Cross-checking airline award availability


Most of the time when talking about the need to diversify points earning the focus is having points in programs which are not generally associated with each other. Maybe a Star Alliance partner has a seat where a SkyTeam member doesn’t or vice versa. This week, however, I found myself perplexed by the variations in availability within an alliance. Three different searches from three different programs for the same route and date showing bizarrely different results. I have no idea what is going on here.

The route in question is JFK to Mexico City. I really want to fly the Aeromexico 787 on this trip so I’ve been stalking award space on it a bit. And I never saw a business class seat open up so I eventually caved in and used Flying Blue points to redeem for a window seat in economy. I’ll survive the flight just fine, of course, but every now and then I peek back at the Air France site just to see if an award seat up front becomes available. Maybe I’d pay to switch to that. The good news, I suppose, is that I have not needed to make such a choice. The award seat never showed up. So I was rather surprised when I was talking with a friend going on the same trip and he noted that there was space showing as available. I had just checked earlier that night and saw nothing of the sort.

And so I checked again and still saw nothing available on that flight (AM409):

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I even checked the Aeromexico site directly and it did not have the award seat available, though it did show different flights than FlyingBlue had on offer.

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And then I checked the Delta SkyMiles site. It showed the same flight on Delta metal as FlyingBlue but also shows the Aeromexico flight as an option.

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Just for grins I checked Alaska Airlines, too. They also show the Aeromexico flight as available:

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What the heck is going on here?!?

Sadly, I have no idea what the answer actually is to that question. Clearly there are some award seats available on some flights at some times on that date. And depending on which points you’re willing to redeem it seems that it is possible to confirm a seat on one of them. But this award availability situation is most confusing. Typically if there is a discrepancy it is that the “home” carrier has more award space for its own members. But in this instance that’s not what I’m seeing. Only Delta has the Aeromexico seat while both Delta and FlyingBlue have the Delta flights available. And Aeromexico is doing something completely different.

Added bonus: Calling FlyingBlue DOES show the seat as available. Turns out that their website just doesn’t like me or something.

And now I need to decide if the upgrade is worth the $70 change fee plus 18k more AmEx MR points.

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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.

6 Comments

  1. I get this weird feeling that cookies and browser tracking may be at play during some of these searches. Also I notice that if I search for a flight leaving on December 5th (or whatever date) sometimes I’ll see better options for other dates but if I search for the wrong date I sometimes have luck “faking” out the system for the date I actually want. I know this may not be likely but it’s starting to be kind of a superstition with me when I check on flight dates I want. I know I’m probably a moron 🙂

  2. Good to know. The initial thought in my head would be phantom availability on the AS and DL site but since you called Flying Blue, I guess the AS/DL sites were indeed right and something fishy going on with AeroMexico and Flying Blue websites.

    I’ve flown business class on the AeroMexico 787 and the seats are similar to United’s from what I recall. Service was meh. Have fun though! Try to get the front row for the best legroom! Safe travels!

  3. I book award travel on a daily basis, so I have a snapshot of some of the most up to date availability information for all the alliances… in my head. There simply is no single source for all the information. Award Nexus is pretty good, but outrageously expensive if you have it run a search and cross-check the airlines against each other. I have an informal way of ‘first glance’ checking, followed up by ‘point to point’ checking (standard practice in the award world), and then cross checking. Here are a few gems. United can, but doesn’t really, show LOT, Brussels, and some Aeroplan – so I use Aeroplan a lot (of course for Singapore and Air India also). ANA (which your award search engine uses) is pretty good, but craps out 3 days from departure. People swear by Qantas, but I find it buggy and too slow to drill down to the exact class available. BA won’t show some Qantas. AA won’t show CX, some JAL. I use AA for intra-Australia. Oh, and US Air blocks access to a lot of the CX, JAL, Malaysian award inventory anyway – it’s always fun taking to US Air phone agents. The monthly view on Delta and United is 90% useless and misleading. I use Alaska to search Fiji and Delta.

  4. I had a similar experience recently, while searching for JAL award space using AA miles. Online, I checked AA.com, BA.com, and Award Nexus all of which showed no award availability for the dates I wanted. I eventually called AA directly to book an alternate date, and found out from the phone agent that award seats for my preferred dates were indeed available.

    A couple days later, I was searching united.com for UA flights with R space available, so I could be sure my SWUs would clear into C. Having found none, I booked some promising flights anyway, and was shocked to see them clear immediately.

    1. With AA and Delta, I sometimes find better avail on the phone, but not enough to ever expect it.

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