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SeatSpy claims it is the victim of screen scraping – and has very novel evidence

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An intriguing claim of espionage has been made in the normally sedate world of airline reward flight availability tools.

SeatSpy is a very useful website for anyone searching for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic reward flights. It allows you to see availability for any route for a full year in one click. More interestingly, you can set email alerts so that you will be contacted when seats open up on routes you want.

Tracking British Airways Avios availability is more complicated than it needs to be. Most airlines put their reward seats into a specific ‘ticket bucket’ which anyone with Amadeus or Sabre access can see. Avios does not work like this, so there is no easy way of tracking availability.

Seatspy logo

It was possible to access this data via a feed that BA produced for its own use. This is what enable Reward Flight Finder to launch in 2017, followed by SeatSpy in 2019.

At some point, British Airways decided to block third party access to this data. This caused serious issues for both SeatSpy and Reward Flight Finder.

SeatSpy has managed to resolve the issue and claims that its data is now updated at least once per hour.

Yesterday, SeatSpy published a blog post on its website claiming that its data was being screen scraped. It found ‘hundreds’ of fake SeatSpy accounts which were running automated searches on behalf of a third party.

What is interesting is how SeatSpy found its evidence.

It removed ‘real’ reward data for the BA Southampton to Nice route in Business Class, which was a route no SeatSpy users were actively tracking.

SeatSpy replaced it with fake data, showing false seats on certain dates.

This is what appeared on the Reward Flight Finder site a while later:

Reward Flight Finder screenshot

If you don’t imediately see the joke, turn your computer or phone sideways …..

Unfortunately the data has now been removed from Reward Flight Finder, although I can confirm that I saw it there.

(EDIT: the data is back! Click the link in the SeatSpy blog article.)

You can read more on the SeatSpy website here.

Comments (60)

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  • Nick says:

    There’s really not much, if anything, that SeatSpy can do since there is no specific law (certainly in the UK) prohibiting screen scraping, unless maybe their is an issue over intellectual property rights . Funnily enough, back in 2015 Ryanair brought a case against PR Aviation BV in the Court of Justice of the European Union, which held that no intellectual property rights subsisted Ryanair’s database of flight times and prices.

    As SeatSpy state, it may be in breach of their T&C’s, so they could prevent it that way, but that’s about it.

    • Will says:

      If it breaches seat spy’s T’s&C’s and seat spy could prove commercial loss there may be a case but it would be significantly weakened if it was successfully contested that the information was already in the public domain.

      I’m not sure the information really is in the public domain though, you could never practically construct seat spy’s data and even if you did it would be out of date and incorrect by the time you had a data set.

    • David says:

      “unauthorised access to computer material” is an offence under The Computer Misuse Act 1990.

      If the data can only be accessed after confirming you’ve read T&Cs, and those include a condition that you may not access the site using automated tools, then even if republishing the data once you have it isn’t an offence, getting it is (unless you have an army of humans doing it).

      In fact I’d go further and say that if you’ve specified in /robots.txt that the data shouldn’t be accessed by non-human, then you probably don’t even need the T&Cs step for bot access to count as unauthorised access.

  • VerdantBacon says:

    This is actually hilarious, though RFS have rightfully been outed as clowns!
    I assume SeatSpy have a deal with BA and pay for access to the data needed to run the site? And RFS have just decided to copy their work to save money?

  • Andrew says:

    Blimey, August really is a slow news month!

  • Dan says:

    So where do Seat Spy get their data from if BA has shut down the Avios feed? Surely if they had a deal with BA and it was official they’d be shouting about it? Or maybe… they are actually just scrapping the data from BA’s website?

    • Rob says:

      Or maybe they prefer not to say to stop others doing the same? It is fully legit.

  • AJA says:

    Oh dear! That’s embarrassing for RFS 😳 It’s very funny and a clever ruse by SeatSpy but seriously I don’t understand why BA just doesn’t have the same search functionality on its own website? Then neither RFS nor SeatSpy would need to exist.

    • AJA says:

      Just realised I typed RFS, I meant RFF 😅 I’d like to blame autocorrect but I don’t think I can.

  • Tom H says:

    When did Douglas take over RFF? I thought It was Andrew’s?

  • Oonagh Cacioppo says:

    Is RFF getting real time information now, or not?

  • Ross Parker says:

    This type of thing is called a “Mountweasel” and has a very interesting history in mapping and in dictionary/encyclopaedia publishing. Also similar to the “canary trap”. Fascinating stuff.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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