Phantom Award Inventory on united.com

Old Jul 27, 19, 3:05 pm
  #1  
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Phantom Award Inventory on united.com

A modest proposal: Can we get a wiki listing the United partners whose award inventory is always/usually/sometimes just phantom inventory?

For those unfamiliar with the term "phantom inventory", here's what it means: you do a search on united.com for award flights, and some of the award seats offered up are in fact not really available to United (or so they will claim after you have booked the flights). This "phantom inventory" is a result of United and their alliance partners failing to accurately reflect actual inventory. Typically, the experience goes like this: you search for an award flight, find something that looks acceptable, maybe you transfer in some Chase Ultimate Rewards points to top off your United MileagePlus account (a process which is purported to be one-way and irreversible, it's worth noting). With your UA miles ready to spend, you go to book the award flight(s) on united.com. Then, you may get an error, something along the lines of "Due to rapidly changing inventory, the selected flight is no longer available" (this is an outright lie: the flight was never actually available, it didn't just disappear a second before you tried to book it). In other cases, the award booking appears to actually go through - they deduct the miles from your UA MP account, you have a booking receipt (though not a real ticket), and all appears good...then in 24 hours or so, you get a notice informing you that the award on the UA partner couldn't be booked (the real reason for that is because it didn't exist in the first place) and you're left with a failed booking, your points have been taken, and it's your problem to sort out (some folks don't even realize they don't really have a seat to their destination - I bet some have only found out when they go to check in, a real nightmare).

This has been a major problem for many years, across many United partners, including (but not limited to) Lufthansa, Swiss, SAS, Aer Lingus, LOT, and probably a dozen more. This can really hose you (especially if you transfer Chase UR points right before you go to book). Frankly, it's shameful that United has let this go on for so long, without a fix. They clearly don't give a damn about it and have no intention of fixing it.

You can easily find horror stories from MileagePlus members in many threads here. Alas, these stories are scattered across many different threads, and people usually only learn about phantom inventory after it has happened to them (or after investing a lot of their time trying to find a way to book an award flight which eventually fails).

It would be a great help for folks trying to use their miles to have this problem highlighted in a single thread (my apologies if one already exists - I looked and didn't see one). The problem is that most stories from people who have had this happen to them are not easily discovered because they're scattered across many individual threads about consolidated general experiences booking partner awards (eg: Aer Lingus (EI) award booking experiences [Consolidated] ). Few people would know to do a search for "phantom inventory" (except for those who already know about the problem) so having it in a single thread should help educate users. Who knows, it might even shame United enough to actually fix the problem that has plagued so many for so long (and they should indeed be ashamed - imagine any other business that advertised something you can buy, and only after you've committed to buying it, with irreversible prerequisite steps already taken, then they say "oh sorry, you can't have that"?).

I'd suggest a wiki post, with a table or simple list of UA partners known to have phantom inventory. It would be helpful to include some data that characterizes if the inventory shown on united.com is always 100% phantom, sometimes, or rarely, or some other grading system. Users can chime in with their experiences and discuss related issues - for example, when united.com only will show you routings with phantom inventory, and refuses to show other, valid routings with real, bookable inventory.

Do others feel this would be a worthwhile resource?
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Old Jul 28, 19, 3:53 am
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FWIW I would see value in such a post/sticky, with some sort of data-based wiki at the top counting the number of times phantom inventory has caused an issue, by airline.

I agree it’s completely disgraceful.
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Old Jul 28, 19, 8:01 am
  #3  
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We’ve had issues with LH, MS, ET, LO, and SK in the past, but I underscore past. The only issue I’ve had in the last year is TG regional business class space.
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Old Jul 28, 19, 8:18 am
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You're ascribing a lot to malice that is just incompetence. As much as various parties involved aspire to realtime availability, the reality is request/response with varying timeframes allowed.
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Old Jul 28, 19, 11:52 am
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Award error after entering credit card

hi,
trying to book one way award to TPE
found on 26 december BRU - FRA - ICN - TPE on LH to ICN, last leg on TG. Get all the way to payment page, enter credit card click payment button —> get error page
found on 27 december BRU - MUC - PEK - TPE , bru - muc on LH, rest on CA. same issue, errors out after credit card
Any ideq why these are giving error ?

