I give United grief about a lot of things, but one task it does very well is providing information on award space for nearly all its partners on United.com. They have one of the best award search engines such that I rarely have to call an agent to book an award. Sometimes I can even change it online.
So why are they removing the ability to see award space for Singapore Airlines? It’s not like there was very much to begin with, and there are reports that other Star Alliance partners like AviancaTaca had access to more than United. Yet this is what UA Insider announced yesterday on FlyerTalk:
I wanted to give you an early heads up about an upcoming change to the Star partner award availability you see displayed online. Singapore Airlines and United have agreed to remove Singapore Airlines inventory from our award flight search results on united.com and on the United Mobile App. This will take effect starting tomorrow, December 13, You will still to be able to book and change award reservations involving Singapore Airlines by calling our reservations lines.
Okay… but it doesn’t solve any obvious problem. And as far as we know award availability isn’t changing — United is just making it more difficult to book. This confuses me. At least they’ll waive the extra fee for booking an award online, right?
The simple reason–and this is a consistent policy across all airlines which are not yet online–is that there is substantial additional work required to price and ticket these awards in our contact centers.
I’m not sure here if UA Insider is referring to United’s own policy or the policy at other airlines. The language is a bit vague. But if the latter, the most obvious counterexample is British Airways.
I love BA’s Avios points for the ability to book cheap award flights on Alaska Airlines. It’s a pain to have to call them before their call center closes at 4 PM (more like 3 PM in practice) but at least they always waive the fee without even having to ask.
Removing award space for Lufthansa I could understand. There’s a lot of phantom award space out there and it would reduce confusion and complaints. But the same isn’t true for Singapore. The only good reason (from United’s perspective) for implementing this change is that fewer people will know Singapore Airlines has award space available, and even those who do may be less willing to pay the fee to book it. So United doesn’t have to pay Singapore if its customers don’t book awards. This is likely nothing more than a cost-saving measure.
An alternative perspective being discussed on FlyerTalk is that Singapore has made or will make similar moves to remove award visibility through other programs; I haven’t confirmed this and am only repeating others’ rumors. So this may not be United’s choice and it could be an effort to improve Singapore’s exclusivity. Singapore has long liked to pretend its better. I happen to agree, but that’s not how alliances are supposed to work.