Bias in Partner Award Space Allocation?

With devaluations being a regular fact of life, most in our hobby subscribe to the “earn & burn” theory. There’s no sense in holding on to an asset that you know will depreciate, and at that, one that can be depreciated by any amount, at any time, and with or without notice. Accordingly, I’ve been trying to unload some of my 168,000 American Airlines miles for almost two years, without success. I’ve seen sparse saver-award availability in coach, and practically nil in business class. Currently I am planning a trip to Central Europe in September 2017, figuring I’d have more than enough time in advance to get good award availability. However, this search gave me the lesson that airlines are free to exercise bias in their allocations of partner award space.

I wanted to start in Berlin, and was hoping to be able to fly the Airberlin flight, nonstop from Los Angeles. On American, they show no availability at all for business class, and only one day with a seat open in coach on that flight:

aa-no-non-stop

Since not every airline in an alliance shows the same partner availability, I decided to search on a few other oneworld alliance carriers. When I got to Iberia Airlines, I saw the following:

iberia

Saver-level business class (and coach) availability on the nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Berlin, on Saturday 9/16, which was my desired date. With the distance-based chart and massive fuel surcharges, I wouldn’t want to book it through Iberia, so I called American to specifically inquire about that availability. Naturally, they confirmed that they had no availability at all. The representative was very friendly and professional, and politely explained to me that partner airlines have complete discretion as to how many seats they allocate, as well as to whom they are allocated. He even specifically added that Airberlin is notorious for giving far more seats to European-based carriers than those based on other continents, which explains why that flight is available to book with Iberia miles, but not with American miles. He also said that it is exceedingly rare for American to ever have access to business class seats on an Airberlin flight, except for in the final days coming up to a flight.

For this trip, it is simply “back to the drawing board”. But, for those who want to use their American miles to go to Europe in business class (and who don’t want to pay $500 in fuel surcharges to fly Iberia or British Airways), this is a very disappointing realization.

Has anyone out there had any luck booking Airberlin business class with American miles?

Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel.

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  1. Iberia has fuel surcharges, but they’re not nearly as bad as British Air and shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor. On a recent award booking (using AA miles) to fly Iberia, I spent $137 to fly BCN-MAD-JFK per person (one way) including ~$40 in taxes.

    Did I want to pay $100 in fuel surcharges? No. Was it worth paying to $100 to actually use my cache of AA miles? Yes.

    • Yeah, thats a good point, and if it was that low, I would have done so! But unfortunately, using Iberia miles for the flight would have cost $486 in fuel surcharges, and the only availability I saw on American was British Airways connecting in London, which would have added $494 in fuel surcharges. If I could do it for $137, I’d do it in a heartbeat!

      • For OneWorld in particular, this is the new normal. Paying $468 for a business class ticket on LAX-BER isn’t as bad as paying the actual business ticket price…or having to route with connections otherwise (usually through London on BA with even bigger fuel surcharges).

        Everyone got used to using miles without much in taxes…and then the airlines got wise. Now there are more charges to use miles. But if you want to use the miles….you better use them and pay some charges before the miles become even lass valued!

        Otherwise, you have to go business and connect through AA hubs. What’s avoiding that worth to you?

  2. Have about the same to burn on AA, and haven’t been use one single mile during ’16 except on one RMAs. Couldn’t even find available route for the multiple intra-Asian one way hops I had to do in the last few months. Seriously these AA points are borderline useless

  3. You need to be a little more creative. Try routing through Helsinki. Finnair often has availability (though sometimes it’s “phantom” availability). I see a fair amount of seats from SFO with 2 Business Class awards available in Sept .

    • Yeah, I actually currently have an itinerary on “hold” using Finnair business class with ORD-HEL as the big flight getting over there (as SFO-HEL doesn’t fly on my desired date). Good call on that. Just was venting some frustration that even this far in advance, I couldn’t get on the non-stop flight straight to Berlin, and rather would need to have two stops to get there up front.

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