Award Availability Discrepancies Between Airlines?

Reader Jonathan Casey asked the following question in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

I am in the process of trying to book a Lufthansa first class award (less than 14 days out). I’ve been watching ANA, United, and Aeroplan site for the seats to open for the flight I’m trying to take which is currently sitting at F4. Last night availability showed up on the ANA site and United site, but Aeroplan didn’t show any seats in first. I tried calling Aeroplan and the agent didn’t see anything either. This morning ANA and United both still show 1 award seat and again Aeroplan both web and agent don’t show a seat.

The day before and day after all 3 engines ANA, United, and Aeroplan show availability on the same flight so it doesn’t seem like the space is being blocked unless Aeroplan is blocking this one specific day out of this specific city (Aeroplan has availability for other LH first the same day from other US departure points so that doesn’t seem likely). Has anyone else experienced this where ANA and United show Lufthansa first and Aeroplan does not? What could be the cause of this?

I figured it would be worth answering the question here since we can step back and take a “big picture” approach to the question. What causes discrepancies in award availability between airlines, and what can be done about it? Looking at the question beyond Lufthansa, here are some of the things which most commonly cause discrepancies in award availability:

Airlines don’t make all award space available to partner airlines

While not relevant to the above situation, this is probably the single most common cause of award availability discrepancy. There are three major alliances — oneworld, SkyTeam, andStar Alliance — and as a general rule of thumb the individual airlines make the same amount of saver level award space available to members of their own programs, as they do to members of partner programs.

That’s a very general rule. There are certainly exceptions. Looking just at Star Alliance, for example:

Singapore-Suites-1

The point is, in some cases airlines just make more space available to their own members than to members of partner programs, which might explain an availability discrepancy when using an airline’s “native” website to search for space.

Phantom award space

It’s also quite common for airlines to show phantom award space. This happens with some frequency when you’re using one airline’s website to search another airline’s award availability (for example, using British Airways’ website to search Cathay Pacific award availability).

BA-CX

Technology just doesn’t work properly sometimes, and that’s the case here. So if you see Cathay Pacific award space on British Airways’ website and American doesn’t see the same space, it’s probably not actually bookable with British Airways either.

The same is true for the Lufthansa first class award space displayed on the Aeroplan and United websites — it’s not always 100% accurate.

Delays in accessing award space

While technology is for the most part amazing nowadays, not everything is actually “real time.” So in the case of the Lufthansa seat in question, ANA’s website is almost always the most accurate. Then it sounds like United’s inventory updated pretty quickly, while there was some delay with Aeroplan.

I know it’s tough to wait when you find the award space you want, but in many cases waiting just a few hours will cause the system to refresh by itself.

Other technical glitches

Then there are also all kinds of other “random” glitches which can occur. I wouldn’t assume they’re malicious, but rather technology sometimes isn’t perfect. For example, there are certain ranges of United flight numbers which Aeroplan just can’t display. There’s no good explanation for it, but rather it’s literally just a system glitch. This seems to apply to many United Express flight numbers as well.

Solutions to award discrepancies?

The frustrating thing about many of these discrepancies is that often there’s not much that can be done.

In many cases the best solution is to simply wait an hour, or a day, or in some cases even a week. I know that’s super frustrating.

Another thing you can do is request that an agent try to “direct sell” or “manually request” availability on a flight. It may or may not work — it all depends on the airline and the circumstances — but sometimes it will.

To clarify, this won’t open up award space which isn’t otherwise there. But the intent is that if the discrepancy is simply due to some front-end tech issue, this should allow an agent to request the space, and then it will either come back as confirmed or denied.

Whether or not an agent is willing to do it depends on the airline and in many cases the agent — for example, at Aeroplan they’re almost always happy to try and request space, while at American they rarely will.

And then sometimes you’ve just gotta accept that technology sucks and look for alternatives.

Bottom line

Hopefully that’s a useful overview of what might cause award availability discrepancies.

So what would I do in Jonathan’s situation, based on the above?

  • Call Aeroplan and ask the agent to direct sell the space — explain you see that the flight has “O” seats, and therefore they should have access to it
  • If that doesn’t work, be patient and wait, as Aeroplan availability should be updated at some point as well
  • If that doesn’t work, look for alternatives; sometimes technology just doesn’t show us any love

Have you ever dealt with an award availability discrepancy? How did you handle it?

