Prologue: from the title, you could probably guess that this is a long, rambling post about some award availability quirks that I found while researching award availability back to the US from Europe. Before we get started, though, I have to point out that availability from Copenhagen to the USA is outstanding right now. If you happen to be in Europe after taking advantage of the great availability on Austrian, consider taking SAS back home. It’s a great product, and there are no fuel surcharges when booking SAS on Aeroplan.
Here’s availability to SFO, EWR, and ORD for three people:
Caveats: first, not all of this availability is direct, although much of it is. Second, however, is the somewhat weird way that United overclaims (in my opinion, at least) how good availability is and why that calendar can be misleading. If you’re thinking of jumping on this availability, make sure you look at the actual itinerary closely before transferring miles! Now on to our regularly scheduled programming…
A couple blogs today posted about great business class award availability on Austrian, and I wanted to see what return availability looked like and, you know, maybe write a blog post about it. Then I came across something really strange…
I started by looking at Swiss fares out of ZRH and noticed fairly good availability on the nonstop ZRH-SFO route. However, none of the availability was on Swiss’s non-stop flight – mostly it was mixed cabin awards or long-haul business class on other airlines, including SAS. So, I thought, maybe all this ZRH availability is showing only insofar as ZRH is feeding SAS’s nonstop CPH-SFO flight. I then looked up availability from CPH-SFO, and one of the options that showed up reliably on multiple dates is a one-stop itinerary via ZRH. In other words, you can’t book a seat on the ZRH-SFO flight unless you’re connecting on from another city.
Here’s proof (and I was able to find this quirk on multiple days). Bear with me, since I’ve got screenshots for days. First, the top level availability from ZRH-SFO:
Now, here’s the result for the direct flight from ZRH to SFO on February 6th:
However, let’s switch to CPH-SFO and look for availability on the same date:
There it is, plain as day! LX38, the same flight that you couldn’t book if you were originating in Zurich! Or is it? You’ll notice that the connection extends overnight, so United is actually ticketing you on February 7th, not the 6th, which is what we originally searched. So naturally, if we look for LX38 on Feb. 7, we’ll see availability, right?
Nope! Looks like there are still some issues going on with origin cities.
This problem isn’t unique to Swiss, by the way. Reversing the city pairs yields the same thing. Here’s the result for CPH-SFO on March 27th:
And, just as you’ve probably guessed by now, here’s how that flight looks if you’re originating in Zurich:
However, this time, the overnight connection pushes you over to 2/28, on which there is availability direct from CPH to SFO (no screenshot, just take my word for it). So, at least in this one case, United is elongating itineraries, which inflates the actual availability. You can’t actually get to the US from Zurich on 3/27, but United says that you can, because it’s counting availability on later days. It’s a relatively semantic difference, since flights and time zone changes are going to cause days to overlap. It does provide a reason to look deeper than the availability calendar image at the top of the screen in order to assess availability, though.
Still, that doesn’t explain the LX38 issue, which was still bugging me. I started wondering if this was a United thing or a Star Alliance thing, so I looked at these same itineraries in Aeroplan. Of course, the plot thickened, since Aeroplan shows that Feb. 6 CPH-ZRH-SFO itinerary as a mixed cabin award with the LX38 leg in economy… although, here Aeroplan is showing LX38 on February 6, not February 7th.
If you adjust the date to Feb. 7, you see the same availability on LX38 that United shows.
The difference, of course, is that Aeroplan isn’t as willing to string days together in order to give you an itinerary, so they give you a mixed cabin award as well.
And what about if you want to book a direct flight from ZRH to SFO on Feb. 7 through Aeroplan? Again, you’re out of luck, same as United. So clearly there’s an issue with how Swiss is releasing award space to Star Alliance partners, given that neither United nor Aeroplan will let you book LX38 on Feb. 7 unless you’re connecting from another city. Finally, I looked at ExpertFlyer, and they show exactly the same thing – no direct availability, but space opens up if you connect in from another city.
So, what did I learn today?
- United’s award calendar image at the top of the search page can be misleading, since they stretch itineraries across multiple days and count availability on each of those days. If there isn’t availability from CPH-SFO on a given day, there should also be no availability from ZRH-CPH-SFO on that day. It’s misleading to say yes to ZRH-CPH-SFO only because the connection gives United the opportunity to add 14 hours to the itinerary, opening up flights on subsequent days.
- Aeroplan won’t do this, but they’ll give you laughably stupid mixed cabin awards instead. Some people might actually prefer United for this reason.
- Some space on Swiss is only available to connecting passengers for some reason.
Is this a well-known thing? I’d love to be able to go back in time to see if United’s old website did this, or if it’s unique to the new site they rolled out fairly recently (or even if it’s a result of the new routing rules they’ve instituted). Same deal with the LX38/origin city issue – was I the only one who didn’t realize how fluid availability actually is? And how does that even work? I always thought that a fare bucket is a fare bucket is a fare bucket, but both ExpertFlyer searches were for “I” fares. Man, this shit is so complicated! Someone should start up a service where an expert does all this for you in exchange for a nominal fee.