I’ve been looking at flights from Germany to the U.S. for our trip this winter. I already booked our flights to Germany on Singapore business class from New York but I figured I’d book the return later. Problem is that I can’t figure out our itinerary for the trip until I know which city we’re flying home from. That was incentive enough to have me look into finding flights, preferably award flights in business class.
My flight preference would be the non-stop flight on Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Orlando but since award seats tend not to open up until last minute, that won’t work with our plans. We won’t fly on United so options including their planes is a non-starter.
I started looking into flights on KLM or Air France. Both of them use the Flying Blue loyalty program and even though they have variable pricing on award tickets, they still have reasonable rates for many of their flights.
Much to my surprise, besides finding several options flying through either Paris or Amsterdam, a flight from Frankfurt-Detroit-Orlando was showing up. This flight was on two Delta planes and had decent times for arrival and departure and reasonable connection time.
I decided to try and book it.
While I’ve read several posts online about the Flying Blue website showing phantom award space, there weren’t many recent reports. If you aren’t familiar, phantom space is when a website shows award flights are available but when you go to book the flight, the website gives an error saying there’s a problem. If you call the program, they’ll claim the space isn’t really available. This really sucks if you’ve already transferred points into a program to make a booking.
I knew the risk but I wanted to give this a try. If space wasn’t there, there were several other flights showing, albeit with less favorable times, but still ones I’d be able to live with.
I transferred points from Citi Thank You and Membership Rewards, totally forgetting that there’s a 25% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards going on right now, and went to make the reservation. (Flying Blue is partners with all three major banks)
I got all the way to putting in our passenger information and going to enter payment when the page errored out and sent me back to the home page.
A technical error occurred and your search could not be completed. We apologize for any inconvenience. Please contact our customer service or try again later.
Drats!!!! Phantom space!
I decided to see if I could just book the flight from Frankfurt to Detroit. Same problem. What about the other option routing through New York? Same thing.
I wanted to see if I could book any flight, so I found a routing from Frankfurt-Atlanta that was entirely on Air France. I was able to get to the next page and enter my billing information (which I didn’t do because that wasn’t the flight I wanted). So it appeared that any award with Delta flights wasn’t actually bookable.
I didn’t want to call Flying Blue to check if this was real space of not. I closed out all my windows and worked on something else for a while. An hour or so later, I decided to give it another chance, not expecting a different result.
After logging into my account, I went to the book award flight page where my previous search info for Frankfurt-Orlando was already populated. I tabbed through to make sure the information was correct and selected my flight. After filling out the personal information for the umpteenth time, I hit “book.”
And it worked!!!!!!!!
I was taken to the booking and payment screen. I triple checked to see if everything was correct, put in my credit card info (I used the Citi Prestige for the 5x points on airfare) and hit confirm. Our flight home was booked!
Or so I thought.
Within a few minutes, I received an email from KLM with our tickets:
Um, that’s not what I booked, unless I made a HUGE mistake when double checking the information.
Then I received the confirmation email.
I checked the KLM website and the flights showing were the Frankfurt-Paris-Atlanta. So how did I book one set of flights and get placed on a totally different itinerary?
I was going to have to call. Ugh!
At this point, all I wanted to do was cancel the flight. If it was phantom space, so be it. I just didn’t want to be booked on a flight to Atlanta.
I called Flying Blue and put the phone on speaker. I find these times are great for me to accomplish other mindless tasks, like folding a basket of towels (Note from Sharon: Thank-you, my love!).
After 10 minutes, which is not a bad amount of time to be on hold (except for the terribly annoying hold music), I was helped by a representative. After providing my confirmation number and verifying a code sent by text, he confirmed that my reservation was for a flight from Frankfurt-Atlanta via Paris. I said that’s what I see but I actually booked a flight to Orlando via Detroit.
Him: “Oh, so you want to fly to Orlando? I see a flight from Frankfurt to Detroit to Orlando. Would that be acceptable?”
Me: “Yes, that would be fine
since it’s what I thought I booked!!!!”
Him: “Let me check. There is award space available on those flights. I’ll take care of it. Just a minute.”
Here’s where it gets interesting. I saw that same award space. It’s what I tried to book but failed, several times. At this point, my helpful rep got awfully quiet on the other side of the phone, for another ten minutes.
More towels folded. (Note from Sharon: Mwah!)
Eventually, he got back on the phone. I was expecting him to tell me the award space on those flights didn’t exist and they couldn’t book it. Instead, I was told that everything was taken care of and my flights were now fixed. I received a new flight confirmation less than thirty minutes later.
I’m able to log onto the Delta website and see our flights and pick out seats.
What happened? It’s quite possible that space was there but the booking engine online was having problems. I’m more prone to think that space wasn’t really there. Why? Because here’s what Delta wanted to charge for the same flights.
I’m not sure if it’s because of the website error and maybe they opened up award space on Delta for us. By no means do I think this is a repeatable scenario. Honestly, I’m not really sure what happened but I’m not going to complain about it either.
The only thing is that this was supposed to be my “back-up” plan. If the non-stop on Lufthansa becomes available a few days before departure, I’d consider canceling this trip and getting my miles back into my account. Which would make all of the time and effort put into booking this flight meaningless, except for the piece of mind I have knowing we have flights home booked that I’m totally happy with.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary