Lufthansa award availability is worse than ever before

I’ve received several emails from readers over the past couple of days commenting about how bad Lufthansa first class award availability is, especially when booking 10+ months out.

Historically Lufthansa has hands down been the most generous airline in the world when it comes to releasing saver first class award space. Back in the good old days they had 16 seats in the first class cabin on 747s, and it wasn’t unusual to see eight or more award seats on many flights. At the very least they released two award seats per flight, and that’s if they were feeling stingy. This is exactly why United instituted Starnet blocking back in the day, because it was costing them far too much to pay Lufthansa for all those first class seats Mileage Plus members were taking up.

Then back in April they started only selling eight first class seats on the 747, given that they’re slowly reconfiguring their 747s with a new first class product, and in the process taking out half of the seats. In the meantime they’re blocking every other first class seat, making for some of the most expensive seat blocking of any airline.

Ever since they reduced the number of first class seats on the 747, availability across the board has gotten worse. Much worse. At first it wasn’t too bad, and they just made it near impossible to get first class award space on some 747 routes, like Los Angeles to Frankfurt. Then they started making it near impossible to get first class award seats on the A340-600 routes between Los Angeles/San Francisco and Munich.

And now they’ve just about completely eliminated first class award space 10+ months out. There’s no doubt that airlines don’t all release award seats as soon as the schedule opens up, though historically there were some routes that were gold mines when it comes to award availability, like Detroit to Frankfurt, Charlotte to Munich, etc.

For example, up until last month I saw two first class award seats on Charlotte to Munich for just about every single flight when the schedule opened. Now I just had a quick look at award space from Charlotte to Munich, and there’s not a single day with availability for all of next October. And I checked the actual availability, and not a single first class seat is sold.

Let me take it a step further — I don’t see a single first class award seat on any Lufthansa flight after September 1 of next year. Not a single seat (though admittedly I haven’t searched every date on every route, so there might be some counter examples, which I’d love to hear about).

So anyway, I’m just mentioning this because it’s a radical change in inventory management at Lufthansa. I have several clients that come to me year after year to book their European vacations 11 months out with tons of flexibility that have started to love Lufthansa. It’s sure hard to all of a sudden say “well, despite having over a month of flexibility and planning 11 months out, there’s not a single seat available.”

Though it kind of makes me wonder if they’re considering eliminating first class on many routes as opposed to just changing their approach towards award tickets.

Feel free to share your frustrations below. 😉

Comments

  1. I have no sympathy. Those seats should me made available to people who actually fly, real Lufthansa Groupe customers and real Star Alliance business customers, not the likes of of those who earned miles though credit card bonuses and churned them.

    Looking at M&M, there are still opens.

    Bravo LH.

  2. It is bad everywhere I look as well for family and friends. They should have kept 8 old seats and made 4 F suites for the “real customers” instead. Less expensive and more seats overall. Very bad policy IMO.
    EF shows 4 F seats open for tomorrow from FRA to the US several destinations and I can’t get 1-2 award seats released? give me a break!

  3. Actually have had no problems. Have booked award F for May, July and Late September (though these bookings were made 2-4 week ago . 2 out of the 3 though go through DUS as FRA and MUC had not availability. It only makes sense than when 1/2 the inventory has been reduced that they’re not going to give away those seats.

    But agree with Mike, the premium seats should be prioritized for paying customers and/or loyal Miles & More participants.

  4. Could LH be considering doing what AF has done, making elite M&M status a requirement to be able to book F award seats?

  5. Bad policy? I think Lufthansa is doing the prudent business decision. As much as I love free miles, we don’t provide that much incremental business for them. We are like Groupon customers. Jumping from one deal to another…with little to no loyalty (for international airlines…domestic carriers are a different story). So I just think the airlines have gotten wind of the travel hackers so they are reining it in. Their true loyal customers will keep on paying the fares and enjoying their product.