Last edited by erwin123; Jul 28, 19 at 11:15 pm Reason: Added screenshot of the error
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Old Jul 28, 19, 2:12 pm
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Originally Posted by MatthewLAX View Post
We’ve had issues with LH, MS, ET, LO, and SK in the past, but I underscore past. The only issue I’ve had in the last year is TG regional business class space.
I am currently experiencing issues with SQ Phantom Award Inventory out of NRT to LAX as well to onward destinations via LAX. Can go through reservation process incl. seat selection. Clearly marked at the .bomb as "Exclusively available to you as a MileagePlus Premier® member" yet ends up as error when trying to purchase and calling the 1K line ends being offered an apology by the agent for wasting my time. Was told that SQ cannot be booked.
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Old Jul 28, 19, 2:47 pm
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Originally Posted by mduell View Post
You're ascribing a lot to malice that is just incompetence...
Maybe, but I'm not so sure it's really just simple incompetence. If what I think I'm seeing is reality (what appears to be lots of phantom inventory consistently showing as wide open, on an ongoing basis), I'd describe it as willful ignorance rather than simple incompetence.

Originally Posted by mduell View Post
As much as various parties involved aspire to realtime availability, the reality is request/response with varying timeframes allowed.
How about if united.com routinely shows plenfiful award inventory which is always invalid? Shouldn't that be fixed? And I do not think this is an issue that's just occurred in the past. I see plenty of contemporary (or fairly recent) indications that phantom inventory is just business as usual in several of the united threads (eg LOT Polish and Aer Lingus) - in those threads, once people figure out what's happened, they just seem to be resigned to the fact that seeing lots of phantom award availability is the way things are, so just move on and don't bother. If that is indeed the case (and I can't say for sure that it is, as I have not tested with dummy bookings), then I'd say that is more than just incompetence on the part of the airline; if that's just the way things have been for ages and nothing's being done to correct it, I'd say that's willful ignorance (I'd note that not fixing such issues provides financial benefits to United).

I guess the thing that bugs me most is that "we" have no sense of the scale of this. What percentage of the award inventory that united.com shows as available is actually not bookable because of this issue? I dunno, it could be a very small number. But veterans of the program know about it generally, it's nothing new, it's not some rare glitch. If you put together all the stories from all the separate threads on booking awards on different partners (and encouraged everyone to self-report when they ran into it), "we" all would get a better idea of the scale of it. If it's as widespread as I suspect, it would be something that should be brought to United's attention (just as last winter's issues with TG and other partners had to be raised before United publicly acknowledged that the issue was real, and eventually took steps to fix it).

Now, I do understand very well that United management has made their loyalty program a low priority (I'm trying to be nice). Still, if it turns out that phantom inventory really is a much bigger thing than many folks realize, that should be publicized and pressure (such as it can be) should be applied to United to work towards fixing it. Just having people give up in disgust after trying and failing to book a flight that United presents as available is no way to run a business, and it sucks as a consumer. At the very least, I'd like to get some sense of the scale of the issue, so we can warn people that partner X really is impossible to use so don't bother trying, and one could make a rational choice about to what extent (if any) it's worth bringing it to United's attention. They may have no idea of it's scale and impact on customers. Seems like something that both we, as MileagePlus members, and also the company, would both benefit from understanding better....no?
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Old Jul 28, 19, 2:52 pm
  #8  
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What exactly does the error say?
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Old Jul 28, 19, 11:15 pm
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Error

We’re sorry, but united.com was unable to complete your request. Please try later or contact united.com Support in the U.S. and Canada at 1-800-396-1751; the U.K. at 0800 028 5003; elsewhere use the local phone number.
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Old Jul 28, 19, 11:24 pm
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Something similar happened when trying to book a flight earlier this month. When I called UA the reason they gave was essentially “phantom award space.” Frustrating but there was nothing they could do. I am sorry.
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Old Jul 28, 19, 11:43 pm
  #11  
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Originally Posted by janehoya View Post
When I called UA the reason they gave was essentially “phantom award space.”
Yes that is a classic phantom inventory message.
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Old Jul 29, 19, 12:59 am
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Originally Posted by nwflyboy View Post
Maybe, but I'm not so sure it's really just simple incompetence. If what I think I'm seeing is reality (what appears to be lots of phantom inventory consistently showing as wide open, on an ongoing basis), I'd describe it as willful ignorance rather than simple incompetence.



How about if united.com routinely shows plenfiful award inventory which is always invalid? Shouldn't that be fixed? And I do not think this is an issue that's just occurred in the past. I see plenty of contemporary (or fairly recent) indications that phantom inventory is just business as usual in several of the united threads (eg LOT Polish and Aer Lingus) - in those threads, once people figure out what's happened, they just seem to be resigned to the fact that seeing lots of phantom award availability is the way things are, so just move on and don't bother. If that is indeed the case (and I can't say for sure that it is, as I have not tested with dummy bookings), then I'd say that is more than just incompetence on the part of the airline; if that's just the way things have been for ages and nothing's being done to correct it, I'd say that's willful ignorance (I'd note that not fixing such issues provides financial benefits to United).

