In what can only be described as a rather bizarre move, UA Insider posted the following on FlyerTalk today:

Hi everyone,

I wanted to give you an early heads up about an upcoming change to the Star partner award availability you see displayed online. Singapore Airlines and United have agreed to remove Singapore Airlines inventory from our award flight search results on united.com and on the United Mobile App. This will take effect starting tomorrow, December 13, You will still to be able to book and change award reservations involving Singapore Airlines by calling our reservations lines.

Please let me know if you have any clarifying questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Someone asked the logical question as to whether or not United will be waiving the telephone booking fee for Singapore awards since they’re not bookable online, to which UA Insider answered the following:

As most have you has suspected, unfortunately we’re not waiving the booking fee. The simple reason–and this is a consistent policy across all airlines which are not yet online–is that there is substantial additional work required to price and ticket these awards in our contact centers.

I doubt we’ll ever know the real reason behind this change, so we can only speculate. The way this is phrased suggests the decision was mutual (“Singapore Airlines and United have agreed to remove Singapore Airlines inventory”), though I suspect they would have phrased it that way regardless of whether it was mutual or not.

So what could be motivating these changes? The only explanation I can come up with is that Singapore is raising their internal reimbursement costs for award redemptions made through partner airlines, and United doesn’t want to pay the higher rates, so they’re not showing the space online in an effort to book as little of it as possible. I’m sure that’s not the reason and there are other explanations, I just can’t come up with any.

Singapore Airlines already only releases very little premium cabin award space to partner airlines, and certainly no first and business class award space to the US with any regularity.

I guess what will be most telling is to see if Aeroplan, ANA, and Lifemiles also remove Singapore Airlines from their online search tools. If they don’t, I’ll be scratching my head even harder.

Anyone have any theories?

Singapore-Airlines-Award-Space

  1. December 12th, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Carl said,

    Why the hell do we have alliances anymore? Now i did have a geat experience on the phone tonight with UA booking partner space on TG, but jeez.

  2. December 12th, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Gene said,

    If they remove from LM, I will not be happy!

  3. December 12th, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Traveller said,

    before the safety video Jeff was telling us UA is proud to be part of the worlds largest network. Well, it is, unless you want to use it. I wish he would stop talking things we like – usually, it ends very soon after the videos are produced. He’s a jinx.

  4. December 12th, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Frank said,

    Oh well. Singapore’s loss? Turkish’s gain?

    Have been looking at Maldives and was toying with which way to go. Guess my decision has been made for me.

  5. December 12th, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    JH said,

    I suspect this is what SQ is thinking: United members are ripping all the easy benefits through credit card bonus, lower redemption rate at the expense of my members, I need to put this to an end, full stop.

  6. December 12th, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Cedric said,

    Two thoughts:
    1) Perhaps post merger United Intl First and Biz class is not equal or similar in the eyes of SQ anymore (CO cheapened the UA product).

    2) What happened to crediting/rewarding frequent FLIERS…not frequent card spenders? Too much “other” misc etc.

  7. December 12th, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    snic said,

    A year and a half (or so) ago, there was, all of a sudden, a ton of SQ premium cabin award availability through UA (and, I think, other partners). It stayed that way for a few days before the door slammed shut. I wonder if this removal of SQ award inventory from web booking has anything to do with that? Maybe SQ is somehow worried that this will happen again, and one way to prevent it from having a huge impact is by removing people’s ability to see the award inventory online.

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I wonder if that earlier event is somehow related to this.

  8. December 12th, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Del said,

    perhaps has to do with the fact that all the others require you to log in to search for awards seats while UA does not and therefore the information is more freely accessible by the public?

