Trapped in the Phantom Zone: Navigating the Perils of Award Flight Bookings

by joeheg

I made a mistake when booking an award flight by falling for phantom award space. To make things worse, it’s with the same programs that have tricked me in the past. I really should know better than to transfer miles before making sure the award space is there. However, when dealing with different frequent flyer programs and airlines, phantom award space is a known risk.

Phantom Award Space

A “phantom award” is a flight award that appears when you search for flights but cannot be booked. Typically, the reservation system will display an error at some point during the booking process. This error might occur after selecting flights, or you may encounter it at the payment screen when trying to finalize the reservation.

The last time I experienced this was when booking Delta flights from Frankfurt to Orlando using Flying Blue. That time, the system eventually let me book the flights and then sent me a confirmation for a different set of flights. I eventually was able to book the flights by calling a representative and having them book the correct flight for me.

Once again, it was Flying Blue and Delta causing the problems.

Here We Go Again

I have a European cruise planned, and I need to book flights to our port city of Barcelona. I tried to find Business Class award tickets to Europe for this summer on, but they’re hard to find and very expensive.

For our transatlantic flights, we’ll settle for economy tickets if necessary. The flight isn’t much longer than when we fly to LA or Seattle, and we’re fine with economy for those flights, so why not for Europe? I started looking for flights from various hub airports on the East Coast and planned to take a positioning flight. Eventually, I found a set of flights on Delta from Atlanta to Amsterdam, connecting on KLM to Barcelona. Since we could take a Delta flight to Atlanta, we’d be able to check our bags to Barcelona by sticking to SkyTeam partners.

a screenshot of a phone

I know that 53,000 is a lot of points for an economy ticket, but cash prices for the same ticket are going for $1,300 each, which is almost 2.5 cents per point.

I already had points in my Flying Blue account that I transferred during a Bilt Rent Day promotion, but I needed a few extra to have enough to book two tickets. Transferring points to Flying Blue is simple because they are partners with AMEX, Bilt, Capital One, Chase, and Citi. I chose to transfer points from my Citi ThankYou balance because I prefer to use points in other programs in different ways.

Going Downhill Fast

Citi point transfers to Flying Blue are typically instant, and that’s exactly what happened. I logged out and back in and I had 106,000 points in my account. Enough to book the two tickets.

I found the flights on the Air France website. While Flying Blue is the loyalty program, you have to book awards from either the Air France or KLM websites. I just happened to be logged into Air France.

I selected the flight and entered our names and my phone number. When I hit continue, the reservation came to a screeching halt. And while I hate seeing this screen, the graphic of the two employees pulling the plug on the laptop is a cute joke.

a woman holding a cable to a laptop

Unfortunately, I was working on this reservation until late into the night and the call desk was already closed.

Calling Air France

The next day, I checked to see if the flights were still there. First, I looked at, and nothing showed up. The same was true when I checked with Air France. My hopes were low but I still called Air France. Mainly because I’ve been chided for not calling an airline with previous problems. I wasn’t expecting much, but I did it for this post and to be thorough.

I spoke with a very polite representative who wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure I understood the problem. He took my information on the flights I wanted to book and put me on hold. After 10 minutes, he came back and said he found the reservation and emailed it to me.

Could this actually work? I refreshed my email and there was a booking from Air France. Unfortunately it was for a booking from New York to Barcelona for double the miles that I saw the night before. I clicked through to see if the problem I was having with my Delta reservation was a system problem or phantom space.

I asked if this was the only reservation he saw and he said it was. I thanked him for the help and said I would call back when I wanted to finish the reservation. I knew I wouldn’t book the NY flight, as I didn’t want to pay 100K for a coach flight.

Happy Ending?

I was stuck with 106,000 Flying Blue points and no flight. I was determined to find a flight that would get us to Barcelona. I started to search every KLM and Air France destination, and I eventually found a flight for fewer miles than the flight from Atlanta. In addition, I was able to find seats in Air France’s new Premium Economy for less than the Economy class seats on Delta.

Since these flights were on Air France, I had no problems with booking them on the website. So while this story has a happy ending for now, it might not have ended up this way.

I’m not sure what else to do besides never attempting to book a Delta flight to Europe using Flying Blue. Every itinerary I searched for in this article (four in total) ended up causing an error when I tried to book. I guess this should be a lesson learned, but since I’ve made the same mistake before, I’m not sure I’ve learned that lesson yet.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

Sam May 20, 2024 - 10:38 pm

MIA-MAD on Air Europa usually has Biz space via AF


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