Even if it can be a bit cumbersome to use, I have found ANA’s award search tool to be the single most accurate source of Star Alliance award availability for several years. Singapore Airlines space has been problematic–ANA automatically blocks out premium cabin space on the 777-300ER and A380-800 even if Singapore has made space available on those flights–but other than that blip and the inability to search for space within four days of travel, I have always found all other partners to be accurate. With United and Aeroplan (to a lesser extent) guilty of showing “phantom” award space that errors out when selected, it has been nice to have a tool to double check and make sure the space is actually there. Unless it is TAM, perhaps…
São Paulo-based TAM Linhas Aéreas, TAM for short, is now part of the LATAM group and on its way out of the Star Alliance. Even during its tenure in Star Alliance, it never released much award space, particularly on longhaul routes. But there were “seasons of bounty” in which Rio De Janeiro to New York or Miami routes were suddenly available in business class. That still happens, though rarely.
Last week I was booking a one-way trip for a client from Rio to Miami and going off the United and ANA tool, was about ready to book on COPA via Panama City. COPA is not a bad airline, but its business class cabin is similar to the domestic first class product on U.S. carriers, meaning a bit wider seat, a bit more recline, but certainly no lie-flat bed or even recliner lounge seat.
I deiced to check Aeroplan as well–just in case–and lo and behold, a direct flight on TAM was showing as available with a much better business class product than COPA. My first thought was that it had to be phantom, for this was not showing on united.com (which has been known to show phantom TAM space) or on the ANA tool. Importantly, the ANA tool was not showing this flight as unavailable–it simply was not showing the flight at all.
But the client had Aeroplan points and now Aeroplan offers one-way pricing at the half the round-trip price, so I clicked through to book…and successfully completed the reservation. Ticket issued, seats assigned, voila!
I did some further research and found only one other discrepancy, this time between the United website and the ANA site. You’ll notice below that United shows business class award space on two non-stop flights while TAM shows availability just on one. The afternoon flight is not a codeshare flight or a flight that makes stops–it is a TAM non-stop flight and ANA is not a tool that only shows available flights–its show all flights even if there is no availability.
Curious, I went through the booking process on both flights via untied.com and successfully reserved seats (HK) on both flights–once again the ANA tool was inaccurate in leaving off a key flight. So I cannot blame the ANA tool for showing phantom space, but I can blame it for not showing space that was there.
So, while the ANA tool remains my go-to tool to reality check award space, it still pays to use the several tools available (or paid automated services like Award Nexus) to ensure you are not missing out on the best space for your trip. Especially if you are using TAM!