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…

‘Tweaking’ airlines’ yield management

Have you been accused by airline agents of trying to “game the system” by asking if they could open up for mileage redemption seats they obviously won’t sell for cash? Now a top airline executive is encouraging fliers to alert agents when the system fails in its predictability, so it can be “tweaked.”

Before you do that, however, make sure you know what you are talking about — learn all booking codes used by the respective carrier, if you haven’t already, and be able to access and understand its inventory data. Just because there are dozens of open business-class seats months before a flight doesn’t mean you are entitled to an upgrade or an “award” ticket…

US Airways’ website fails at basics

This was supposed to be a column critical of US Airways’ rather peculiar Web site, which is unable to perform basic functions, such as retrieving valid and active tickets. But it also became an appreciation of the carrier’s willingness to explain some of those issues and even try to resolve them.

Every airline’s Web site has limitations and various quirks that annoy travelers — some offer odd routings when you search for flights, others show confusing or even misleading prices, and yet others try to get you to buy things you don’t need instead of taking you straight to the final purchase page…

Openness rattles airline industry

This is, no doubt, the era of glasnost or openness in the airline industry. Thanks to the Internet, once tightly held data on fares and available seats is now more transparent than ever, which seems to have caught the industry unprepared. So, to stretch the Soviet-era metaphor, will glasnost lead to perestroika — real change?

In order to answer this question, a simpler one must be asked first: Should the airlines fear the transparency they didn’t seek? Is the ability of any of us to directly access real-time data on fares and seats without the help of a travel agent bad or good for the carriers? Although some executives have done the politically correct thing and publicly embraced the transparency, in reality the so-called legacy carriers are still struggling to make up their minds…

Is ‘award’-seat data held by copyright?

How public is the publicly available information about the limited seats airlines release for mileage redemption on their flights? Can anyone take that information from an airline without permission and publish it on their own Web site, even with the best of intentions?

A frequent flier from the San Francisco Bay Area tried to do just that last month, but he was forced to shut down his site in less than a week. “Mystified by the inner workings of inventory management” at United Airlines, he created a model that searched and analyzed “award” availability on several routes served by United “on a nightly basis,” he wrote in a March 18 self-promoting post on FlyerTalk.com, one of the largest online travel communities…

Airlines curb award tickets

As if “award” plane tickets aren’t hard enough to come by, airlines are putting even more controls on those coveted seats — in some instances understandable, but in others apparently artificial and questionable.

Most major U.S. carriers are reporting record numbers of issued mileage tickets, but they are not a result of more available seats so much as more passengers rushing to beat rises of redemption mileage levels. As I wrote three weeks ago, the value of frequent-flier miles is dropping, and the airlines want them to be used up because they are a balance-sheet liability. With most carriers’ domestic capacity shrinking between 5 percent and 16 percent this fall, the number of mileage seats will naturally be reduced as well…