Easing the reward ticket search

Earning all the miles is just the first part of the process in fulfilling the great dream of free air travel. Finding a flight that the airline will actually let you use the points on is a whole different mess, one that includes highly guarded algorithms and pricing structures in the revenue management offices of airlines the world over. There are services and companies that can (supposedly) help find such awards and now there is another player in the market: Yapata.com.

Yapta started off as a service that monitored fares and would send you an email if the fare on your particular flight went down. Since some airlines will give you a credit for such an event it was a pretty nice service to have available. Starting Tuesday Yapta will be adding notifications for reward seats to their program, alerting customers of such availability to help ease the booking process. They are launching the service with access to the inventory of five airlines, Alaska, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways and details for both reward tickets and upgrades.

This is a great service, assuming that it works. I’m particularly intrigued by the inclusion of Continental in the group of airlines that Yapta will have access to as Continental has historically exercised incredibly tight control over access to their reward inventory availability. Up until now there has not been access to the inventory via any public GDS system that I know of, and those GDSes are what this type of system is generally based on.

One limitation of this service is that it does not appear that it will be able to leverage the additional reward inventory that airlines make available to their most frequent fliers, those holding elite status in the programs.

The program also does not search the partners of the airlines that are covered. Each of the airlines in question has partners around the globe that can also be used to piece together a reward ticket. And foreign partners often seem to have more reward inventory available than their US counterparts, at least in my searches. This service will likely be more useful for domestic travel than international ones, while the best value from mileage redemption remains in long-haul, premium cabin international travel.

There is an interesting quote from one of the airlines in the article:

“The technology that Yapta brings to the table, whether award tracker or flight tracker, really provides what we view as purposeful innovation,” said Mark Guerette, director of e-commerce with Alaska Airlines. “It helps the customer look for the proverbial needle in the haystack.”

I agree that it is useful information. Clearly it is of value to the passengers. And yet the airlines continue to make it ridiculously difficult to find the seats. If they really think it is such a good idea why don’t they offer it to their customers directly? If they really wanted to encourage loyalty and help the customers in that way they could.

I also find it interesting that the idea of “loyalty” that Yapta’s CEO seems to think is important is spending on a credit card:

Alerting travelers to fresh award inventory, he added, can both help airlines alleviate some of their liability for unredeemed awards and encourage loyalty among travelers.“You are more likely to continue to use your airline credit card to earn more miles,” he said, if you’re able to redeem those miles.

That’s not a bad thing for the airlines, and they sell those points to the credit card companies in transactions valued in hundreds of millions of dollars. But that isn’t really the loyalty that the airlines want. They want people paying to fly.

I’m also completely confused by the reporting of this by the NYTimes.com article that I linked to above. They provide hyperlinks to some of the websites mentioned but not others, to some of the airlines but not others and sometimes link to their internal coverage and other times to third party sites. Very strange.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Why is this news? ExpertFlyer.com, as the article mentions, has been doing this since April of 2006. Yawn..

  2. It is news, at least for now, because Yapata will be doing it for free. And they have Continental and US Air inventory, neither of which ExpertFlyer supports.

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