parallel, partly on the same flight route. (??) (Nor would I even know how to book the second ticket without holding two seats on the same flight in the same name.) Probably a non-starter?

So it would have to be two refundable tickets, one on United, and one on another airlines? (Or non-refundable, knowing I will eat a change fee and have a credit to use.) Or purchasing just the IAD portion and worry about getting to IAD later if needed? Would United ticket my luggage through, if I added a positioning flight to IAD later?

P.S. I don't have United or United partner status, if that matters for any options or not.
In all seriousness, I think you'll get the best and, perhaps, the most creative options if you disclose the real origins and destinations.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 8:11 am
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I think it depends a lot on the relative costs of various options. If unrestricted tickets are going to be in something like B class anyway, holding AAA-IAD-XXX in unrestricted B and changing to IAD-XXX if you need to is going to be reasonable. It will re-price, but B space is almost guaranteed since you're holding it and the shorter flight in B is almost always less than the longer flight in B. If you have refundable options in deep-discount inventory, then two tickets on different carriers probably makes the most sense (or two non-refundable tickets, eating one if that's more cost-effective).

As noted, WN has no change fees which can help a lot for someone in your situation.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 8:17 am
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If the dilemma is that you'll either need to fly IAD-XXX or AAA-IAD-XXX, try pricing IAD-XXX and AAA-IAS-XXX versus AAA-IAD and IAD-XXX on separate tickets. Then make sure that you understand how UA treats nonelites on separate UA tickets, including checking luggage through and protection if the first flight is delayed/cancelled.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 8:29 am
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The summarize, I think you have three options:

(1) Buy two tickets on two carriers, cancel and eat the change fee on whichever you don't use. Excellent advice that Southwest doesn't charge change fees. Buy United for the most likely option and Southwest for the least likely option.

(2) Buy no change fee ticket for the most likely option, eat the fare difference if you guessed wrong.

(3) Buy AAA-IAD and IAD-XXX on separate tickets with a long "connection" in IAD, all UA-metal, and hope United honors its unpublished rule of accommodating (on standby) people who miss separate-ticket connections, in the case your first flight is delayed. You will be at the mercy of the agent and banking on the onward flights having room, as UA will not bend over backward to put you on another carrier etc. You can either buy a refundable AAA-IAD now or buy it later when your plans firm up, if you don't think it will get as expensive as IAD-XXX will.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 8:37 am
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Why post this in the UA forum? If you do not have status or any particular reason to fly UA, it may be better to fly another carrier.

Without knowing the specific route you need to fly, you will get tons of speculation but little actionable advice.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 8:43 am
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Originally Posted by threeoh View Post
The summarize, I think you have three options:

(1) Buy two tickets on two carriers, cancel and eat the change fee on whichever you don't use. Excellent advice that Southwest doesn't charge change fees. Buy United for the most likely option and Southwest for the least likely option.

(2) Buy no change fee ticket for the most likely option, eat the fare difference if you guessed wrong.

(3) Buy AAA-IAD and IAD-XXX on separate tickets with a long "connection" in IAD, all UA-metal, and hope United honors its unpublished rule of accommodating (on standby) people who miss separate-ticket connections, in the case your first flight is delayed. You will be at the mercy of the agent and banking on the onward flights having room, as UA will not bend over backward to put you on another carrier etc. You can either buy a refundable AAA-IAD now or buy it later when your plans firm up, if you don't think it will get as expensive as IAD-XXX will.
(1) Even with no change fee, my understanding is that you would get a WN credit to use in one year, not a refund. If you don't (want to) fly Southwest, this doesn't help (and it would be nontransferable).
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Old Sep 18, 19, 9:02 am
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Originally Posted by MSPeconomist View Post
(1) Even with no change fee, my understanding is that you would get a WN credit to use in one year, not a refund. If you don't (want to) fly Southwest, this doesn't help (and it would be nontransferable).
You are correct, on the cheap "Wanna Get Away" WN fares you have to use the credit within a year, just a like a non-refundable ticket on any other airline. But no change fees.

While I'm thinking about the OP's problem, this might be good use of an Everyday award ticket on United MP. OP doesn't have status but if you have the Explorer credit card, it offers last-seat availability on any United flight. With the change to dynamic awards in November maybe not the same home run it was under the old system, but possibly a way to book last minute (or change last minute) without paying $2,000.