  9. December 12th, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Nick said,

    United is working hard to be the EasyJet of legacy carriers. I flew business this summer on Brussels Airways to Berlin and back to JFK – United tool FOREVER to credit miles to my account for this flight initially saying that it didn’t qualify and blaming it on Brussels. I finally got the miles, my husband just flew the exact same route, only a more expensive ticket and United refuses to give him miles saying it was booked in P class? The Boarding passes say C and Y WTF? I’ve written Brussels, but really why fly United if they just make up shit as they go and then don’t give miles you actually earned? $3800 for a C class ticket that doesn’t earn miles? Really has anyone ever heard such a thing?

  10. December 12th, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Jimmy said,

    Personally, I think it’s because a lot of people complained that SQ award space is never available on their flights from the US-Asia in their premium cabins.

  11. December 12th, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    RakSiam said,

    Most likely it’s more cost cutting from UA. Do all alliance partners pay each other the same amount for every award or do they charge different amounts? My guess is that UA decided it was costing them too much money to pay SQ. Since everyone avoids UA metal when they can they are probably trying to drive more traffic to their own a/c. Except of course they are removing a bunch of Asia destinations…

    Glad I managed to book an SQ C leg for next autumn the other day.

  12. December 12th, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    lsbuffs said,

    Is there ever any good news anymore? Geez it just keeps coming.

  13. December 12th, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Jorge said,

    Don’t understand this logic. The phone fee is peanuts for the type of service desired, so the consumer will pay for it regardless.

    Does UA think that people who book these awards are the dumbest of them all? If they wanted, they would block all SQ premium flights, so this is more like penny-pinching a few extra fees…

    Hmm those three airline CEO members must be laughing at their accomplishments this year.

  14. December 12th, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    steve said,

    A crack in the Alliance. Singapore probably doesn’t want to be so easily had for awards, especially in their hard-to-find business and first classes. They’d rather, like all airlines, have the ‘right’ paying customers in their premium seats. Lufthansa has made the move to get rid of first class on many routes, and making that product on the remaining routes for the ‘real’ first class customers. Who wants to sit next to a family of four who would normally be in cattle class all because they churned miles. Look for more tightening as airlines revamp downward the frequent flyer era and make it more exclusive. It was bound to happen.

  15. December 12th, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    MilesAbound said,

    Maybe this is revenge for last year’s open access to SQ F/J awards? :)

  16. December 12th, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    chasgoose said,

    In UA’s defense, Singapore Airlines has never allowed you to book partner airlines on their website. It’s always been annoying to me because I like to use Membership Rewards points through SQ to book domestic travel since they charge fewer miles for Y and J redemptions.

  17. December 12th, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Charles said,

    Of course they have substantial costs doing things over the phone. Their systems are so antiquated and staff so inept (and not English fluent) that it takes 25 minutes to do what AA agents can do in 10. Even booking BA avios award trips via phone can be done faster and easier!

  18. December 13th, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Ben Skelton said,

    Actually I think this is kind of great. UA has a massive membership. Hiding SQ availability from UA members (except those in the know) means that there will be more availability for others.

    I’d love for no partner availability to be shown to UA members. The majority of the general public would just assume it is not available.

  19. December 13th, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Gerard said,

    I’ve seen SQ availability almost disappearing in the last few days on LifeMiles as well…

  20. December 13th, 2013 at 6:17 am

    chitownflyer said,

    Another change we are sure to like. United is positiioning itself to become a 2nd class airline rather than even giving the appearance of competing with the major international carriers like CX, SQ, LH, VS, and BA. The cost cutting method as a means to increase profits is merely a short term strategy that will come at the long term expense of losing high value flyers and the loyalty of elites. If you are a paying customer on an international Business or First class flight, would you choose Lufthansa or Singapore, or would you choose United?

  21. December 13th, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Lantean said,

    given all the bad things going on at United this is definitely their doing, not Singapore… United airlines is going to s**t.

  22. December 13th, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Urbanfoodguy said,

    Well said in LGA now taking my last United flight ever – the EasyJet of legacy carriers

  23. December 13th, 2013 at 7:21 am

    snic said,

    @steve: “Who wants to sit next to a family of four who would normally be in cattle class all because they churned miles.”

