What’s going on with Lufthansa first class phantom award availability?

I don’t think there’s a single subject I get more emails about as of late than Lufthansa first class “phantom” award availability appearing on the United website. As I’ve mentioned many times before, late last year Lufthansa stopped releasing first class award space to Star Alliance partners more than two weeks before departure.

This is definitely a huge blow to the value of United and US Airways miles, since previously Lufthansa first class was one of the most readily available products for award redemptions.

Earlier in the year United’s award search tool started showing “phantom” Lufthansa first class award space. Basically when you search for award space (even more than two weeks out) United’s website shows tons of award availability.

But after you enter all the traveler information and try to confirm the purchase, the following error message is returned:

The way to accurately verify availability before going through the pain of trying to make the booking would be to go to the ANA tool and see what they show (as you can see, nothing is actually available):

Or the easier method is to just assume it’s not available if your departure date is more than two weeks out, and assume with 90% certainty that it’s not available within two weeks of departure either. ๐Ÿ˜‰

But the thing that puzzles me is that I’m seeing more and more phantom award availability. Exponentially more, actually.

At first my assumption was that the “phantom” availability was leftover award space from when Lufthansa pulled all first class award space more than two weeks out. The “phantom” space, I figured, was just the remains of that, and that the system never updated on the surface to reflect availability was pulled. Kind of like when someone brings coleslaw to a party, no one eats it, but you can’t bring yourself to throw it away either, so you just let it sit in your fridge till the smell just can’t be tolerated anymore.

That’s not the case, though, since I’m constantly seeing more and more phantom availability, even within two weeks of departure.

If united.com is to be believed, every single Lufthansa flight between Germany and Newark has award availability in first class on July 4:

In reality none of these flights have first class award availability.

Which leads me to my question — why is this space being loaded? I’m not much of a tech guy, so I’m hoping one of you has a plausible explanation.

I’ve come up with three possibilities:

  • Someone at United has a cruel sense of humor
  • Someone at Lufthansa has a cruel sense of humor
  • Someone at the Star Alliance has a cruel sense of humor

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. So Ben,

    If I’m looking for LH a week out leaving LAX – where should I look for “real” LH availability?

  2. FWIW, if you happen to get a UA agent who is willing to do a manual sell, they will see the same availibilty. Of course the end result is the same.

  3. The explanation I received from a UA agent was ,”We’re out of sync with the other end. By the time we show availability it’s actually gone.” Not sure what she meant by “the other end.”

  4. Just wanted to let you know lucky that I found a way to get Singapore airlines suites at a very good price ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. @ USairelite — The interwebs must be really slow today, cause I haven’t received it. Can’t come fast enough!

  6. I’ve run in to the same problem with Lufthansa business class for travel about a month out. I saw space in I (biz saver) but the agent was not able to see it. This happened twice with two different agents and two different routes. They eventually were able to ticket them both, but I’m not sure what the problem was.

    Each time resulted in 90+ minute calls to get it resolved.

  7. @ USairelite — If you’re having issues sending, can I email you at email you used for comment from a different email?

  8. @USairelite I will be switching to United immediately to accrue miles if your method pans out ๐Ÿ™‚ On the other hand it might be only with krisflyer miles in which case I should increase my MR stash.

    @Lucky we would be waiting for a blog entry on that method.

  9. @Lucky- unfortunately it’s not working on my phone, damn iPhones!
    When i can get to a computer, The first thing I will do is send it to you.

  10. This appears to be a United system issue related to *A partners. I spent the last week and a half trying to book four people to manila this fall. All flights were on UA metal except for one leg, NRT-MNL, which was on ANA (not a codeshare flight, just an ANA flight that appeared in search results on united.com). The fare availability was a massive issue, with any booking online returning an error message and bookings over the phone taking literally hours to complete (with the good agents) as they tried to figure out availability on the ANA flight. The oddest part, perhaps, is that one time out of -literally- at least 75 tries online worked fine and I was able to hold the seat and fare using the “pay with cash” method of holding seats.

    So not sure what this all means but the more senior agents I spoke with stated they have these issues a fair amount with *A partner availability not “updating” in their systems. Why, though, availability that is/was never there would show up is an even greater mystery.

  11. @USairelite would love to know also gleff@yahoo.com ๐Ÿ™‚

    Meanwhile it’s worth noting that Aeroplan has had the same issue with LH F inventory.