  6. @Mike — so it’s fine if I’m using my miles earned through the US Grand Slam and the 100% purchase mile bonus?? Just want to make sure it’s ok to burn those on Star Alliance metal since it wasn’t through a credit card. Just not a bright post at all…IMHO, burn them no matter how you earned them. 🙂 I take it you have absolutely no mileage or point earning credit cards that you use…because that would be hypocritical on your part. 🙂

    Lucky–even close-in LH F award availability has disappeared. At one point, I found SEA/MCO-FRA LH F for Dec, but US couldn’t find the open seats at all.

  7. @ BuckeyeNation — In fairness, keep in mind that US Airways engages in Starnet blocking whereby they block all Lufthansa transatlantic first class award space.

  8. Exactly what I found last week, not a single first class ticket was available in several routes. It seems a potential devaluation is on its way.

  9. Lucky–yeah, figured there was some Starnet blocking going on.

    Question for you, though: When booking awards through US, do you find any consistency when seats show on the Aeroplan vs ANA tools? Sometimes the award availability will show the same, but generally much different for me. I ask this, because on my last call to US, I found LX F and C seats open on a route, but the US rep couldn’t see them and then told me they use the Aeroplan site to find partner award availability…that site didn’t show the same award seats open.

  10. Checked half of July DEL-FRA and nothing in F. Didn’t LH restrict availability significantly when they first rolled out the new F and then ease up slowly? I hope this is a repeat…

    This would not be a problem if LH had a decent C product – but they don’t.

  11. Seems like a glitch – hopefully. Even routes Asia Frankfurt which usually have several F seats open every day show none at all anymore. Let’s hope they have not given up on F availability for Star Partners…

  12. I was able to book four LH F seats today for clients (two from ORD-FRA and two from FRA-EWR) but I do agree that we have seen a massive reduction in “O” award inventory. Hopefully this is just temporary. But I doubt it.

    LH is cutting the ability to book into F on Star Alliance RTW tickets, so it would not surprise me to see most F awards seats vanish as well.

  13. @Mike and LF,

    The problem is that this sort of behaviour (reserving seats for your own members rather than alliance partners) defeats the point of the alliance from a customer point of view. It means that the airlines are no longer operating in a cooperative manner and it indicates that one airline thinks they are more important/better than others. it is exactly the same problem we currently have with SQ and it would be a great disappointment to see LH go down that path.

  14. There’s 8 business class seats available for redemption on LH401 A380 JFK-FRA for many days in Oct 2012

    Also 8 seats on IAD-FRA on 28/10

    Looking for 6 pax this time, plenty of space on BOS-MUC, esp Mon-Wed

    Availability doesn’t seem to have dried up…

  15. Slowly A380 F inventory is beginning to show up on the Starnet availability, so LH will release inventory sooner or later. The major reason you don’t see F availability on the 744 routes is that the algorithm behind the RM programme is responding a bit weird due to capacity availability changing. Plus C cabins are booked nicely (so far) so RM budgets some F seats for overflows from C. Once the recession hits the RM algorithms availabilty will change too.

  16. You may not agree with me and perhaps even hate what I have to write, but I am very happy about these restrictions.

    Why? I am a legitimate SEN, in the US you’d say butt in seat SEN!

    I just flew 2x LX F and 1x LH F (A380) in the last two weeks and I have to say that the LH flight was ridiculous, maximisers everywhere.

    I myself flew them on miles and vouchers, but on LX, were there was more restrictive award issues in the last months, you could clearly tell there were no US Airways guys hanging around.

    I have nothing against buying, earning or elsewise getting miles for F redemption, but when I hear you can get miles of 2 USD cents a mile with bonuses threwn at you, then I am happy these awards are restricted.

    My policy is that F cabin seats should be restricted, not 100% but quite, to own higher elites. Because as much as I might be against a LH F seat taken because of a cheap US Airways bonus promotion, I have nothing to argue if a high level Preferred Divididens member gets the same seat.

    In the end the game of “buying” miles for less that 2’000 Euro and “getting” a near 10’000 Euro ticket makes not sense whatsoever!

  17. I remember when UA upgraded business and first a few years ago. UA flyers loved the idea, until we realized the upgrades were at the expense of award availabilty… due to the reduction in seats.

