Reader Question: How To Deal With ‘Ghost Availability’ (Displayed But Non-Existing Seats) When Booking Award Tickets?


Today we have an important Reader Question that I’d like to feature because this issue is more common than one might think and always confuses as well as frustrates people: Ghost Availability for award flights.

You refer to ‘Ghost Availability’ when an available award seat is being displayed to you in a search engine but you receive an error message down the line telling you the seat is in fact  no longer available.

It’s especially frustrating if such an error occurs in the very last step such as processing payment since you pretty much made your decision what flight will be chosen and how it corresponds with the remaining travel plans. If you then end up with an error the result isn’t very pleasant: You have to start from scratch.

Our reader writes:


I’m trying to burn off my Delta SkyMiles and always run into the same issue: Right before the booking is confirmed and I already entered my credit card there is an error message.

The ticket I’m trying to book is a Delta SkyMiles partner award on China Airlines via Taipei. Not sure what the problem is and all other options displayed are horrible in timing, connection or taxes/fees charged.

Any ideas how to solve this issue?

Such availability issues are nothing new plus with more search engines as well as smaller Online Travel Agents (OTAs) popping up every left and right it has to be said that not all are of the same quality.

In this case where it’s about award tickets it pretty much boils down of how reliable the partner (in this case Delta SkyMiles) pings the airline whose inventory shows up in the system. If the availability is based on some previously saved/cached availability that has since vanished it will at times still be displayed to the customer when checking for flights.

When clicking through, indeed often to the final step even after entering your credit card you might end up with an error such as this:

This is just one out of a multitude of different error messages while trying to duplicate the booking our reader mentioned he had problems with.

After doing a bit of research on Flyertalk and quizzing friends who are avid Delta fliers it appears this issue is a well known phenomenon with Delta SkyMiles, especially with partner airlines to/from/within Asia which include Korean Air, Vietnam Airlines, China Airlines and China Eastern.

Can you do something about this?

Good question. You can try and call the hotline of your frequent flyer program to see if they have a different and more accurate award availability view but keep in mind that there is often a fee for that and booking through the phone is incredible frustrating especially when you get untrained or indifferent agents. I would say there is not much you can do because the agents won’t be able to help you out based on what was displayed on the website but then disappeared.


This is a simple IT issue and the fact that the booking procedure of whatever airline/loyalty program isn’t set up in the way to verify the actual award availability latest in step two but rather at the very last minute doesn’t make things better.

I really like being able to book awards online especially when it offers you very flexible routing options. It’s always a hassle to talk to some agent on the phone to get awards booked especially when the employee isn’t properly trained and it’s apparent from the get go.

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  • MV

    There is no longer a fee to book Delta (award) tickets over the phone. Best is to call during business hours to get an agent from the US. If all fails, the reader can also try calling the Singapore DL office. CI is well known for problems when booking with DL miles, and better advice may be found on Flyertalk.

  • United ex-Lover

    I have had similar problems trying to book Ethiopian Airlines seats through United. I tried numerous options to get saver awards to Southern Africa from the US, but every time I tried an option that included Ethiopian it failed to go through. I then decided to call in. It would have been nice to have found one of your untrained or indifferent agents, I just got one who was rude. As far as she was concerned, there was no availability, so what was I expecting her to do?

  • Lordkent

    Not all Airlines are 100% Live with awards to other Airlines, example: JL only update Awards to Partners at Midnight Japan Time. Until all Airlines switch unto the same GDS System, this unfortunate glitch is going to remain.

  • Richard

    Cathay Pacific availability via American Airlines is a good example of “ghost availability” with one caveat; a recent booking ended with a try, try again approach from the agent with the end result of availability. The availability was found via the BA site initially.

  • Neal

    Take screenshots and call Delta. They may tell you it’s not available, but ask to speak with IT support and don’t take no for an answer; they may eventually relent and honor what you are seeing online.