I guess the thing that bugs me most is that "we" have no sense of the scale of this. What percentage of the award inventory that united.com shows as available is actually not bookable because of this issue? I dunno, it could be a very small number. But veterans of the program know about it generally, it's nothing new, it's not some rare glitch. If you put together all the stories from all the separate threads on booking awards on different partners (and encouraged everyone to self-report when they ran into it), "we" all would get a better idea of the scale of it. If it's as widespread as I suspect, it would be something that should be brought to United's attention (just as last winter's issues with TG and other partners had to be raised before United publicly acknowledged that the issue was real, and eventually took steps to fix it).

Now, I do understand very well that United management has made their loyalty program a low priority (I'm trying to be nice). Still, if it turns out that phantom inventory really is a much bigger thing than many folks realize, that should be publicized and pressure (such as it can be) should be applied to United to work towards fixing it. Just having people give up in disgust after trying and failing to book a flight that United presents as available is no way to run a business, and it sucks as a consumer. At the very least, I'd like to get some sense of the scale of the issue, so we can warn people that partner X really is impossible to use so don't bother trying, and one could make a rational choice about to what extent (if any) it's worth bringing it to United's attention. They may have no idea of it's scale and impact on customers. Seems like something that both we, as MileagePlus members, and also the company, would both benefit from understanding better....no?
I agree and appreciate your thread. Incompetence becomes negligence becomes malice at some point. I don't think there's much we can do about it, but documenting cases to gain at least some data on the likely source of an error is useful.

P.S. I commented on another thread about the less prevalent problem, but which I experienced, of (maybe) phantom paid inventory. I booked a flight on ua.bomb in LX Z class. In this case it didn't error out, but just charged me, gave me the PNR, and never ticketed -- and then showed my reservation as "business class waitlisted." I called UA and they said that there was no inventory, even when they called Swiss. Not sure if this was phantom inventory or some other issue, or how common this is, but the agent said it was happening regularly at the time with LX P/Z. UA made me whole, so it ended up fine, but could have been a lot worse had I not happened to log on the check the reservation the next day.
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Old Jul 29, 19, 2:29 am
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miles not taken out of account

Hi,

Managed to make new booking CDG - TPE now on BR (on december 27), no error during booking process
See the charge on my credit card, but the miles (75000) not taken from my account

Reservation says

Your purchase is confirmed and your reservation is processing.

We'll email you when your reservation has been ticketed.
using the BR PNR, I can bring the reservation up on the BR website,status there is waitlist

will the miles be taken once it is ticketed or is just another phantom ? (i did check expertflyer and it shows award availability on this flight)
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Old Jul 31, 19, 2:24 pm
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I've had issues with phantom award inventory in the past with Austrian, ANA, and LOT; I also had issues with phantom "revenue" inventory once with Austrian. As such I'd be interested in seeing such a wiki page too.

I was considering a saver business award ticket that included a SAS flight and stumbled on this thread, so I was a bit concerned on whether it would ticket given that others had issues with SAS phantom inventory in the past. The reason I was looking at the SAS option was that an existing award reservation had a flight change that totally messed it up and it needed to be redone from scratch. I called United to process the change, since I figured they had access to more updated inventory information. The agent I talked to even alluded to that when making the changes while waiting to see if the new flights would ticket. She was able to make the change, and the ticket was issued. But then I checked the booking on the SAS website to get a seat assignment, the following warning was at the top of the page:
"We haven't finished ticketing all of the flights in this booking. Please contact your travel agent for help."
When I saw this I thought this must have been a phantom inventory situation after all, though it didn't make sense that United would be able to ticket the reservation if it was. I figured I'd let a day go by in case that fixed itself but it didn't. I ended up calling SAS and asked them both about the message and whether I could get a seat assignment. The agent I talked to said the reason for the warning message has to do with the fact that the ticket wasn't issued by SAS, but everything was fine with the reservation. He said because of that issue with their system, I could only get seat assignments by calling in, so I had him take care of that. Hopefully this is a sign that SAS is no longer a phantom inventory airline.
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Old Jan 1, 20, 3:04 pm
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Originally Posted by erwin123 View Post
Hi,

Managed to make new booking CDG - TPE now on BR (on december 27), no error during booking process
See the charge on my credit card, but the miles (75000) not taken from my account

Reservation says

Your purchase is confirmed and your reservation is processing.

We'll email you when your reservation has been ticketed.
using the BR PNR, I can bring the reservation up on the BR website,status there is waitlist

will the miles be taken once it is ticketed or is just another phantom ? (i did check expertflyer and it shows award availability on this flight)
So what’s the outcome?

I booked business saver award with 180k miles this morning involving BR for Thanksgiving travel, credit card charged but miles not taken and no confirmation emails. UA App shows the BR legs waitlisted.

This is very first to me!
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