In 2015 Delta removed their award charts. They dynamically price their award tickets based on demand and sales that they run. United will do the same in November. I think the changes will be devastating in the long-term. And that’s why I advise you that you should accumulate bank points and avoid locking yourself into airline miles and hotel points.
El Al is now moving in that direction as well with the launch of dynamically priced awards, though they still retain their standard award chart for now.
El Al launched a new booking platform yesterday and I was inundated with emails from readers about no longer finding any El Al business class award availability with Qantas points. People who transferred over millions of points to Qantas last month were rightfully panicking about the disappearing act. (In the good news department, Qantas honored the 44% transfer bonus for everyone that transferred points last month. Major kudos to Qantas for making everyone whole!)
Additionally, El Al removed the ability to search the award calendar on their own website and they removed the ability to search for awards on sites like ExpertFlyer as they removed E class (economy awards) and X class (business awards) from the GDS.
I immediately reached out to a contact at El Al to find out what was going on.
For example, I pointed out that the new search engine showed dynamically priced awards, but didn’t show the standard award rates:
But I pointed out that I still had a working backdoor link to the old search engine and it showed that standard award flight should be available:
Additionally I showed him that Qantas wasn’t showing business class awards, even when they were available from El Al as well:
He told me that the old El Al award search engine is being killed as customer research showed that people wanted simplicity and searching for available award flights was too complex. He also wound up killing my backdoor link, saying that the old Amadeus booking engine would be turned off shortly and it would be killed when that happened.
The new search engine is programmed to only show awards priced using the award chart if you already have enough Matmid points for an award. Otherwise it will only show the dynamically priced awards.
When I asked why it’s not programmed to just show the lowest cost award, whether it’s from the award chart pricing or dynamically priced he said that they don’t want to confuse customers that don’t have enough points.
I pointed out the logical fallacy of that statement, as customers can be even more frustrated by the higher priced dynamic awards as they would be by the standard awards. Additionally I pointed out that I would want to transfer AMEX points to Matmid after seeing that there are standard awards available, but now you need to have sufficient Matmid points in order to even see if there are standard award available.
In the end, he said that 99% of customers preferred dynamic awards in their case studies, which is why they are killing the ability to search only for standard awards and why they hide standard award availability unless you have sufficient points.
If you want to search for standard awards, you’ll need to transfer the AMEX points to Matmid first and then search. I pointed out that Matmid points expire after 36 months even if you have activity and that there is no other airline operating North America-Israel service with such a draconian expiration policy. Why would I transfer points from AMEX to Matmid in the hope that I would find availability? And why not just show the lowest award price available for each flight?
Again, the answer was that in general, functionality in the new site was stripped out for simplicity sake. Power users can use Google and other sites to start their flight search, while people going directly to ElAl.com will get an easier to use site. AMEX transfers are a tiny percentage of bookings, so it was not catered for them.
It seems like the trend of dumbing down websites to the lowest common denominator has spread to the airline industry. Back in the day, websites were only optimized for desktop devices. Now it seems like many sites are only optimized for mobile devices and advanced options are being stripped out of desktop sites. That’s a shame.
I said how much I appreciated United’s approach, to allow users to identify themselves as experts in order to enable an expert mode. But he lamented that they don’t have United’s budget to work with.
I also asked why El Al would remove E and X class from GDS, as power users would love to at least have the ability to use that data for their research. The answer is that El Al didn’t want award bookings via GDS and travel agents, they want people to use the new search engine to book awards.
That’s fine, but it leaves people who want to transfer points only for standard awards without much to work with. Does El Al not realize how lucrative the mileage programs are for the airlines?
In the end he agreed to argue the case to show standard awards to everyone, so we’ll see what happens.
In the good news department, he was able to fix several bugs that I pointed out.
Most importantly, Qantas can once again book business class awards:
The annoying thing is that the Qantas award calendar can’t be set to show nonstop flights only. That means it will show all airlines that have availability, including connections that have sky-high fuel surcharges:
With GDS searches gone, you’ll just have to search for each date using Qantas to see when El Al has award availability.
In order to search El Al for standard awards you’ll need enough points to book a standard award. I pointed out a bug that the new search engine wasn’t showing one-way standard awards even if you had sufficient points. He was able to fix this bug as well.
Here’s how to use the new search engine.
Click on the log in button and login to your account:
A reader gave me access to their Matmid Gold account in order to do research for this post. Here’s what the new booking page looks like. You’ll want to make sure that you enable “Show prices and points & award tickets.” There is no longer a dedicated award search and the link I used yesterday to search for awards only has been killed.
Unfortunately after you search it shows you the results page that only shows dynamically priced awards. However if you click on Log in again on top of the page and login then you will get the page with standard award pricing:
Search results page showing dynamic and standard awards:
Quite frankly, even after dozens of email and a 40 minute phone conversation, I still have no idea why El Al isn’t showing this search results page to everyone, with the lower of standard and dynamic pricing showed to everyone, regardless of how many points they have.
I understand the goal of simplicity. I just don’t see how this accomplishes that goal.
But I was assured that the new site allows the ability to make changes quickly in response to customer demand. So if these changes affect you, be sure to contact El Al and let them know how you feel about the changes.