    When it was just a UA issue (I thought) my first thought was “AVS synch” but sort of odd that UA and AC would both be out of synch.

    And if it were synching then it would be a matter of showing out-of-date information. But LH wouldn’t have provided F inventory in the past that was no longer available headed out the entire schedule! So not sure that makes sense.

    I haven’t verified this, but is LH showing F inventory for M&M members when AC and UA are showing it available? Is there something wrong with the UA POS settings?

  12. @USairelite If you’re trying to use AAOWISC, it’s not bookable in SQ Suites as far as I can tell, though it can appear in ITA Matrix results under certain codeshares.

  13. Has anyone tried contacting UA’s web support with all of this info to see what their response is?

  14. Ben – have you been having issues getting US Air agents to manual sell for LH F? When I say issues, can you get them to do it, even though it might take a few hang up and try again calls? I have seen threads about US Air agents not doing it at all anymore. I have a trip later this year I would like to book and don’t have a problem doing it last minute. Maybe in the next several months things will change. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. I have this amazing information that I would like to hand over to a major travel blog. The most important thing is that everyone knows I’m about to send it in without knowing what the actual trick is. Oh noes, the transmission failed. Email is just so darn complicated you know? Please keep trying to help me send it to you. Every time you suggest another obvious solution I receive five more Marionette points. Dance, puppets, dance! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. There’s no way it’s a ‘preview of what will be available within the 14 day window’ since LH has no idea whatsoever what that will be. A year out? They have no way of guessing what they might make available 14 days prior to travel. The flight could well be sold out completely at that point!

  17. Re: Gary,

    I think by ‘preview’ I mean what’s available if they would not have the 14 day rule in place.

    But clearly it’s not as simple as that.

    I tried several routes like SFO-FRA and saw ‘phantoms’ 4-6 weeks out and they all became bookable in the 14 day window. I also saw DEL-FRA available on LX 6 months out which went away without the 14 days period arriving yet.

    But anecdotal evidence suggests that if you see a phantom availability the chances it becomes real are high ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. @ RakSiam — Frankly they’re outsourced and the least empowered of all agents, so I can’t imagine they’d be able to do anything.

    @ Katie — Can’t say I’ve had more issues than normal.

  19. “Earlier in the year Unitedโ€™s award search tool started showing ‘phantom’ Lufthansa first class award space.”

    Actually it was late last year that this started. A LH F flight I wanted popped up at least twice, a month or so out (on both the old united.com and co.com), but it wasn’t visible on ANA and UA agents couldn’t see it either. But it turned up for real exactly 24 hours before the flight!

  20. @Dax- You will find out soon enough. I just wanted to get everybody excited but I really don’t want anyone to know ๐Ÿ™‚ JK. Lucky will make a post about it.

  21. recently there were times that all ua, ac and nh shows lh’s f inventory but it was phantom f eventually.

  22. I have had both UA and Aeroplan show LH F availability. ANA seems to be the only accurate site with this weird problem!

    Aeroplan said it was a problem and that they were working on it.

    Very frustrating!!

  23. Some folks in the FT thread indicated success booking these flights using a long sell. I haven’t had such luck, and I suspect these folks are confusing this situation with the need for a long sell when booking F awards with US miles, which is a discrete issue.

    I wonder if this is falsely showing inventory that is available for M&M members only and not *A partners? I’m not sure how to check this though.

  24. I’m M&M Senator, not sure if this means I see more availability or not, but I just checked round trip from FRA to EWR 7/4-7/11. Showed availability in F on 7/4 on flight 402, and availability in F only on LX via ZRH on the 11th. This itinerary costs 170k miles + $526.29 in fees. I don’t have enough miles to actually purchase this, so I wasn’t able to test if it’ll go through. UA.com doesn’t show the LX flight as available.

  25. This has to do with blocking using POS logic.
    The “real” way to verify this is “true phantom” is to see if you can see UA and LH both showing inventory and you cannot book with UA but can with LH.

  26. Isn’t it possible that what we see on .bomb is space is M&M space, not StarNet space? As for why AC and UA would show it and NH not, I don’t know why..

  27. @ffi – If someone wants to give me a bunch of M&M miles, I’ll be happy to try the experiment. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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