Here may be the breakthrough you have all been waiting for. Yapta has helped in the past when fares have dropped and alerted you to re-fare your ticket.
This is a reprint of a New York Times article by Michelle Higgins November 16, 2008
YOU’VE signed up for fare alerts that send you an e-mail message when a flight you want to buy goes down in price. Ever wish you could get a similar message when a frequent-flier seat opens up on that plane?
Starting on Tuesday, Yapta.com will do just that. Known for alerting travelers to airfare price drops even after the ticket has been purchased, the site is testing a new service that allows travelers to receive an e-mail alert when an award seat becomes available. Travelers simply do a normal online search for airfare on Yapta.com and click “include award tickets” to begin tracking the flight. Yapta will automatically send alerts via e-mail if either the price drops or an award seat opens up.
The service, which is being offered free in a test phase, comes at a time when travelers, faced with sky-high airfares in a tough economic environment, may be increasingly tempted to use miles for flights. But finding an award seat, while rarely easy, could be particularly challenging as airlines cut capacity. The domestic market is expected to lose 22.6 million seats in the fourth quarter as airlines slash capacity by nearly 9 percent compared with a year ago, according to data from OAG, the global airline-schedule data company. Globally, airlines will offer 20.4 million fewer seats, a 2.3 percent decline in overall capacity.
That said, if the falloff in travel demand turns out to be greater than the capacity cuts, travelers could find more award availability as airlines try to fill seats any way they can. That scenario, said Tim Winship, an editor for SmarterTravel.com and the publisher of FrequentFlier.com, would be “a terrific opportunity for the airlines to reduce the liability of having the miles on their books and do so without diluting revenue” since the award seats would most likely have gone unsold anyway.
Airlines typically release seats 11 months in advance but can release them at any time based on cancellations, changes or demand levels. “The reality is airlines do open and close buckets of inventory around award seats,” said Tom Romary, chief executive of Yapta.com. The new service, he said, constantly searches for those award seats so you don’t have to.
Mr. Romary, formerly a marketing executive with Alaska Airlines, said if 10 percent of the carrier’s seats were set aside for awards, typically only 5 percent were used. Alerting travelers to fresh award inventory, he added, can both help airlines alleviate some of their liability for unredeemed awards and encourage loyalty among travelers. “You are more likely to continue to use your airline credit card to earn more miles,” he said, if you’re able to redeem those miles.
The site will offer award-seat alerts for five major airlines — Alaska, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways — when it introduces the service on Tuesday, with plans to add carriers in the future.
Yapta’s award alert feature has yet to be proven. But ExpertFlyer.com, a subscription site that offers an inside look at airlines’ seat inventories, already offers a similar alert service that has been getting some good reviews from those obsessed with frequent-flier miles.
“Other than monitoring AA.com on a 24/7 basis there is nothing that can be done better than using flight alerts,” said Mike Josephson, a frequent flier from Keller, Tex., who said he has repeatedly used ExpertFlyer’s alert service with success to “game” the system. The alerts sometimes came just under the wire. For example, one alert he set up for an award ticket from Knoxville to Dallas arrived the day before departure. As a backup, he had booked a return flight from Nashville, which would have added about three hours of driving time to the trip, in case the Knoxville departure didn’t come through. “I realize it’s a chance you would have to take in waiting it out, but with ExpertFlyer doing most of the legwork, it’s easier than ever to win the game,” he said.
ExpertFlyer’s alerts are part of its Premium Plan service, which costs subscribers $9.99 a month, or $99.99 for a year’s subscription. For the cost, travelers get alerts for 21 airlines not just for award seats but also for coveted upgrade awards. (For details go to www.expertflyer.com/sessionlessClassList.do).
TRAVELERS can also specify the type of award they need for a given flight, be it a restricted coach award for 25,000 miles or an international upgrade, and receive alerts via e-mail or cellphone or other mobile device. Yapta nor ExpertFlyer are not booking sites, however. Both require you to book the award with the airline directly.
So far, airlines don’t seem to mind that the sites tip travelers off when award seats are released. “Most recognize that we are serving a positive function that takes away some of the pain for the flier and some of the phone calls to the airline’s call center for information,” said Chris Lopinto, the co-founder of ExpertFlyer.com.
“The technology that Yapta brings to the table, whether award tracker or flight tracker, really provides what we view as purposeful innovation,” said Mark Guerette, director of e-commerce with Alaska Airlines. “It helps the customer look for the proverbial needle in the haystack.”
Some airlines point out routes that tend to have good award availability at a given time of year on their Web sites. For December American recently listed Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Belize City; and Montego Bay, Jamaica, as AAdvantage HotSpots at http://www.aa.com/. US Airways offers its own ”best bets for award travel” on usairways.com. For November, the list included destinations in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. But so far, none have gone so far as to allow travelers to sign up for e-mail alerts when an award seat becomes available.
Mr. Winship, who lists his own top five picks each month on SmarterTravel.com, said destinations where airlines have bonus mileage promotions in place or are discounting prices are tipoffs that seats are available. His picks for November: Hawaii, Grand Cayman, Mexico, Italy and Tokyo.
Also, check out the online forums of FlyerTalk.com, FrequentFlier.com and FlightBliss.com, where mile-conscious travelers often share their strategies for earning and redeeming miles.