Airlines Need Better Disclosure on Their Award Booking Websites

I’ve been answering a lot in the comments, on twitter, and over email — British Airways is able to book award travel on American Airlines flights presently.. they just can’t do it on their website. You have to call. If you search online you just get back that there’s no availability.

British Airways Should Post a Notice About Award Seats That Won’t Show Online

British Airways should put a bolded notice on their website that American Airlines awards aren’t bookable, and that members should call if they’re interested in those awards. It would save a great deal of confusion.

People Assume What’s Online is What’s Available, and That’s Not Unreasonable

Most people I encounter think that if they enter where they’re starting from and where they’re going on an airline website, the website will tell them what awards are possible. That’s a reasonable supposition.

  • That’s largely what the websites lead members to believe

  • That’s how websites are supposed to work, and usually do work.

Indeed, it’s not unreasonable to believe that a company with the technical prowess to make very heavy pieces of metal fly with people inside would have the technical capability to display available award seats. Or at least if they don’t, the airline would have the technical capability to display on the website whatever caveats are needed.

It’s one thing perhaps for an airline not to show all of the options that are available online, when there are options. It’s another thing to report back:

  • That no awards are available, when awards are available (just not showing on the website)
  • That awards are only available at a higher price, when saver awards would be available if you called.

Members either get frustrated, unable to use their miles, or they get overcharged. (Come to think of it, perhaps airlines’ lack of disclosure is – from their perspective – a feature not a bug.)

United Needs to Be More Transparent, But History Doesn’t Give Much Hope

As far as airline websites go for booking awards, United’s is pretty good in that it displays available space on most partners. But it doesn’t display them all, and sometimes certain partners drop off. They even intentionally removed access to Singapore Airlines awards from their website.

You’d think a notice when Brussels Airlines space can’t be booked online would make sense. But since United went out of its way to mislead members about the removal of Singapore seats, transparency isn’t the order of the day.

American Discloses… But in the Wrong Place

American Airlines has a page listing the partners that are bookable on its website. That’s good… but they should link to it, with a bold disclosure, when you’re searching for seats.

American will let you book awards online for:

  • American Airlines
  • airberlin
  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Finnair
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • US Airways

Apparently ‘you asked’ for US Airways awards, but haven’t ‘asked’ for Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Etihad, Qatar, Iberia, LAN, or any number of the other myriad partners.

No doubt IT improvements have played second to integration with the US Airways merger but it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen any improvements. That’s actually ok, as long as members are told what to expect.

It’s Important — and Easy — to Better Inform Members

A simple notice on the award search page that says “not all award seats are displayed at AA.com, for more details see [LINK]” would suffice I think. Otherwise members get the wrong information, that’s nothing is available, or they get overcharged. And that’s dishonest.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. This issue of American award space not showing on BA web site intrigues me. Is this a newer development? I remember booking on BA website for a saver award in May for travel in June this year…and another in June for travel in June.

  2. Hi Gary,

    I understand that UA removed access to Singapore Airlines awards from their website.But if I find available F seats on SQ website, Can I call UA to book SQ FC seat with UA miles? Thanks

  3. @Ryan, no because Singapore makes more award space available for their own members and they do to their partners. They almost never make long haul premium cabin award seats available to partners, in fact. If you find space on the Aeroplan website, you should be able to call United and book it though.

  4. Hi Gary
    this post was extremely helpful to me, and even though I am very good when it comes to miles and travel (I kind of do this for a living) your post saved me last minute
    I was about to issue YVR to JFK with AS via seattle using AA miles on AS since I did not see Cathay availability, and since I remembered that in the past CX was showing on AA website I figured it is not available, but when I called CX was available and I even got business saver on one of the ways, and that made my 9 year old even happier about the trip to NYC
    Whta I dont understand is why is CX not showing anymore when it WAS showing in the past. I realize AA does not show all partners and they are adding, but a partner that showed is removed? (same fr IB by the way, I clearly remember IB showing in the past) any insight?
    Also, as usual but still surprising, I had to call twice 30 seconds apart to get the economy availability on CX with the exectuvie platinum line at AA….how can this happen so often that agent 1 does not see it and agent 2 sees it immediately afterwards?
    appreciate your post and your reply
    tks
    doug

  5. Did BA hire Billy Idol to do the automated voice on the Avion and regular call center line? I swear he sounds just like Billy Idol on the plane intercom in the Wedding Singer movie. I was wondering why the Avios line has a 45 minute hold time lately.
    Nice post. Thanks. I guess i’ll write AA now and ask them to add the other partners to the online award bookings 🙂

  6. AA actually already does on certain routes, saying in red: “There are currently no awards available on AA.com for your requested Origin and Destination. Please modify your request or contact AAdvantage Reservations for award opportunities on all AAdvantage participating airlines.”

    http://i.imgur.com/2eXW5Pf.png

  7. You CAN book an AA flight using BA miles….here’s how!
    1. Go to aa.com to find out which seats are open. Its easier to see the whole month and on the ba.com site you can only see it one day at a time. 😉 The same flights that are open to aa miles are open to ba miles with few exceptions.

    2. Once you know the exact dates you want, go to ba.com and log into the executive club. (Its at the top right of the page on my screen.) Its a long number and also your password. The first time you visit, you will need to set it up. If you can’t find you number, it might be in an email ba.com sent you a while back.

    3. Click on the “Executive Club” tab at the top. Its the fourth tab over. Then go down to “Spending Avios” miles. (Its in the middle column under Using Your Avios)

    Note: For some reason on my computer, it keeps popping up for me to log into “company travel” …dont do it…just click anywhere else on the page and it will disappear. this might not happen to you.

    4. Under “reward flights” choose “book a reward flight” colored in red. Fill in your airport codes, travel dates, and passenger info. Then search.

    Another pop up may ask you to read “Changes to Award Flight Fare prices”. Check (or tick) the box at the bottom to agree and keep going.

    5. Select the flights you want. REMEMBER you are flying the partner airline. It may tell you I’m sorry, there are no BA flights…thats fine because you want AA (partner) flights…

    Also…keep in mind because this is a british site, they might reverse the month and year. I think they fixed this glitch, but if you use the calendar picture to choose your dates you should be fine. Anyhow just double check this before booking.

    I think from here you won’t have any problems with booking…its just like any other airlines site. 😉

  8. Michelle that’s usually how it works but BA’s site hasn’t been able to display American flights for a couple of weeks, you have to call to get the American space, though presumably that issue will be fixed

  9. You are correct. But I did book this way for a summer trip and it worked. But I do appreciate your help to get this resolved!

  10. I agree with all of your post.

    What are you going to do about it? A whining post is not going to make any airline, who are fully aware of what they’re doing, change anything.

    Actions, not words!

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