Gardening is probably not the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about flying but when it comes to your airline booking, “gardening your reservation” — or checking back periodically - can reap more rewards than you might think.
Gardening your reservation will generally need two things: your name and your six-character booking code, which the airlines call the PNR (Passenger Name Record). It’ll probably look something like XYZABC or A1B2C3. You can then manage your booking on the airline site.
The first time I garden my reservation is immediately after booking. I don’t use any of the commonly available web services to add my flights to my calendar, for several reasons. They’re not always 100% accurate, they don’t really handle changes to bookings well, and I also like the double-check factor of adding a booking to my calendar myself to make sure I haven’t done anything foolish like forget about the international date line, an overnight flight or my boyfriend’s birthday when it comes to booking hotels and onwards connections.
(Even as an aviation journalist, I have, in fact, done two out of three of these things, so feel no shame if you have too!)
I also make sure that the details are correct: right dates, right airport, and that the name on the booking exactly matches the name on my passport. You only have a very limited amount of time to make any “whoops!” changes, usually under 24 hours, so if something doesn’t look right you should follow up immediately.
You may be able to select seats too. If you have to pay for them, your mileage will vary on whether you think that’s a good deal, depending on price, flight length, whether you’re travelling with friends or family, and how comfortable the regular seats are likely to be for you.
Weirdly, though, whether seat selection is free or not, you may have a better choice of options via the “manage my booking” function then when actually booking the flight. Airline computer systems can be weird like that, since by and large they’re all kinds of old crusty IT systems on which new and shinier interfaces have been built.
A side tip: I’m a big fan of not paying for seat selection and instead setting a calendar appointment for the moment online check-in opens. You’ll have free choice of whatever’s left — and don’t forget to use my handy guide to finding the best seat on whatever plane you’re flying — and be able to go right for it if you’ve gardened your reservation properly.
A key task when first sitting down to garden your reservation is to ensure that your passport information and travel details like destination hotel, and so on, are all entered correctly. You’ll have to do this before online check-in anyway, and often before seat selection, and that lets other early birds get the good seats if you’re still tapping in the details of when your passport expires.
(This is also a handy time to ensure that your passport is, indeed, valid for your trip — and, in countries where it’s necessary, for the right amount of time beyond your trip, whether that’s six months or whatever.)
Check also that you have any visas required, and that you’ve sorted out any electronic travel approvals like the ESTA, ETA, and so on, in advance of getting to the airport. Staffers there can sometimes help you but it’s a very stressful and often expensive mistake to make.
Have a browse through what the airline is offering you too. You may well be able to preorder a meal, whether that’s for an extra fee in economy class or on a complimentary basis in premium economy or business. This can be a great value, especially if you’re flying on one of the airlines that has signature national dishes on its buy-on-board menu. Even if you don’t want to pay any extra, take my advice and choose the Asian vegetarian meal: it’s almost always better than the beef-or-chicken, and like all special meals you’ll be served first.
Check especially whether there are any upgrade offers going. Beyond just the space and comfort, these can be handy if you’re heading home from somewhere that’s a big shopping destination with an extra suitcase, or if it’s a special trip and you feel like spoiling yourself. An increasing number of airlines are letting you bid for upgrades, too, which can be really good value.
But, crucially, once you’ve sown the seeds you need to keep coming back to garden your reservation, perhaps every month or two in advance of your flight. Check for new offers, but crucially to make sure that your flight times haven’t changed. Airlines are supposed to notify you via email or text, but they’re not great at doing so as a rule.
This is important not just so that you know when to turn up at the airport. If you’re connecting, make sure that a tight connection doesn’t get too tight. If the changes are material (I’m not talking a 12:00pm to 12:05pm here) then you should have the right to change the ticket at the airline’s expense, and to the shortest and most convenient route. Prefer that more expensive nonstop to the connection you booked? It never hurts to ask.
I realise this all might feels a bit too overly keen but I’ve had the experience of turning up at the airport only to discover that the flight was brought forward an hour, and my plans to stroll relaxedly to my gate turned into a stressful pelt along the corridors. I don’t recommend it! Spend that little bit of time to be prepared, especially when you’re travelling for something important.