What is Phantom/Ghost Award Availability?


Recently, I chatted with a reader who found a flight to Amsterdam from the United States on Avianca in business for a good redemption price. This flight would be on a United airplane. She transferred her points and couldn’t book the tickets. She called Avianca only to be told by the agent that what she had encountered was phantom or ghost availability. Just what is phantom/ghost award availability and how do you avoid it?

Luckily, all three of us here at TMS have never encountered this (and we book a lot of flights). So it isn’t a common thing, but it’s something we all want to avoid as transfers to partners are one-way. Our reader now has points stuck with LifeMiles. Luckily, she has a large stockpile of points and found tickets on another airline. However, she now has to find flights with Avianca at some point to use those miles she has stranded.

Phantom or ghost award availability is award availability that is displayed but is not actually there. This is usually discovered when you try to book your flight that is shown and you are unable to do so. You call the agent and the agent can’t find it either. These are bad signs and my heart would start pounding if that occurred. Let’s go over some steps to minimize this. (Like I said, it is rare and neither Alex, Jess, nor I have never encountered it.)


Screenshot of flights from Denver to Paris

When I see these flights, I fully expect them to be bookable. A good safeguard would to be to look on Lufthansa.


Check Another Source Before Transferring

One safety check to make sure you are NOT seeing phantom availability is to check another source to verify that space is available for the flight you are looking at. For instance, if I found a flight through Avianca flying to Paris on a United plane, I should check United to make sure there is space available on that flight through their website also.

You can also call the airline you are booking through to ensure that they see the available award space and ask them to hold it for you.

It sounds like a pain to do these things, but I may do at least one of these things in the future after hearing about our reader’s problem. Luckily, I too have a large stockpile and could rebook if I had points/miles stuck in another program.

You may be new to the points and miles game and have just enough points for that dream vacation. In that instance, I would highly recommend that you check another source before transferring those valuable points/miles. For instance, you find a Swiss Air flight on the United site. It probably is accurate award availability, but checking the Swiss Air site will take just a minute and leave you with peace of mind.


Screenshot United flight

This is a flight I’d double check to make sure this isn’t phantom availability

Bottom Line

I’m sure that it was extremely frustrating for our reader when she had to deal with phantom/ghost availability. It is a rare occurrence, but knowledge is power. So be slightly wary and double check before transferring those precious points/miles.

Colorful houses along canal

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  1. Catherine says:

    I had that happen 2x on American Airlines. The first time our travel plans changed, so didn’t worry about why I couldn’t book. Second time I called, and the agent couldn’t find any of the flights I saw on my end. I was able to work around it, but it makes me uneasy(for future travel) to book anything else until the flight is confirmed!

    • Pam says:

      Luckily it is rare. Like I said, we have NEVER had the problem and the three of us travel a LOT! It is something to be aware of though.

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