In recent times airlines have worked to improve the ability to find partner award seats on their website. That saves on call center time, and helps members fulfill their searches with less frustration.
United’s website has gotten pretty good at this. They don’t have all of their airline partners like Brussels Airlines online (and it isn’t always obvious to members that typing in where you want to go doesn’t show all of the options to get there) but they have most. American and Delta have a few partners online. Alaska has the bulk of theirs. Among major US programs, only US Airways Dividend Miles fails to show any partner airline availability at all.
Against this trend, last week United removed the ability to search and book awards on Singapore Airlines from its website.
United claimed this was an agreement between United and Singapore to do this — with no explanation of why in the world they would make an agreement to make life harder for their members.
The simplest speculation at the time was that United wanted members to book fewer seats on Singapore because those seats were costing the MileagePlus program more than they wanted to spend.
Although it’s not as if Singapore releases many (or pretty much any) premium cabin award seats between the US and Europe or Asia, and you’d expect that United’s massive price increases for partner awards would more than handle any budget concerns.
Meanwhile, there’s been speculation that Singapore has gotten tighter in releasing award space, such as on Singapore-Australia routes, and didn’t want to make this transparent (although it’s not clear why they would care what United members thought of this).
Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines award space continued to be bookable on the websites of Aeroplan, All Nippon, and Avianca LifeMiles.
Australian Business Traveller contacted both United and Singapore for their explanations.
United offered non-explanatory statements:
“Our ability to display award inventory on united.com and the United Mobile App is based on a mutual agreement with our partners” the spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.
“At this time, Singapore Airlines and United have agreed to remove Singapore Airlines’ inventory from these channels.”
Of course everything about partner awards involves mutual agreements. Both partners have to ‘turn their key’ in order to offer award seats and show them online. If one partner doesn’t agree, then there is no mutual agreement!
Singapore Airlines, though, was a bit more forthcoming:
Singapore Airlines insists that it’s not removing award seats from the websites of Star Alliance partners, and suggests that United Airlines is solely responsible for last week’s removal of SQ award inventory…
“[E]ach Star Alliance member carrier may choose how to fulfill such redemptions differently, which we have no influence over.”
“For example, some Star carriers may choose to allow their respective frequent flier programme members access to redemption online or offline, depending on their respective platforms.
Singapore isn’t usually so candid or definitive.
While United sort of disputes this, “a spokesperson for United Airlines disputed SQ’s claim that it had “no influence over” United’s decision to force members of its Mileage Plus frequent flyer scheme to call the airline’s reservations line to check availability of Singapore Airlines award seats..”
Of course Singapore has influence! United would happily display those seats if the inventory didn’t cost the program anything to book.
I would not mind if United said, “we’ve found that making costly partner award seats so easy to book is a more expensive proposition than we expected, so instead of blocking your ability to book those seats or raising our award prices even further, we’ve decided not to be so proactive about offering those seats.”
But the disingenuousness here is disrespectful to members.
Good job to Australian Business Traveller for getting some straight answers out of Singapore Airlines on this!