Why US Airways’ Starnet blocking doesn’t make sense to me

This is entirely minor and insignificant, though it keeps me up at night. And you know what that means — I want it to keep you up at night too.

As I’ve written about before, Lufthansa only releases first class award space to Star Alliance partner airlines ~14 days prior to departure. While it’s an extremely frustrating policy, if you’re flexible like me it’s not all that bad, since you can just lock in the flights you want within a couple of weeks of departure (though I realize it’s not as practical for those that have vacation days they have to request in advance).

Well, I wasn’t being totally accurate when I said Lufthansa doesn’t release any first class award space more than ~14 days out. They do have a tag flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur on which they release first class award space far in advance, as they used to for most flights.

I suspect this is simply because they don’t care about the flight — it’s a short two hour flight, and I doubt they’re concerned about “devaluing” the premium cabins too much.

But here’s where it gets interesting, at least from a theoretical standpoint. For quite a while now US Airways has been blocking all Lufthansa first class award availability. I suspect they started doing this years ago because Lufthansa released so much first class award space and it was costing US Airways a ton to have their members redeem miles for those seats. While Lufthansa is not releasing as much space as they used to, I suspect US Airways saw no reason to change their policy, which is why it’s still in place.

I’m not an IT guy, but I suspect the way they did it is by setting up some script that blocks all “O” space (first class award code) on “LH” (Lufthansa’s airline code) from automatically appearing.

But here’s what’s bizarre — US Airways agents can see first class award availability on that Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur flight, while they can’t on any other route.

So to those of you better with IT than me, any clue how they could be blocking all the other space but not the space on that flight? Could it be that they’re just blocking all Lufthansa first class award space within 14 days of departure, knowing that’s when Lufthansa releases space? If so, Lufthansa has recently been opening up some first class award space 15 days out, so would that make some of that space bookable? I did a quick test and I didn’t have any luck, though I’m still not sure.

Some IT whiz enlighten me, please!

Filed Under: Awards, Lufthansa
  1. Back when LH F award space was pretty available, US agents were only unable to see transatlantic first class seats. The ‘blocking’ (US Dividend Miles execs said it was a technical problem they were unable to identify/fix) was only between North America and Germany. You could still book other Lufthansa first class segments.

    Then Lufthansa pulled back on availability. It doesn’t surprise me that when F is actually offered on non-transatlantic flights that US Airways agents can see it.

    I haven’t tried but I bet US will have no problem booking BKK-SGN, too…

  2. It sounds like it could be that the AVS threshold between the Amadeus and Sabre partitions is set to 1/2 or 2/2. That would exclude flights with 2 or fewer seats available in a particular class to show up in the other system if the initial AVS message was 0.

    Next time you see a Lufthansa flight with 3 or more First Class seats available, see if US Airways agents can see that flight?

  3. You could easily make the script to block flights within X number of days. They could have padded it with 30 days even so not sure if that 15th day will save you. Could also be by route. Have you tried booking the BKK to KL flight within 14 days to put the theory to the test?

  4. Hey Ben

    Have you ever considered that the blocking might be the other way around? LH not showing seats to US? I think this is why manual sales work because the seat is there but LH doesnt want US to see it. I think LH is pissed off with how cheaply their premium product can be obtained and that US is profiting from this. If you think about it with the exception of Avianca no other *A airline sells miles as as cheaply as often. However more important than the price is that no other *A memeber allowes memebers to buy unlimited quantities of miles most have a annual limit making its impossible to “buy” First Class with miles unless one actually flies or earns via partners (rentals etc). I think LH is pissed with the ease that US mileage sales presents people with the opportunity to fly in first. In the case of LX they have shut off everyone. I really think the source of this problem is LH

  5. I assume the few Lufthansa fist class seats we see available on United.com on the EWR-MUC and EWR-DUS routes are phantom? I never tried booking them but I do see them there sometimes.

  6. @ Del — I don’t think that’s the case. United did exactly the same a few years ago, and they fully admitted it was their doing.

    @ Lantean — If it’s more than ~14 days out, definitely. If it’s less than ~14 days out, maybe.

  7. Hey Ben

    Yup im familiar with the united case. However something tells me this is different. I’m booked on that tag flight in F from BKK-KUL myself the week after next using US miles miles. I think if US had embargoed LH instead of vice versa this flight would not be visible. Also I have booked this flight in F 3 days with US miles too so US isnt blocking from just 14 days. I speculate that this is LH’s, i think the LM case is a good example though I agree not completely similar but still illustrative. There LM had access to Swiss First where other *A partners this not this shows that M&M can and does discriminate with what seats it releases to different partners, so I do not think it would be beyond the realm of possibility for them to try and conceal availability from US. I sense though that outright blocking one carrier from ticketing seats that you release to all other partners might be contrary to the agreements with in Star Alliance, so this is why LH conceals it and does not block it which is again why manual sales work.

    IM not saying that US just like UA may not have employed starnet blocking in the past however whats going on now just smell different.

    We will have to chat more about this at FTU 🙂

  8. I agree that this could easily be an LH block on point of sale.

    “Oh, 037? Probably somebody who bought cheap miles, dump it on the floor.”

    LH execs have been very pointed that they don’t like US selling miles for cheap.

  9. Hey Gary

    Curious when was it that you were told this? I ask because I speculate that before the issues was driven by US but now its driven by LH.

    As per Bens post and my experience there seemed to be a thawing last year.


    Then things got bad again when LH imposed their close in restrictions on FC which is why i speculate that while the problem is the same this time it cause is different perhaps LH is not satisfied with the rates it gets from US for the seats.

    Now ofcourse if your chat with US was recent then it would debunk my argument completely.

  10. I also wanted to say that I don’t understand why LH blocks first and not business class. their first is mostly empty, they are pretty much shuffling air from one continent to another.
    on the other hand their business class is always full, in part because they open it for redemption but also because companies buy a lot of revenue tickets for people traveling on business.
    so if they were smart they would actually open some first and restrict business award seats until they are sure they can’t sell them.

  11. Lots of speculation. The real answer is that we just dont know the whole story. Maybe oliver2002 can give us more color on this subject. He seems to be very informed on LH internals.

  12. Here are a few data points. KVS shows four available F award seats on LH711 from NRT to FRA on December 10. A US phone agent just told me only J was available.

    I also checked the same flight on Dec. 4 (KVS shows three seats) and was told the same thing.

    Lastly, I checked LH440 from FRA to IAH on Dec 4 (KVS shows two seats) and was told the same–only J available, no F.

  13. it may be that the blocked is based on some threshold on the compensation that US pays to LH. As we know, every ticket/flight is paid by the account holder’s airline to the operator airline. Let’s assume that during the process US can understand the cost of the ticket that the passenger is redeeming. They could have a filter for any tickets that will cost US more than $x (or $x per point) for the ticket. In this case the cost for a short flight like this could fall under the threshold for the filter.

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