  18. Where do you look up how many award seats are available? I use a combination of Continental, Aeroplan, and ANA websites to look up LH award availability but they don’t list the number of seats. I also have an ExpertFlyer account, but it doesn’t have info on LH award space. I usually book tickets for myself so this isn’t an issue, but I’m trying to book a trip for two and it would be handy to be able to know how many award seats are available.

  19. @ BuckeyeNation — A lot of airlines seem to have display issues with Swiss award space. Generally speaking ANA will show a bit more award space on Swiss than Aeroplan will. Through Aeroplan you can usually get a direct sell of Swiss first class award space which would open it up. That being said, US Airways also seems to block Swiss first class a good bit, though it’s tougher to get a direct sell on Swiss space through them.

    @ BuckeyeNation — You booked that for next September or October? I see some space in the meantime, but nothing that far out.

    @ Roland — My post is referring specifically to first class award space.

    @ Matrix — So you’re suggesting that your Lufthansa A380 flight had US Airways “freeloaders” in first class? I can’t imagine that’s the case, since Lufthansa rarely releases first class A380 award space to Starnet. So they might be maximizers, but chances are that they actually *paid* for the seats.

    @ PapaSmurf — I use the same. You can search for one award seat and see if they space. If they have space, you can change the number of passengers to two (or more).

  20. @ Lucky — actually have been trying for an outbound for this Dec to Europe. I have a LX F return on hold right now, which the US reps have had no problem seeing, but anything outbound US-FRA/ZRH/MUC/DUS that I have found they can’t see. I’ve been using ANA tool. Leaving out of ORD was my goal, but for the holidays, I’d fly out of any airport I can find a good award seat on. It just got a little frustrating on three separate occasions finding outbound F seats on LH and LX and the US reps not seeing the same.

  21. @ BuckeyeNation — That’s because US Airways blocks ALL transatlantic Lufthansa first class award space. Swiss doesn’t release any award space to the US either, except within 1-2 weeks of departure (at most, if at all). The only North America route on which they’ll release first class space in advance is Montreal to Zurich.

  22. @ Lucky — ZRH-YUL is my LX F hold right now. 🙂 LOL. I’m at that point where I’d almost have to book a C seat outbound and keep the F return–just hating using F mileage for only half of the trip.

  23. This is really bad news as I was hoping to book Lufthansa First using UAL miles from LAX to BOM, connecting in Frankfurt, as that is the best routing.

    Asiana doesn’t seem to have a direct connection from Seoul to Mumbai, so we may have to see how many additional AA miles I’d use up booking two separate segments on Cathay Pacific, LAX to Hong Kong, connecting to Hong Kong to Mumbai. Would really like a better onboard first class experience than the AA flight to New Delhi, connecting to Kingfisher (which is in trouble) to BOM.

  24. I always need to travel long haul end of Jul/beginning of Aug. Last year I bagged LX F ZRH-LAX, booking 9 months out. This year the only thing I could find was FRA-DFW (redeemed online through CO) and then an add-on to my final destination. DFW is definitely a low profile destination. They just had an EQV from 343 to 333….. i hope they don’t do a 2-class change on me!
    Last year was much better…. This year the only thing I think LH is offering is IAD and a little CLT…. I can check through MM and can see you are lucky even to get C to anywhere!
    There is definitely a change!

  25. @lucky: SIN-FRA is new on the A380, so rebookings from the 747 or 340 service is very likely. Besides, when I see people in normal clothes acting all amused and taking tons of pictures I don’t really think they are 10’000+ Euro paying passengers.

    Not that I consider myself special, but I can recognize “miles” by a long distance.

    My former post was hence a bit aristocratic, but I am DEFINITELY very happy that First class is being heavily restricted. My suggestion has always been to keep F for loyal customers and open up C and Y for all others.

    This whole idea of “collaboration” and “partnership” is crap and we all know that getting *A Gold with Agean just to get baggage allowance on LH or LX is simply not the point of this whole alliance thing!

  26. BRB, gonna go find some flights that Matrix and Mike are on and book them. Oh, and I need to charge my camera battery too.

    Personally, disgusted by their holier than thou attitude.