    Yes, we cattle do smell bad.

  24. December 13th, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Bgriff said,

    I wouldn’t think SQ could unilaterally raise their redemption rates to Star partners — I’m pretty sure those rates are agreed within the alliance framework, or everyone would be raising them all the time without limit.

    Perhaps it is some combination of United’s old Starnet blocking instinct re-surfacing, and SQ just disliking United in general.

  25. December 13th, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Nick said,

    I bet there will be increased SQ premium award availability between now and Feb 1 and UA doesn’t want to pay.

  26. December 13th, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Paul said,

    There are more changes on the way including a revenue based system next year. This is from a high up United employee I met chilling in a hot tub 2 weeks ago. Also something to do with foursquare or something.

  27. December 13th, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Mulder Su said,

    It’s also getting harder to get a SQ seat on Lifemiles. What’s going on?

  28. December 13th, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Andrew F (Shrewd Travel) said,

    It’s worse than we initially thought…. :(
    http://shrewdtravel.com/singapore-airlines-kills-partner-long-hauls/
    They’re killing advance partner awards to Australia

  29. December 13th, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Nick said,

    Now I’m wondering if SQ is planning on exiting Star.

  30. December 13th, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Ozaer N. said,

    I sent out a tweet to SQ to see if I could fish anything about it. United will never tell you why they did something…but I am guessing this is a move by SQ.

  31. December 13th, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Larry said,

    Because United wants to do everything they can to discourage people from booking partner awards, and SQ must be more costly than others. And because they suck. More and more every day. Only time I will collect their miles any more is when they are free. And only time I will fly them any more is when I have no other viable option- and I will credit the miles to another program.

  32. December 13th, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Bill said,

    From my friend in the UA executive offices, the word is that SQ increased its internal cost for mileage tickets on its metal, and UA simply didn’t want to cover the internal cost increase–as you suspected.

    For everyone saying that UA is going to pot, I must laugh. People like us who accumulate and burn miles for great mileage tickets around the world do not make money for any airline. No country has more consumers earning miles and points quite like the USA, and that creates far more miles inventory in the USA market–which is one reason so many airlines/hotels have devalued their award charts. It’s an arms race–we consumers find new ways to earn more mileage bonuses, and the airlines devalue a bit, and so on, and so on. Nothing really has changed that much relatively speaking.

    UA’s longhaul biz and first options are pretty darn good for getting us where we want to go in reasonable comfort. We’ve flown biz on many great foreign carriers, and I’d still say UA biz longhaul seat comfort is darn close to as good as almost any, and UA GlobalFirst is better than ANY biz class on ANY airline. For the crazy ones among mileage hoarders/runners who simply like to fly in premium class just to enjoy the flights, you are the exception–and airlines do not care about you as much as those who travel for business/pleasure and/or who pay for tickets. SQ didn’t offer premium award tickets to other Star flyers anyway, so for us this isn’t a huge change–we don’t want to fly longhaul in economy if at all possible.

    Everyone is whining about the changes, but to be honest I don’t see a huge impact. Today, with all the various credit cards and exchanges possible, I can use miles/points to fly on just about any airline through every alliance out there–in first/biz even. The alliances are still quite useful, even if they don’t solve all of our challenges, but they never solved all of our challenges before either. We have more options than ever before to go more places than ever before in more premium cabins than ever before. I’m not quite sure what everyone is whining about.

  33. December 13th, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Ivan Y said,

    This is not surprising but rather disappointing and I’m pretty sure it’s UA pushing for the change. I don’t know if y’all recall but a couple of months back I commented that UA stopped showing any availability for the two SQ flights to Europe (JFK-FRA and IAH-DME). I actually was only looking for IAH-DME but when I called UA, their agents told me they don’t show any SQ flights on US-Europe routes. Pretty sure UA didn’t want any competition from SQ because who in their right mind would choose UA over SQ if given an option?

