Airlines have control over the award prices they set and also over the amount of award space they release on their own flights. That makes it easy for them to control the costs of redemptions through their mileage programs.
This has translated into some award space blocking
With alliance partnerships, typically airlines release the same amount of award space to all their partner airlines. Back in 2008 Lufthansa released a ton of first class award space, often 4-8 seats per flight (back when they had 16 first class seats on their 747s).
As a result it was the single most available transatlantic first class product to get on miles. Airlines reimburse each other for award seats, and the cost is much lower than you might think. In 2008, that cost was too high for United, and they implemented something called “Starnet blocking” whereby they began blocking Lufthansa first class award space across the board.
My issue with this was twofold. First of all, it undermines the value of an alliance when different airlines make different amounts of award space available. But more importantly, the worst part was that United wasn’t at all transparent about the Starnet blocking, and for months actually denied it was happening.
After the merger between Continental & United, the blocking stopped for the most part, though US Airways picked up the practice. They started by only blocking Lufthansa transatlantic first class award space, and they did it in spurts. Often at the beginning of the quarter US Airways would show award availability (I assume their partner award space quota was reset), and then after that they wouldn’t have access to any first class award space for a while.
Eventually the US Airways Starnet blocking spread from just transatlantic Lufthansa first class award seats to all Lufthansa first class award seats, and then to blocking business and even economy class flights. US Airways joined oneworld in March, and for the most part the remaining Star Alliance programs have been playing nicely with award space this year. The one exception is Avianca LifeMiles, which has been blocking Lufthansa first class award space for the past couple of weeks.
Is Aeroplan blocking EVA Air award space?
There has been a development the past few weeks whereby Air Canada’s spun off Aeroplan program hasn’t had access to any EVA Air flights.
This supposedly started as a “system update” a few weeks ago, but hasn’t yet been resolved. Aeroplan is insistent that it’s a technical issue with the EVA systems, and has no timeline for when or if it might be resolved.
For example, there is plenty of availability later this week between Toronto and Taipei in business class according to the ANA tool, which is usually 99% accurate:
The same flights are available on the United website:
Conversely, looking at the same dates on the Aeroplan site brings up the following connecting options:
As another example, let’s look at flights between Taipei and Tokyo, which is a route that typically has great availability. According to the ANA tool, there is availability on two of the EVA flights in business class:
Meanwhile, the Aeroplan site returns the single direct option on ANA, then suggests a bunch of connecting options on Air China:
Is Aeroplan blocking or is it a system glitch?
It’s anyone’s guess if this is in fact a “system update” or intentional blocking. American AAdvantage recently didn’t have access to Etihad Airways award space. It was a legitimate system issue, though it’s clear that they had bigger fish to fry, as it took them a few weeks to get around to fixing it.
Conversely, there have been cases where blocking started off as a “system glitch,” but when airlines realized how convenient that is, they ended up never fixing it. It’s my understanding that this is actually how US Airways’ blocking of Lufthansa award space started.
Which is more likely? I don’t know exactly how much Aeroplan has to reimburse EVA for an award ticket, though for what it’s worth a first class ANA ticket between New York and Tokyo costs the issuing carrier ~$450, so I can’t imagine it’s that costly. EVA is one of the few Asian carriers on which Aeroplan doesn’t levy fuel surcharges, so there is definitely some ancillary revenue lost there, potentially.
However, Air China space is still readily available, as are the other carriers that don’t impose fuel surcharges, so there has to be more to the story.
I never thought I’d say this, but the most frustrating aspect of this might be that for the most part Aeroplan agents are well-trained and competent. Every agent I’ve spoken to is aware of the “system issue” and has been incredibly apologetic that they’re unable to book EVA. A less-informed agent might be willing to try long selling the space, but I haven’t come across one of those yet.
At this point I can’t confirm if Aeroplan is actually Starnet blocking, or if this is truly a system issue such as the one between American and Etihad. Given that other Star Alliance carriers seem to have no issue booking EVA flights I’m naturally a bit skeptical though.
Here’s to hoping they get it fixed soon, because EVA Air has a fantastic business class product (especially if you can get on their Hello Kitty service, be it between Tokyo and Taipei or Taipei and Los Angeles) and is a great use of Aeroplan miles.
(Tip of the hat to Del)