United No Longer Deceiving You With Lufthansa Award Seats That Aren’t There

Just yesterday I was musing that United.com no longer showed ‘phantom availability’ for Lufthansa, and I needed to write a blog post about that.

But Lucky beat me to the punch.

United and also at one time Aeroplan would show Lufthansa first class award space more than two weeks out, when Lufthansa seems not to release those seats to their partners more than two weeks out. While the seats would show up when doing a search online, you couldn’t actually book the seats and would get an error instead if you tried to do so.

My working theory had been that the seats were available to Lufthansa’s own Miles & More members and that there was something wrong with the ‘point of sale’ settings when searching for these awards — United was displaying availability as though it was being searched by Lufthansa itself. But when it went to actually make a reservation, the correct point of sale was used and it would discover no seats available after all.

I never tested the theory, in large part because Miles & More requires you to have some miles in your account to do that search unless you are a member of their kid’s club. Which I am (!). But I had lost the PIN for my account. And by the time I found it again, I had lost interest in the question and never followed up. Shame on me.

And as Lucky observes, it’s now a moot issue because United.com no longer seems to show Lufthansa first class award seats more than two weeks out.

Except he stumbles upon an anomaly — Lufthansa first class award seats available hours beyond 14 days out which are actually available and show up on the ANA Mileage Club website… but not the United website.

As he points out, this is potentially a big deal because there’s a several hour delay in United seeing the seats, during which time someone else could grab them. And since subscription service Expertflyer, which can send you email alerts when availability opens up, is scraping the United website it will send you those alerts hours after the seats become available as well.

When I tried to replicate Lucky’s finding about June 2nd that Detroit-Frankfurt was available on the ANA website but not the United website, I found the seats via ANA. But United wouldn’t even show the existence of the Detroit-Frankfurt (or Frankfurt-Detroit) non-stop at all. Or the Toronto flight, which had space available. Both flights showed up correctly on the Aeroplan website.

My working theory, to be verified in the coming days, is that United’s fix involves a ‘hack’ they way that much of United’s SHARES implementation involves workarounds rather than actual fixes of problems. I’m not sure they’ve actualy fixed things, they may just suppress results. In other words, their system might still ‘see’ availability incorrectly, but they won’t show it until a certain amount of time to departure. And Lufthansa may actually be releasing it to them earlier than that.

Two years ago I stumbled onto a Continental issue where an international business class award where a domestic U.S. segment was booked in coach on a United three-class plane would price as a first class award. I reported it and learned that they had built a workaround to handle pricing for United three-class domestic flights and they did it wrong. In short order the programming glitch was fixed (ah, the good old days).

There have been other hacks and problems with United’s passenger service system, such as the way it processes upgrades (triggered by check-ins of other passengers rather than real-time). And they can’t always get their system to pass ticket numbers properly to partners so award ticket reservations sometimes just cancel. This is especially a problem with Asiana but has also been a problem with award flights on Singapore.

Even when United improves its IT systems, they still seem to get it backwards.

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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  1. I’ve occasionally had issues with phantom availability on UA’s own metal, couldn’t actually book (online or with an agent) even though a search returned available. It was happening to me – and I forget what routes, etc now – too often to just be a case of someone else coincidentally snatching it up at just the right moment.

    I haven’t tried a UA award search in quite some time, maybe that’s been fixed since then.

    I hope you got your parents’ permission before going online to check your M&M kids account!

  2. The whole “keep checking for R space” to shepherd your GPU through is a joke to. I think they have issues with miles crediting from 3rd party airlines booked as codeshares as well. Like a LH codeshare on SA metal or Aegean metal – good luck getting those to post. The monitors were broken on a recent flight and you know it was a blessing not having to listen to whiney Jeff BS’ing. They should get him off the preflight content until he starts delivering.

  3. United.com still shows a lot of phantom space within the 14 days timeframe though. FRA-Sfo shows available on the A380 tomorrow but you can’t book it online. Neither can the United agents. ANA shows correct availability that is bookable.

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