Last edited by threeoh; Sep 18, 19 at 9:09 am
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Old Sep 18, 19, 10:18 am
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Thanks everyone. I really appreciate the assistance & was not trying to be cagey. I was just trying to keep it general because the situation comes up a lot for me, with sometimes slightly different parameters.

I live near DC, 8-10 minutes from DCA. I routinely use IAD or BWI whenever it is makes sense or is necessary though. Over the past several years I've had to spend 1/4 - 1/2 of my time in a small town up in NY. Family issues, not work, so the costs are on me. Closest airport is BUF, which I use when I don't drive. Slightly farther away is ERI (Erie, PA), but that's never gained me anything over BUF, and I've never used them.

When home, if possible I fly out of DCA on United, American, or Delta. But United, and IAD, has a sweet spot in the DC area during high season -- the only non-stop flights to PLS and GCM. So whenever I'm able to make the dates work with reasonable fares in F, I always fly United out of IAD during high season to their non-stop Caribbean destinations.

So basically, I end up taking a lot of flights from the DC area, but a good number from BUF also. Half the time the final decision only gets made 2-5 days out and I make it work. That approach likely isn't going to work with a trip Christmas week however. The ticket price difference is negligible between departing BUF or departing IAD. I was hoping there was some magical solution to ticket both of the trips (BUF-IAD-PLS and IAD-PLS), with the same IAD-PLS non-stop flight as refundable, but it sounds like not. LoL. Two carrier tickets appears to be only option.

You know, I never even thought about WN, I avoid them like the plaque but they are "King" at BUF. The only carrier with curbside check-in. LoL. I've used them a couple of times, but probably have thrown out more tickets than I used (because I forgot about them within the year and the tickets are so cheap as to not even worry about it). Their big in DC at BWI, the least favorite of my WAS airport options. So between that, and not able to fly in F, they fall off my radar.

I'll go back and read everyone's responses again in detail. Thanks again so much for your quick replies!
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Old Sep 18, 19, 10:39 am
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Originally Posted by cmtlatitudes View Post
I was hoping there was some magical solution to ticket both of the trips (BUF-IAD-PLS and IAD-PLS), with the same IAD-PLS non-stop flight as refundable, but it sounds like not. LoL. Two carrier tickets appears to be only option.
Check the price of a flexible BUF-IAD fare plus a nonrefundable IAD-PLS fare. Give yourself a little extra time if possible, because you'll be on separate tickets and technically UA doesn't have to re-accommodate you if a delay happens -- but in practice they will.

For domestic fares, "flexible" almost always means "refundable with no fee" (but check the fare rules). That would secure your spot on both flights and give you the option to depart from BUF if necessary.

The other option would be to buy the BUF-IAD-PLS flights and decide to make your way to BUF at the last minute if necessary. This depends upon your willingness to pay walk-up WAS-BUF (whatever that might be) and/or drive.

Or, split the difference: fly from PIT.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 10:52 am
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Technically speaking you can absolutely purchase a refundable fare BUF-IAD-PLS and drop the BUF-IAD segment close in because you hold the space on IAD-PLS. It will reprice as IAD-PLS, but this is not going to be a significant change in price. However, in your case this is probably more than you want to pay (BUF-PLS in refundable J is something like $2,800 r/t) and in fact you cannot purchase a refundable ticket (at any price) to PLS during the winter holiday period.

I think jsloan's solution is probably best. BUF-IAD is $333 each direction in refundable U class.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 11:32 am
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And I think I know the area that you are talking about in NY ( my wife's family is in the Clymer/Jamestown area), both Rochester and Cleveland are options that should be in the 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive range. AA seems to run three non stops per day from either airport to DCA. UA doesn't appear to have any current non stops from either ROC or CLE.

You could also fly BUF,ROC, CLE , or WAS via Jetblue with one stop from each city.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 12:45 pm
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Have you thought about flying from YYZ to PLS. Their Christmas time tickets are cheaper than DC right now, and two carriers have non-stop service.
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Old Sep 18, 19, 1:03 pm
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Originally Posted by Larrude View Post
And I think I know the area that you are talking about in NY ( my wife's family is in the Clymer/Jamestown area), both Rochester and Cleveland are options that should be in the 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive range. AA seems to run three non stops per day from either airport to DCA. UA doesn't appear to have any current non stops from either ROC or CLE.

You could also fly BUF,ROC, CLE , or WAS via Jetblue with one stop from each city.
UA flies nonstop 5X/day (weekdays) to DCA and 4X/day to IAD from CLE.
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