  27. I’m tired of ignorant people who continue to believe that award tickets are free. They are neither free to the flyer nor to the operating airline. The flyer has “earned” or purchased those miles and the operating airline gets paid for that seat by whomever the ticketing airline is. Rather than go into a lesson in IATA ticketing and accounting rules here, I simply refer anyone who wishes to Google the same. The information is out there… And any airline prefers to get paid the lower (but still substantial) intra-airline fare than fly with empty seats. That is the whole point of revenue management and having multiple fares in the same cabin and managing said fares as you get closer to the flight date.

    There is an amazing display of both elitism and ignorance in this thread. If LH believes that they can sell every F seat at the full F fare, then good for them and by all means they should eliminate lower fares and awards. But to continue to think that airlines somehow are martyrs who offer “free” seats at the cost of having otherwise been able to sell them for millions upon millions, that’s just obnoxious.

  28. @A.S. M&M Awards are fully open, so its not a case of LH elitism.

    Lufthansa is simply giving preference to its own elites and frankly I can fully understand that.

    Why I must battle with other partner programs to get a seat or two with my hard earned miles is something that defies logic, at least when we are talking about the home carrier.

    If it is elitistic and arrogant to block access to premium EU carriers with cheap US miles then I think some ought to check the definition of the abovementioned words.

    Btw, when you have F lounges full with awards you dilute the product, because let’s not forget that F is made for revenue passenger shelling out a sometimes massive amount of cash, so a boatload of miles passengers, be they well educated or not doesn’t matter, is not what you’d call exclusive!

    Finally, if LH might choose to restrict F for only SEN/HON and on the other side TG for instance blocks access to others, then so be it.

  29. “Why I must battle with other partner programs to get a seat or two with my hard earned miles is something that defies logic, at least when we are talking about the home carrier.”

    Ah, but you don’t. Or doesn’t Lufthansa have a “we will let you burn extra miles and get extra access to inventory, and this is only available to our own elites” tier?

  30. @Matrix

    I’ve flown about 70k this year in paid 3/4 class F this year and always have my camera out for the trip report and my FlyerTalk tag on my bag. Don’t be so quick to judge the people you see in the pointy end of the plane.

  31. Matrix, I also think you’d be surprised how many “butt in seat” SENs and HONs have hefty US Dividend Miles balances from promotions. For one thing, Lufthansa’s award chart sucks. For another thing, Lufthansa’s fuel surcharges blow.

  32. Does this mean there will be more LH F seats available for use with SWU’s?

    @Matrix your attitude is alarmingly elitist. The point of an alliance and a joint venture with anti-trust immunity is to let customers access to both carriers products and services.

    LH has great influence on Star Alliance headquartered at FRA airport. If they don’t want Aegean or bmi (still LH-owned if not for long), they need to take that up with Star Alliance, but don’t blame customers for reading the rules.

  33. I really wonder why everybody is so excited about the LH First Class. In my opinion the seats and the whole line up of the cabin might have been state of the art many years ago. The food is ok, the IFE is a joke, the flight attendants – well…

    @ Matrix: being such an elite person, why don´t you charter your own jet – that IS truly elite!

  34. @ Carl: you are absolutely right. Star Alliance promises all of their customers rewards such as travelling first class on all partner airlines. They should act accordingly!

  35. @choose life: LH new F is top notch, you are referring to the old one.

    @all others: I am not elitist, merely pointing out that from LH’s view, giving away their best product is lame, especially when own elites cannot get award space.

  36. I am not impressed at all.
    I have had Senator-status for more than 5 years now (probably more but cant remember). The last two years I wanted to go on a nice holiday and do it first class but due to work had to postpone. This year it is finally possible, but when I tried to book I realized LH F virtually disappeared! I searched for appropriate flights from April to December thinking I will adjust my travelling plans – to no avail…
    I even checked flying to another country first, and also checked flying to bth Frankfurt and Munich 🙁

  37. @ Dave — Are you searching through Lufthansa’s website? Assuming you’re trying to use Lufthansa miles you should find that availability is much better through them than through their partner programs.

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