The mysterious vanishing Singapore Air award inventory


UPDATE (1 March 2014):  The award seats are once again available from United phone agents. Enjoy.

It started as a simple enough effort: I was looking for an award to Bangladesh from southern California and the Singapore Airlines flight LAX-NRT-SIN offered up what I thought was a compelling option. Of course there’s the part where United doesn’t allow its customers to search for those awards online anymore so I turned to the ANA Mileage Club, LifeMiles and Aeroplan websites to do my homework. Imagine my joy when the flight I wanted on the day I wanted showed as available.

And imagine my disappointment when I called United and was told that the flight was not available as an award. I pressed the agent a bit, asked her to check a couple alternate dates and routings and then hung up the phone, dejected and annoyed.

I booked a different, less convenient award routing and mostly forgot about the issue, but in discussing it with some friends I came to the conclusion that something smelled a bit rotten with the experience. And that got me digging for more data. So I started looking at a bunch of different routes, mostly operated by Singapore Airlines to and from North America. The JFK-Frankfurt route was a particularly easy one to research, mostly because there were a lot of flights where the coach award inventory seems to be available. Using the three above mentioned sources I found a few examples where a full week of partner award inventory appears:

Lots of Singapore Air award seats available JFK-FRA in StarNet, but United cannot see any of them.

Lots of Singapore Air award seats available JFK-FRA in StarNet, but United cannot see any of them.
Lots of Singapore Air award seats available JFK-FRA in StarNet, but United cannot see any of them.
Lots of Singapore Air award seats available JFK-FRA in StarNet, but United cannot see any of them. Lots of Singapore Air award seats available JFK-FRA in StarNet, but United cannot see any of them.

With everyone else showing the seats it seems likely that United should as well. Alas, my call to the reservations agent resulted in less than spectacular news. There were no awards available on Singapore Air for the entire week. I pressed the agent to confirm that she was looking for the correct inventory bucket (just like before) and all I got was a goose egg.

My suspicions and fears rose.

Has StarNet blocking returned?

I did some more searches and made more phone calls. I expanded my search criteria, looking at other routes where coach award seats are commonly available (e.g. LHR-SIN). Interestingly enough, those flights were possible with United over the phone. Might a pattern be developing? I reached out to some contacts at United and we talked about the data I’d collected and the patterns I found. And then they went to work on it. After a bit of digging they came back with some good news: It definitely is not StarNet blocking.

The conclusion reached thus far is that any SQ flight number which touches the USA is unable to be booked as an award by United. This includes SQ 25 FRA-SIN, SQ 1 HKG-SIN, SQ 11 NRT-SIN, SQ 15 ICN-SIN and SQ 61 DME-SIN. And, of course, the portions of those same flight numbers which touch SFO, LAX, IAH and JFK.

So, good news that StarNet blocking has not returned. On the flip side, the seats are still not available to book right now so the fact that they are not doing it on purpose is only a small bit of consolation while United and Singapore Airlines fix the problem. Hopefully the fix doesn’t take too long.

p.s. – As an added bonus, one of the reservations agents I spoke with mentioned that all awards involving SQ metal are being manually priced now. That’s certainly not helping passengers who are looking to book these awards.

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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, LinkedIn and .

27 Comments

  1. This sucks. I’ve frequently helped friends/family who aren’t gung-ho on First/Business class book the SQ A380 flights in Economy out of the US. They’re actually a solid economy product and worth the miles to some.

    1. It is not my favorite economy product but the flight times worked well for my trip so I was happy the seats should have been there. Alas, it was not meant to be this time. I just hope they get it fixed sooner than not. The inventory is often available so it has been, in the past, a great backup option when more desirable flights/routes were not possible.

  2. I booked some Mileage Plus SQ Y award space SYD-SIN last week and can confirm that pricing the space took time and the agent seemed confused by the process.

    I know UA/US/DL have all had “technical” issues booking some partner awards which later proved to be some form of blocking from the US carrier, either as a temporary or permanent cost saving measure. Are you not at all skeptical that this is a technical problem?

    1. Like I said in the post, Adam, I spent quite a bit of time working on this one and speaking with people in the company who I know and trust and who were quite clear in describing the situation and what was happening. I cannot share all of those details for several reasons (chief among them that it’d likely bore you worse than my regular writing) but I am very, very confident with the version of the story I’ve provided here.

  3. While it may be an honest error, United’s refusal to display SQ award space online has made it more difficult for anyone to notice this problem until someone like you pushed a little harder. Thanks for the investigative reporting!

  4. You are 100% correct. I went through the same problems last week when trying to book an award on AS. No doubt in my mind the award was available. United agents are worthless also.

  5. happy to see that even scottrick can see the glaring difference between a truly worthwhile blog like Seth’s and the worthless me-too rehash garbage of hackmytrip (who also censors out any negative or questioning comments)!

    keep it up WA, you’re in rarefied air in the travel blog world…

    cheers.

    1. I completely agree with (Abby) 100,000% and have for a long time. His often deliberately irritating remarks and incredibly self-entitled tone make him more ‘Scottprick’ than ‘Scottrick’. True story.

  6. Excellent data crunching exercise. And I am not the least bit surprised. I am surprised to hear SQ is not your favorite Y product…I have flown several of the Star Alliance airlines in Y (LH, SQ, TG, UA) and SQ was my favorite by a landslide. Which is yours (not necessarily Star)?

    1. I did SQ Y on JFK-FRA in the 77W and was not all that impressed. The food was better than UA but much less personal space and for the short redeye where I wanted to sleep that was a challenge. On an overnight flight I’d take UA E+ over SQ. I’ll likely get to try TG and OZ in Y in a couple weeks for comparison. LH in Y is no fun at all, though the 748 isn’t horrid. The LH A380 in Y was comparable in terms of seat space/comfort to the SQ flight, I’d say.

  7. Seth, does ANA and LM search engines show accurate SQ inventories for J class and economy ? I m looking for SQ flight from Lax-Sin using M and M miles. I ve tried LM engine and it doesnt show anything. what is my best option, Thanks

  8. It doesn’t do well with finding mixed awards on separate carriers (apart from United). Especially 2 long haul segments. And strange things happen when you can book those…

  9. SQ25 is not even able to be bought as a revenue ticket through united!!! has been this way for many months now

  10. SQ uses Amadeus Altea for some time now and accurately define which sales office ID can have access to certain inventory on certain routes. It may very well be that SQ doesn’t want the CC churning UA MP riffraff hogging the award inventory on flights to their US destinations. Hence you see inventory available for ANA but the UA agent can see it on their system. It works very well for LH M&M members, SQ has made special award inventory available directly to LH, so M&M agents can see award seats upfront (mainly for SQ flights to/from Germany) that is not visible to ANA & co. Earlier M&M had to send such requests to a manual queue. With Altea that is now automated.

    1. Oliver. That would be messed up because it would also block those 1ks like me who put darn near 200k PQMs on Star Alliance annually for work. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater so to speak.

  11. Will you be posting when this “bug” is updated? I have been having the exact same problem and am not sure what to do beyond calling United to check availability every day 🙁

    1. Thanks for letting us know. Particularly helpful for me since I like to fly SQ Y to Asia if I don’t have enough mikes for J.

  12. Living in Singapore, the disappearance of SQ award seats is a great loss to us. We can’t go to a lot of places directly on SQ, which has become an important issue since you can’t have more than 8 segments per booking. I just talked to a UA agent and SQ seats are still available for some flights to/from Singapore to Australia/New Zealand. The problem is no business seats–only economy. Two months ago when I called, there were no seats at all. So is this an improvement?

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