  34. December 13th, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Nick said,

    @Bill – thanks for the intel there. It seems that cost really was about the only sensible explanation.

    It will be interesting to see if the effective price hike holds long-term, or if enough *A partners resist and SQ still can’t “sell” all its unused seats to its own members, perhaps we will see a reversal.

    I agree it’s not the end of the world, and perhaps out of all this, there may be greater rewards for those that do a little more digging.

  35. December 13th, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    RakSiam said,

    I will agree that UA F is a good hard product. But the service is almost uniformly terrible. I’m glad you think that UA F is better than other airlines’ C. It should be. When it comes to UA C I am not a fan of the 2-4-2 777 product.

    SQ certainly does release some premium award space to UA. I just booked a flight the other day that includes a leg in SQ C.

  36. December 17th, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Leslie said,

    Today I called to book a perfectly legal routing involving a leg on Singapore AIrlines (economy), and the flight wouldn’t price out either at the computer or the rate desk (they told me the problem was with the Singapore leg), even though it showed them it had award space. I took that Singapore flight out of the itinerary and it priced out perfectly fine. I think UA is blocking the ability to book flights on Singapore at all!

  37. December 17th, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Ivan Y said,

    @ Leslie — what was the leg on SQ?

  38. December 19th, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    andre said,

    does anyone know if availability in C class is really gone or is it not showing anymore on line? In ANA tool and Lifemiles, indeed since mid december I see no availability in C class either. Has anyone checked in the paid KVS tool ? Did any of you manage to get a confirmed booking by phone in SQ C class long haul ?

  39. December 25th, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    GJ said,

    Funny – Flew on SQ Biz class from Sin to MLE (Who doesn’t want to go to the Maldives?) in early 2013. Plane was 3/4 empty. Yet, I had to move heaven and earth to get those tickets. These airlines are so stupid (hear me Smisek?) – they haven’t a clue how to sell or market any of their products.

  40. January 29th, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    XGC said,

    I just called United to check on availability for Singapore award travel and the agent said that they were not booking award travel on Singapore Air until further notice…

  41. January 29th, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Ivan Y said,

    @ XGC – is this for a travel on one of SQ’s flights to/from the US or a different route? Based on my experience, UA stopped booking awards on SQ’s flights to/from Europe last year even in economy class but if they stopped issuing awards for _all_ SQ flights, it’s very strange.

  42. January 29th, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    XGC said,

    @ Ivan Y – The route I inquired about was NYC – FRA but UA agent said they were unable to check availability due to technical difficulties. When further inquiring if these techical issues would be solved in an hour or a day, etc., she mentioned they’ve had them for a month now and had stopped booking SQ award tickets until futher notice. I was looking for availability in F but there was ot even time to give that information to agent so I’m assuming is for all classes.

  43. January 29th, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Ivan Y said,

    @ XGC – SQ F can only be booked with their own miles (KrisFlyer) as they don’t release F award space to partners for flights to/from the US (and no J for the most part except LifeMiles, I think); easiest way to get KF is to transfer from Amex’s Membership Rewards (1-2 days, I think) or from SPG (7-14 days). Don’t forget that you need 15% less miles if booking online with SQ :)

    Now, you used to be able to at least book economy SQ tickets on United. However, when I couldn’t find any availability back around September 2013, I called UA and they flat out told me they no longer issue SQ awards to Europe (IAH-DME and JFK-FRA). Based on your experience, it still seems to be the case.

    Anyway, sorry if I gave you bad news :( Good luck with your search – SQ F is great!

  44. January 29th, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Ivan Y said,

    Update – per WA, looks like any SQ flight number that touches in US (even those legs outside USA) can’t be booked – http://t.co/71UeCz4Sqd

  45. January 31st, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    XGC said,

    @ Ivan Y – Thanks for the info! I was able to instead get Lufthansa on F (using United miles) so I won’t cry… :)

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