Comments

  1. Had it the other day with AC not being able to see a UA flight, despite it showing X1 on UA and NH.

    After feeding the exact flight info directly to the second rep, AC was able to see it after manually searching, but then the rep insisted she must charge a phone booking fee #SMH.

    Nothing I said would change her mind (and apparently a supervisor was “unavailable”). Ended up just booking a different flight that day ONLINE.

    Perhaps this is one of those UA flights AC can’t see?

    (As an aside, ever notice there is a tax difference between what AC charges (US+AY) on domestic UA awards and what UA charges (only AY)? Perhaps a topic for another post.)

  2. I had that happen to me last summer with Aeroplan, thankfully I got a good agent who was excited about booking an LH F award on the A380, since she didn’t do that often. She manually requested the seat and was able to claim it for me.

    That said, she was definitely a fluke. Aeroplan has quite possibly the worst customer service of any of the major frequent flyer programs I’ve had to deal with. Not only are the agents usually incompetent, but even getting through to Aeroplan is nightmarish. I’ve had multiple instances where I couldn’t even get through to the Aeroplan call center and simply got a busy signal. When I tried to circumvent this by calling Air Canada, the agents there had no back door to connect me to someone at Aeroplan, they had the same exact useless number that I did that went straight to a busy signal.

  3. @chasgoose – That’s strange, I’ve always had excellent experiences with Aeroplan, and if I’m not mistaken Lucky has in the past described their agents as some of the best in the industry.

    Having said that, I have, on more than one occasion, had to wait for callbacks for obscene amounts of time, but at least I don’t have to wait on hold for an hour and a half.

  4. @chasgoose —

    I, too, have had excruciatingly long hold times with AC, and, as you point out, that’s only when the phone number doesn’t behave like it’s disconnected. Horribly unprofessional.

    That said, I have had generally good experiences once they decide to pick up the phone.

  5. @chasgoose. On a recent business class trip on multiple Star Alliance carriers from IAH – LHR (AC/UA/LH) I found completely the opposite. The agent at Aeroplan went way beyond in changing all 4 return itineraries because one person – me – had to remain longer in the UK because of a family death. Not a single change fee was charged for any itinerary and there were 4 travelers! Fantastic experience which would have cost thousands if these were revenue tickets.

  6. Regarding the phantom space on BAEC, I click the flight and if it is phantom a message appears saying that this flight cannot be booked online.
    I was searching for availability SYD-SCL on LAN and the site threw up 5 F seats on most days for a service which was J only!

  7. Booking on Delta for an upper class VA award flight… there was “1 seat left” but when I tried to book it, the system would say, “oops, that fare just sold out.”

    Funny thing is, that happened on other days with listings of “only 3 seats left.”

    So… I called Delta, gave them a callback # because the hold time was like 45 minutes(!) and got a very helpful rep who manually booked the date that I wanted.

    There was no diagnosis of the problem, but a lesson learned. Don’t jump for joy until you have a confirmed reservation–looks can be deceiving!

  8. Thanks for the advice Lucky. Unfortunately none of the ideas worked, and I uncovered another layer of confusion.

    I was able to get the space to show on Aeroplans website by searching for a through connecting flight on to a random city in Europe which then showed the LH O availability I was looking for and which showed on ANA and United. I called to see if I could book it on phone using that city connection, but the agent claimed the space showed and she saw it but was not bookable. Said that LH space does this sometimes.

    So I’m still perplexed on this one.

  9. Thanks for the advice lucky. Unfortunately still no luck (no pun intended).

    I was able to get the space to show on Aeroplans website by searching for a through connecting flight on to a random city in Europe which then showed the LH O availability I was looking for and which showed on ANA and United. I called to see if I could book it on phone using that city connection, but the agent claimed the space showed and she saw it but was not bookable. Said that LH space does this sometimes.

    So I’m still perplexed on this one.

  10. Quote from the Lucky One
    “Technology just doesn’t work properly sometimes, and that’s the case here. So if you see Cathay Pacific award space on British Airways’ website and American doesn’t see the same space, it’s probably not actually bookable with British Airways either.”

