Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Phantom Partner Award Availability On The Delta Website?

Last week, I was in the midst of constructing award itineraries on two different SkyTeam partners using Delta Skymiles. Since they were rather complicated routings, I had to call in to make the bookings. Before I did that, however, I researched partner award availability using the Delta website and noted that there were plenty of open seats for Korean Air as well as Aeromexico. However, after speaking to multiple agents, I discovered that they could not see any of the online availability. Here is what I found in both cases:

Case #1 - Korean Air
Korean Air releases plenty of award seats, despite the checkerboard of blackout dates that apply year-round. Be aware that Delta effectively blocks all Korean Air award availability on the blackout dates listed, regardless of the fact that only specific routes are supposed to be affected. Nevertheless, it is quite easy to find award seats from North America to Seoul, and then on to other parts of Asia. For example, for SFO to ICN on a random date, not only was the direct flight available at the saver level, but also routes via LAX, where Korean Air flies the Airbus A380.

Korean Air award seats showing as available online

Try calling in to book these seats, however, and you may hit a brick wall. Five out of six agents I talked to last week immediately said they saw no availability on Korean Air at all. Being transferred to the Delta website help desk got me nowhere as well. I was about to give up and blame it on the dreaded online phantom award availability issue when I finally connected with a very knowledgeable agent who told me to hold on while she tried something else.

A few minutes later, she came back and said she was able to see all the available award seats I had been talking about! Surprised, I asked her what she did differently this time, and her response was that for some reason, when querying Korean Air award availability, she had to use the "shopping tab" feature on the internal system instead of the standard search function. Even doing a segment by segment search didn't return any results.

From then on, for every agent I talked to who couldn't see any Korean Air award availability, all I had to do was gently advise them to try the "shopping tab" feature, and voilà, suddenly all the missing award seats became visible! So don't give up if you speak to an agent who insists that there is nothing available on Korean Air. Simply suggest the "shopping tab" and see what happens.

Case #2 - Aeromexico
In the case of Aeromexico, things got a little more strange. Searching on the Delta website for a simple one-way or round-trip award ticket won't return any Aeromexico results if the seats are not actually available. However, if you use the multi-city search function and type in each segment individually, suddenly, plenty of Aeromexico results pop up.

Multi-city search for Aeromexico seats

Aeromexico award seats showing as available

If you click through the results, and select the available flights, you can get all the way to the very last segment. Once you select the flight for your last segment, however, an error message will appear. Basically, you will never be able to book Aeromexico award flights online using the multi-city search function.

Error message when trying to book the award ticket

I called in to Delta and talked to several different agents, and as expected, none of them could see any Aeromexico award seats even after trying every possible search method. I was transferred to a supervisor and also to the website help desk once again, neither of which helped one bit. I finally came to the conclusion that Delta is in fact showing phantom award availability online for Aeromexico flights using the multi-city search function.

Wanting to confirm this, I logged on to my Flying Blue account and did a search for the exact same award itinerary there. Surprisingly, they also showed award availability on Aeromexico. When I clicked through to book, however, an error message popped up as well. Calling in to Flying Blue, the agent told me that she could see the Aeromexico flights, but when she tried to reserve them as an award, they would come back as unavailable.

As of tonight, it appears that both the Delta and Flying Blue websites are still displaying phantom award availability on Aeromexico. I haven't checked other partner airlines for these issues, but be aware that phantom award availability remains a problem on Delta, and the only way to know for sure is to call in. And when calling in, make sure the agents are using all available search functions at their disposal, including the "shopping tab".

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