How To Avoid Phantom Award Availability When Using The British Airways Search Tool

One of the main reasons I wanted to start this blog was to help share some tips and tricks that I have learned along the way that make life a little easier when it comes to searching for award availability. I fly American regularly and as a result have a large stockpile of AAdvantage miles. When I aim to redeem those miles, I usually try for partner award redemptions (in part because I like to try new products and in part because I want to offer reviews of a broad range of products for you guys).

When it comes to searching for AA partner award space, the British Airways search tool is usually my go-to. Unfortunately, the BA search tool can be quite finicky and it is well known to return what is referred to as phantom award availability – that is, award availability that shows as available, but which is not ultimately bookable. Fortunately, there is an easy way to get around this issue.

Searching For Award Space to Asia

Let’s say you want to go from Miami (MIA) to Singapore (SIN) using your AA miles. If you search the AA website for award availability, you get a message from AA that there are currently no awards available.

AA 1

Now this does not mean you cannot use your AA miles to book award travel to Southeast Asia – you just have to know where to look. That is where the BA search tool comes into play.

If you do a search with the BA search tool for MIA to SIN, you will end up either getting a screen that says they cannot find any award availability for your date(s):

BA 3

Or you will end up getting results across a variety of airlines including British Airways, American, JAL, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways:

BA 1

Provided you get results you may think to yourself, this is great because there is plenty of award space available! But not so fast. First off, flying through Europe on your way to the Asia 2 region violates the award routing rules, so the BA options via London are out for an AA redemption (unless you’re willing to pay for 2 award tickets). That leaves the combination of AA and JAL (or AA and Cathay Pacific/AA and Qatar Airways) to get you to Singapore.

The Problem

So you call up the AA award desk and excitedly feed them AA61 and JL711 for your business class redemption eager to get it booked. The only problem is the AA customer service representative (CSR) cannot seem to see that award space to book it. So you go back to the BA search tool, run your search again and try to see if BA can book the award. Except when you try to do so, you get this screen:

BA 2

So what happened here? Well, the BA search tool saw that there was business class availability on the first segment of the trip, and then “added” that business class availability across the entire itinerary, thus creating “phantom” award availability.

The Fix

So how you do you prevent this phantom award availability from appearing? The answer is simple, but requires some knowledge about the routes that AA’s partners fly to Asia. If you use the BA search tool to search segment-by-segment (i.e., MIA-ORD, then ORD-HKG, then HKG-SIN), you will avoid (for the most part) the appearance of phantom availability.

These are the routings that you should know for getting from the U.S. to Asia:

Cathay Pacific:

Boston (BOS) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration)

Newark (EWR) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (3 cabin configuration – no first class)

New York (JFK) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration & 3 cabin configuration with no first class)

Chicago (ORD) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration)

Los Angeles (LAX) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration & 3 cabin configuration with no first class)

San Francisco (SFO) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration & 3 cabin configuration with no first class)

Vancouver (YVR) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration & 3 cabin configuration with no first class)

Toronto (YYZ) – Hong Kong (HKG) – 777-300ER (3 cabin configuration – no first class)

Japan Airlines:

Boston (BOS) – Tokyo (NRT) – 787-8 (3 cabin configuration – no first class)

New York (JFK) – Tokyo (NRT) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration)

Chicago (ORD) – Tokyo (NRT) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration)

Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – Tokyo (NRT) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration)

Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – Tokyo (NRT) – 787-8 (3 cabin configuration – no first class)

Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo (NRT) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration)

San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo (HND) – 777-300ER (4 cabin configuration)

San Diego (SAN) – Tokyo (NRT) – 787-8 (3 cabin configuration – no first class)

Vancouver (YVR) – Tokyo (NRT) – 787-8 (3 cabin configuration – no first class)

From either Tokyo or Hong Kong you can catch a direct flight to most every major Asian city!

What If I’ve Searched Segment-by-Segment And AA Still Cannot See The Availability?

This happened to me recently when I was booking a first class ticket for my girlfriend from Singapore back to Orlando. The first class segment on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Chicago showed as available using the BA, Qantas and JAL search tools, but AA could not see the availability for some reason. If this happens you have three options:

1. HUCA (hang up and call again) to see if another CSR can see the space;

2. Wait ~24 hours and then call back to see if the space is bookable yet for AA; or

3. (And I admit, this one sounds bizarre, but there are numerous data points of it working) jump on Skype and call the Australian AA booking center at 02-9101-1948 and see if they can see the availability (they usually can for some reason).

In my case I HUCA’d 4 or 5 times before I decided to just wait 24 hours to call back. 24 hours later the inventory was showing and the CSR was able to book it for me.

Other Benefits of Segment-by-Segment Searches

One of the other benefits of searching segment-by-segment is that you will be able to see a lot more flight options when you are being specific in your searches. If you search for MIA to SIN, the BA search tool may return some results, but they do not show all of the possible routings that may be available to you. That means you are limiting yourself to only a small segment of the available schedules. This is important if you are searching for premium cabin space and is especially important if you are searching for multiple premium cabin seats.

Final Thoughts

Although it can be a pain to search segment by segment for your award flights, doing so makes life a bit easier when it comes to finding your ideal award ticket. It is a small price to pay to avoid the countless phone calls to the AA/BA award desk trying to book space that does not exist.

Have you ever been hit by the BA phantom award availability?

Be sure to follow the Jet Set Blog by entering your e-mail address in the upper right hand corner of this page! Also be sure to like the Points Jet Setter on Facebook and follow @ThePointsJetSet on Twitter!

Leave a Reply