Fare issues with Star Alliance Round The World tickets
If you’re thinking about booking a round the world (RTW) ticket on Star Alliance, keep reading. This is information you absolutely need to know.
Round The World fares can provide excellent value if you’re willing to live with their rules and restrictions. These rules can be complex, byzantine and occasionally bizarre. One of the main concepts of this fare is that it is discounted – you are receiving a discount relative to buying a series of point-to-point tickets. To compensate for this, Star Alliance limits the fare somewhat, meaning that you can’t simply book any available seat on a given flight. There are specific fare buckets (typically the same bucket as discounted business or first class) that must be available. For instance, if you wanted to fly in business class between Singapore and Sydney on June 30, you would need to find a flight that has “D” class available. Using the ExpertFlyer tool, you would see that the overnight flight has the following availability:
R4 F4 P4 A2 Z4 C4 J4 D4 S9 Y9 B9 E9M9 H9 W9 Q0 N9 U0 G0 L0 K0
As you can see, there are at least four seats in D class. Knowing this, you would call United’s RTW desk expecting to confirm a seat on this flight. But United might tell you that there are no D seats available on the flight. What’s going on?
Airlines don’t use a single system to report available fares to travel agents and other vendors. Essentially, while one system might show seats available in D class, another might not. If you were to call Singapore Airlines, they would confirm that D seats are available. The problem is that the United agents may not be able to see them. And if they can’t see them, they can’t sell them. Obviously this creates major issues, as you’re simply following the RTW ticket rules and have found an eligible flight, only to be told that you can’t book it.
Until recently there was a workaround, and I still recommend trying this with United agents on the off chance it will work. If you’ve found a flight with D class but the United agent can’t confirm it, have her put you on the waitlist for the flight. Singapore will come back immediately and confirm you on the flight (since D class actually is available despite what the United agent can see). A recent memo directed United agents to stop this practice, so this workaround is likely of limited use going forward.
Unfortunately there are no other workarounds, and if you find yourself in this situation you will probably have to use an alternate flight or routing. United has never given much priority to investing in information technology, so hopes that it will communicate better with its partners are wishful thinking for now.
For us consumers of travel, this is simply one more frustration and product devaluation that we have to deal with. Many Savvy Traveler clients are finding it less and less useful to attempt booking RTW tickets because of fare availability issues like this one.