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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 (61)

  • Charlie T. says:

    RFF subscription cancelled within 5 mins of reading this.

  • Nick says:

    BA DOES actually put reward availability into standard fare classes (and sub-classes) in Amadeus – that’s how it’s used in their own systems. They just restrict third parties seeing it in the GDS – there’s essentially no point allowing travel agents to view it, as they can’t book it anyway.

    • Sam says:

      You can search for these sub classes on GDS’s with specific search terms if you know what sub classes are used – as you say they are not shown on any GDS in a typical search but you can force through a search and Flyertalk normally reveals what subclass (i.e. it used be G for Y – although not any more, U for WTP I think etc). The issue was these fare buckets can be shared for many usage – ie staff tickets, ID75 etc – so you may see 8 U class seats despite only 2 or 4 being used for Avios availability.

      tl:dr – it is visible in GDS to anyone with reasonable knowledge but Seatspy is easier and better which is why I pay for it despite GDS access!

      • Justin says:

        Is there even such thing as an ID75 anymore?

        • Sam says:

          Only in so much as ‘is there long haul flying anymore’? They do exist, but pointless for short haul, and although I could apply for one from BA, I don’t. Better public fares or industry netts & segment fares exist from other carriers (or did, hardly a priority at the moment for carriers). I’m not sure about for BA staff / ex-staff.

  • r* says:

    Why do BA not present avios availability in a usable way (or at least a month at a time rather than having to select day by day on the website) like seatspy rather than forcing the use of third party sites anyway?

    • JDB says:

      You can do this in the iOS Exec Club app (not the ordinary BA app). It shows month by month, but you can only see one class at a time. Also if you are on the website and it says no availability on your date, you can then see a full calendar.

    • Martin says:

      They do, you can select yearly overview when searching for Avios flights on ba.com

  • John says:

    I just signed up to Seatspy, ahead of last weekends First Class founder offer ending, to give it a go. Am currently in the 14 days free that is finishing in couple of days. But will stay with Seatspy after reading this. Getting alerts for the exact dates updated hourly and now confirmed a day ahead of RFF is exactly what’s needed. Although ideally this should be provided by the airlines themselves.

  • BP says:

    Well played SeatSpy! Very clever.

  • Publius says:

    I’ve kept up my subscription to RFF over covid as I wanted to support Tim and the site.
    Hearing he sold the site and this scraping news I’m now cancelling my subscription.

  • Nicke says:

    Not surprised. After I asked, RFF support department sent me a message admitting the gold member search does not work and offered to refund me the last few months of subscription 🙁 not using them again.

  • Andy P says:

    RFF subscription cancelled. What clowns.

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