Airline Jargon: What is a Long Sell?

Ever tried to book a frequent flyer redemption ticket, only to be told there’s no award availability? If you’ve ever tried to redeem your frequent flyer points for a flight, you probably answered “yes”!

It will often be the case that there’s indeed no award availability on the flight you want. But sometimes the availability is there… your computer (or the airline’s call centre) just can’t see it!

It’s relatively common knowledge that airline websites don’t show you all available award flights. Almost every airline omits award availability on certain partner airlines. For example, Virgin Australia’s website won’t show you reward seats on Hawaiian Airlines, South African Airways, Alitalia, Virgin Atlantic or Capital Airlines – even if seats are available. And the Qantas website never displays award availability on Jet Airways or Air Niugini. Where this is the case, you’ll usually need to search for the award availability on a different website and then call your airline to book.

But sometimes even the airline call centre staff can’t see award availability that does, in reality, exist. Occasionally this is due to Point of Sale (POS) restrictions. For example, an award flight might only be available if booked with New Zealand as the Point Of Sale, but the airline’s call centre is in Australia. In this case, the call centre agent may be able to book by logging into the airline’s New Zealand office remotely.

But if this still doesn’t work, a “long sell” may be required…

What is a long sell?

A long sell, in airline jargon, is a manual flight booking technique used sometimes by airline reservations staff when a flight is available, but not showing on the normal booking system. The process is more complicated and takes longer than the normal booking procedure, so most airline staff hate it. But, in a small number of cases, it’s the only way to book the flight.

Normally, when searching for a flight, you’ll enter an origin and destination and see what options the computer spits out. Long selling works differently. Instead, the agent will request a seat on a specific flight, airline and fare class and the computer will give a “yes” or “no” answer.

When requesting a long sell, the agent needs to enter the following pieces of information:

  • The flight number (e.g. QF575)
  • Fare class (e.g. U for Qantas Business Class award inventory)
  • Date
  • Origin airport (e.g. SYD for Sydney)
  • Destination airport (e.g. PER for Perth)
  • Number of seats being requested

When is a long sell required?

Long selling is required when a flight does have availability in the fare class you wish to book (if redeeming points, this will be the award inventory class) but it’s not showing up on the airline’s normal booking interface. This could be due to an error in the normal booking engine, and usually effects many flights on the airline in question rather than just individual flights.

If an airline call centre representative tells you that there is no award availability on a flight you wish to book – and you believe this is incorrect – you could try asking them to check if there is award availability on any other flights operated by that airline. If the agent still can’t see any award inventory with that partner airline whatsoever, on any route or date, then the problem is unlikely to be a simple lack of award availability on the date you’re trying to book. In that case, a long sell may resolve the problem.

Case study: Comair award availability

The Qantas website does not display award availability for any flights operated by British Airways’ South African subsidiary, Comair. The Qantas call centre agents also don’t see this availability. But award seats do exist, and they can be booked by Qantas Frequent Flyer members. To book a seat, you’ll just have to call up the Qantas call centre and ask the agent to do a “long sell”.

An AFF member was recently able to book Comair award seats with Qantas points using this exact method.

Well I nailed it!!! After being told by Qantas agent it wasn’t possible I am now the proud owner of 2 x J award tickets on BA (Comair) JNB – DUR return. Quoted $680 pp cash end result 36k points & $188 pp. I asked the lady about the “long sell” she had no idea but was willing to ask around the office. In the interim I found some info on FT but in the end she didn’t need it as someone in the office knew what is was.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: BA/Comair award availability

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]