    BA Had First Class Cathay award HKG to LAX and American couldn’t book it
    Was Holding Cathay in Business on AA miles so AA should have been able to just upgrade the cabin and charge me the miles or tax difference. But oh no American said the seat just isn’t there 🙁
    Booked it online with BA in seconds (they had 2 Seats) for considerably more mileage
    canceled my American award albeit for a 150 dollar fee!
    My flight was lousy I should have sucked it up in Cathay Business Class
    Trying Japan Airlines and ditching Cathay next trip nice cabin but they truly suck
    Next time around that wont fly booking on BA
    BA First Class award increases has me doing my business elsewhere Korean Singapore,Alaska and American typically and even Virgin Atlantic on a rainy day

  11. Oh just to mention that vicious pop ups are locking up our browsers occasionally when clicking through and reading both your blog and Gary’s VFAW 🙁
    I’m not the only reader facing this disturbing issue as they seem to appear malicious in nature
    Assume Boarding Area.com has been hacked or has the most evil business partners ever !

  12. OP your experiences with Aeroplan are not uncommon. Their IT has been a total mess for along time. AE is known for blocking many flights on their website in preference to Air Canada flights if they are available. Some even believe they list flights with a preference for YQ charging airlines. Who knows what algorithm is being used. Ineptness or sheer unwillingness to change code is not only the purview of DL!

    BTW, why do people think that all airlines should be uniform and democratic in their allocation of award space? These are businesses after all. Do people really think that their primary function should be to make your award searches easier?

    @dwonderment – BoardingArea.com works just fine for me. May be you need to check your own computer? BTW, might I ask why “Cathay sucks” …in F I take it? That seems contrary to many people’s experiences, no?

  13. @Stephan
    Other readers are reporting the same thing and the same malicious behavior after clicking on Boarding Area.coms best bloggers Gary and Ben occasionally (I have to shut down when it happens)
    If it were just happening to me I would assume its an isolated problem
    I will hire an IT expert to see where the issue may be coming from
    But the issue with myself and others only happens when on Boardingarea.com
    so my thoughts are its an issue with the host!

    Yes I didn’t clarify why Cathay disappointed me
    Cathay can be real good but like Ben I have had it where they fail
    In my own experience from the FC lounge with no working computers(no signal from their provider)
    and inoperable wifi to poor quality food on the plane
    I left my brand new sunglasses on the plane and no one turned them in (yes my fault)
    Perhaps the plane cleaners or FAs are wearing them now 😉
    Of course Cathay CR couldn’t be bothered responding to my repeated inquiries regarding lost or found or the lounge issue with internet/ wifi
    That’s not a first class airline IMHO no matter how many FAs smile at me
    Yet their Aircraft cabin comfort/seats are generally superb.
    They have made booking award availability extremely difficult so I am booking for now everything on JAL revenue and reward
    My two cents 🙂

  14. @ dwonderment — I’m really sorry about the issues with the popups, they’re super annoying. BoardingArea is working on the issue, along with a team of malware specialists at The Media Trust (who specialize in this kind of thing). It apparently has something to do with Adobe Flash and the ads on the site, and it’s impacting much of the internet (weather.com has had issues as well, as an example).

    In the meantime, if you can make sure all your software is up to date, including your browsers, and that should help. If you’re using Internet Explorer, I’d suggest switching to another browser entirely.

    Again, really sorry for the inconvenience, and there are lots of people working on fixing this.

  15. @Tiffany 🙂
    Thank you so much for the response and heads up!!! So good to hear
    No issue with pop ups happening this is something far more serious in nature and odd
    Quite scary when it happens.
    The first time it happened I thought someone was remotely locking down my computer
    I do a have a friend at IBM here in San Diego who said whatever it is it is likely an issue with the site which relaxed me a lot. Keep up the great work that you guys do!
    Cheers

  16. I was searching yesterday for a business class award on UA Star Alliance from Lisbon to LAX June 13th. I saw an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to LAX was available so I tried to book it, For some reason, the Aer Lingus segment would not confirm although the website clearly said the flight was available. I called the UA Premier desk and they also could not get the Aer Lingus segment to confirm.
    Some friends have similar problems with “phantom” Aer Lingus availability on United’s website.
    Have you or anyone else had similar problems? This has been very frustrating and a big time waster since I have tried to book what appeared to be available award inventory that turns out to be phantom inventory.
    Flight info below:
    Lisbon, PT (LIS) to Dublin, IE (DUB)
    10:30 am – 1:20 pm (2h 50m)
    EI 483 | Airbus A320
    1h 40m connection
    Dublin, IE (DUB) to Los Angeles, CA, US (LAX)
    3:00 pm – 6:00 pm (11h)
    EI 145 | Airbus A330-200

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