Did United choose the best rez system?

The decision by United Airlines’ management to use Continental’s Shares reservations system for the merged carrier has been causing serious problems since its implementation last weekend. So the news that the airline is working on a new version of its IT platform, integrating some of the features of the pre-merger United’s Apollo system, is very welcome, indeed.

It was hardly surprising that CEO Jeff Smisek and his team chose to keep Shares, given that most policies and practices of the combined carrier have followed the way Continental did business under Smisek. But in this case, the decision made good financial sense — Continental has owned Shares for years, while United paid Travelport, the company that owns Apollo…

FareCompare guts airfare search tools

The owners of FareCompare.com have apparently decided to destroy what used to be one of the most useful websites for consumer travel. Its best features were removed last weekend, and many of the remaining ones are not working properly. Talk about fixing something that wasn’t broken.

For a couple of years, FareCompare has been talking about catering more to the airline industry than consumers, proposing a system to track mistake fares and alert carriers, so they can correct them. The company has also stepped up advertising — both on the site and in e-mail messages. Could it be that it feels pressure to make it more difficult for consumers to find better deals and spend less money on air travel?…

Should airline booking codes be secret?

Flying Blue, the frequent-flier program of Air France/KLM, has banned customer service agents from revealing the codes the airlines use when booking awards or upgrades. If you ask them, they will tell you it’s none of your business. Is this misplaced paranoia or do carriers have the right to keep that information secret?

For smart and sophisticated travelers, the importance of having access to raw airline data cannot be overstated. Benefiting from that access has changed my travel life — it has ensured that I always pay the lowest possible fares and fly in comfort and luxury at the same time. Booking codes, of course, use letters of the alphabet…

United’s award blocking an issue in Continental merger

Just as many loyal United Airlines customers hoped that its expected merger with Continental Airlines would put an end to United’s massive blocking of “award” seats made available for mileage redemption by its partners in the global Star Alliance, the carrier made a government filing that raised new questions about its filtering policy.

With all the complex issues United and Continental have to resolve before completing their merger, which would create the world’s largest airline, the “award” blocking is hardly a top agenda item. In fact, I’d be surprised if it has come up at all in their negotiations so far…

Hilton, InterContinental cross swords

Fierce competition in the hospitality business is nothing new, but last week one of the world’s largest hotel companies took the game to a new level with a bold move aimed at enticing customers of a major competitor.

The InterContinental Hotels Group took advantage of many frequent travelers’ anger with Hilton Worldwide for devaluing its loyalty program, HHonors, last month and offered them bonus points if they also have an account with InterContinental’s scheme, Priority Club. As I reported in November, Hilton decided to increase the number of points required for “award” stays at many of its hotels…

Airlines refuse to honor mistake fares

How would you like to fly to Australia in Qantas Airways’ luxurious first class on its new Airbus A380 aircraft for $1,200? You could actually buy such a ticket last week, but as regular readers of this column might have guessed, that was yet another case of a mistake fare.

Just like 2009, the new year began with a major airline making an error when filing a fare, and then deciding not to honor the issued tickets. As I wrote last January, Swiss International Air Lines published a $300 business-class fare from Toronto to several European and Indian cities. In November, British Airways filed a $560 round-trip coach fare from the United States to India…

Customers gain sway over airlines

If you thought complaints about a policy of your preferred airline would fall on deaf ears, last week proved you wrong. As travel companies struggle to survive the economic crisis, they are increasingly listening to their most loyal customers.

As I reported in this column, United Airlines announced last month that it soon would end advance domestic upgrades, which could be confirmed using electronic certificates top elite travelers get if they fly at least 10,000 miles per quarter. Though United tried to mask that huge loss for its best customers with the promise of automatic “free upgrades” if space in first or business class is still available a couple of days before a flight, the outcry against the new policy was overwhelming…

Cancel trip, but don’t lose ticket

Have you ever had to cancel a planned trip and lose your nonrefundable plane ticket? Next time, you don’t actually have to lose the ticket. In most cases, even if it’s nonrefundable, its value — except for any penalties — can be applied toward another ticket, and not necessarily on the same airline.

The first and most important thing you need to do is cancel your original itinerary before your first flight takes off. If you don’t, you’ll really lose the ticket’s value. After cancellation, you have two options. You can either use the old ticket’s “residual value” — the total price minus the penalty — to purchase a new ticket if you have another trip coming up, or you can use that amount any time until one year from the date your original ticket was issued. You don’t have to travel by that date — just buy the new ticket…

Award blocks still irk United fliers

There is rarely a single specific issue a reporter writes about that provokes huge interest from its first mention, and then continues to do so for months on end. For loyal customers of United Airlines, however, the carrier’s blocking of “award” seats made available by its partners in the global Star Alliance is not just any issue.

That was evident as soon as this column exposed the previously secret practice in September, as hundreds of members of United’s frequent-flier program, Mileage Plus, complained either to me or the airline. Although I haven’t dedicated a column to the issue since early December, I continue to receive e-mail messages about it. I also try to answer some questions in a thread on FlyerTalk…

Higher standards for travel sector?

How many horror stories about airline customer service have you heard? There are certainly plenty in the press and many more on various travel Web sites. Still, do we apply the same standards and scrutiny to companies outside the travel industry?

The nature of the airline and hotel businesses requires constant face-to-face interaction with customers, and an employee’s every step is evaluated by a flier or a hotel guest much more often than by a supervisor. In fact, thanks to the Internet, thousands of people can learn about an incident involving a front-line employee hours — if not days — before the company’s management does. Earlier this month, a San Francisco man complained that a United Airlines agent took a break…