SkyTeam chief promises more 'seamless' award travel bookings

 Will SkyTeam award seats be easier to find this year? Screenshot: Delta.

Will SkyTeam award seats be easier to find this year? Screenshot: Delta.

Frustrated by how hard it is to book an international award ticket?

SkyTeam - the giant alliance led by Delta Air Lines, Korean Air, Air France and KLM - wants to help. I spoke last week to SkyTeam's top executive, managing director Michael Wisbrun. He told me the alliance should do a better job of making sure passengers can redeem miles on any carrier in the alliance. That means you easily should be able to book a free flight on Aerolineas Argentinas on Delta's website using Delta miles. 

"We are pushing to bring seamlessness to the next level," Wisburn told me. "This is not only an operational issue. But also, we need to make sure you can earn and burn your frequent flier points from one member to another. We need to make that seamless."

As people who search for award space know, sometimes it's easy to book free travel on partner airlines. Other times, the flights are difficult to find but possible to book if you know the right tricks. And sometimes, it's simply not possible. 

What's the problem?

There are two issues. One is technology. There's a lot of real-time information that must be shared to make this work, and it's not easy for all the carriers to communicate. But the second is commercial considerations. Not all airlines - and this includes all alliances, not just SkyTeam - want you to redeem miles on all partner airlines. Some airlines want to be more team players than others. Most of them still compete with each other. 

But at SkyTeam, Wisburn promises the situation will improve in 2015. 

"We are introducing this year new functionalities via the web for customers to easily earn and burn their frequent flier points," Wisburn said. "It is major technology issue to get those systems connected via the web."

How much will things improve?

I'll believe it when I see it. Alliances are notoriously slow to make improvements. Much of the reason is that there are so many stakeholders involved and no one has unilateral power. 

Wisburn is in charge, yes. But he's more like the Secretary General of the U.N. than a business CEO. His members must agree on everything, and that takes time - and a lot of hand holding.