How the fuck are you supposed to book a seat on a partner airline, like when you fly Lufthansa by booking on United?

You know what makes me happy? It makes me happy when one of you readers comment and ask a question. Then I have a topic for another post, and I can feel briefly useful during our never ending march towards irrelevancy and death. I know, I bring the cheer around here!

Anyway, trusty reader Jack posted a comment yesterday in which he asked where the best place to get a handy in Manhattan is, and the answer is obviously 32nd St. No, no, I kid. He asked, “When you book thru United, it doesn’t allow you to see the seat layout and says something like, too bad so sad if you want to choose your seat. How did the seat assignment/choice process unfold for you?”

That, as they say in preschool, is a good question! And one I even have the answer to. And it was definitely relevant when wanting to make sure that I was in business class upstairs on the 747, not downstairs.

When you book a ticket on a partner airline, you get, as per usual, a booking code, aka confirmation number, aka record locator, which is almost always six digits, if by digits we also mean letters. You know, like E3K91H or whatever. (Although Air Moldova gave me one that was five digits, which I’d never seen before, so that was kind of exciting. If you’re me.) If you want to sound like a smarty smart to a reservations agent, they call it a PNR (passenger number record).

What you also get, but is often not shown to you, is a separate record locator created at the partner airline. This is the gold, because pretty much every airline, without even signing in or needing an account, lets you manage a reservation with a record locator and your name, including choosing seats. If you can’t, because the airline web site is awful, as a surprising number of them are, you can call them.

The trick is getting the partner airline record locator. At a minimum, you can always call the airline you booked with, and say “Hey, I just booked a ticket, can you please give me the record locator of the partner airline?” And they will, without fail. Then you go to Seatguru.com, find your dream seat, and go to the partner airline web site, and try to reserve it. And you call the partner airline if that doesn’t work.

Since Jack asked about United, I’m happy to report that United will show you the partner airline record locator right on their website, and even their phone app, so YAY UNITED WHOO. On the web site, when you look at your reservation, there will be an extra link that says “View additional confirmation numbers.” Check it out:

Kewl. On the app, it’s under “Additional information”:

Aeroplan (Air Canada’s program, for now), will also show you a partner booking code, as described here.

I also just booked a Delta ticket with Air France, and while I couldn’t get the actual Delta record locator from Air France’s web site, to my surprise, I was actually able to use the Air France record locator directly on Delta’s site, and once I was looking at the reservation, I could see Delta’s record locator. I don’t know if it works in the other direction. While I was in there, it was also a good opportunity to associate the booking with my Delta SkyMiles number, rather than the Air France number it was assigned by default, so the reservation came up under My Trips at Delta. Doing that also makes it eligible for Delta perks like the free checked bag and early boarding I get from having the credit card, and potential upgrades if I had Delta status, which I don’t, because fuck Delta.

Also, this same idea applies to when you book a ticket with an OTA (online travel agency) such as Orbitz, or the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or AmexTravel.com when paying with points. The agency will have their own booking code, and may or may not successfully link the reservation to your frequent flyer number at the airline, and may or may not successfully assign a seat. So get the airline record locator from the reservation (it’s in there, somewhere, and if you really can’t find it, call the OTA), and then go to your airline and choose your seat and assign your frequent flyer number and your TSA PreCheck number, and everything will be copacetic. If you’re really going wizard level, and use the OTA to book a reservation flown on a partner airline, then you end up with three numbers: the OTA booking reference, the purchased airline record locator, and the partner airline record locator, which is the one you’re actually gonna need to assign seats.

Thanks for the question, Jack, and happy fucking travels to you.

3 thoughts on “How the fuck are you supposed to book a seat on a partner airline, like when you fly Lufthansa by booking on United?

  1. AJ

    Just popped in to say that I read every one of these posts. They’re brilliant.

    Also, your full confirmation number is currently shown in the yellow tab in the first image. Not sure if you want that displayed or not. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Reply

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