There’s no doubt that award tickets are tougher than ever to come by, so I figured I’d throw up a quick reminder that award space is now starting to open up for travel next summer. US airlines generally release award space around 330-335 days out, so as of now you can book award travel through mid/late June of next year. And based on looking at availability over the past couple of weeks, you’re definitely going to want to jump on these seats sooner rather than later.
I figured I’d share a few tips to hopefully make the process a bit easier:
Does award space open up at midnight 330-335 days out?
There’s a good portion of the population that seems absolutely convinced that if they want to snag an award seat they’ll have to be on the phone at midnight the night that award space opens up. If they call and don’t get award space on that particular flight, the assumption is that someone beat them to it. This is in almost all cases a myth.
Many airlines don’t release award space when the schedule opens. Many airlines release space 10 months. Many nine months out. Many not at all on a particular flight. There’s simply not a consistent allocation of seats for a particular flight. Keep in mind generally airlines only want to release award seats on flights they don’t project they’ll be able to fill up, so don’t expect that Qantas will necessarily have a first class award seat on a January 2 flight from Sydney to Los Angeles when the award window opens.
But there is also some truth to the “myth.” American, for example, releases award space 331 days out. That means you can’t book travel on any of their partner airlines using AAdvantage miles more than 331 days out, and similarly partner airlines can’t book travel on American more than 331 days out.
However, many of American’s partners do release award space more than 331 days out, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, etc. For example, I’m using the British Airways website to look at Cathay Pacific award availability for next June. Cathay Pacific has already released business class award space for June 25 from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. That means if you’re using a mileage currency other than AAdvantage miles you can already book that space, while American’s award calendar is only open through June 19 as of now, so it’s another six days till you can book that space.
It is safe to assume that the minute American’s award calendar opens up for June 25, they’ll have access to that award space, since it’s already being released to partners. However, it’s not safe to assume American will release award space on any flight right when the schedule opens, or that Cathay Pacific will release more space when American opens their calendar, for example. Hopefully that makes sense.
Using ExpertFlyer alerts to your advantage
Continuing with the above, award space often doesn’t open up right when the window opens, so ExpertFlyer is one of the best ways to track when that space does open up. ExpertFlyer lets you set award availability alerts for many airlines, including most Star Alliance carriers, so that’s a great way to track when award space opens up.
For example, say you’re eying business class award space on Lufthansa from Los Angeles to Frankfurt on June 15 next year. Lufthansa hasn’t made any awards available to their partner airlines despite the schedule being open, so if you’re an ExpertFlyer member you can set an alert for a specific flight and specific fare class. That way if the award availability opens up on that flight you’ll be emailed/texted right away.
You can always lock in the outbound now and return later
I’m often asked whether it’s possible (or makes sense) to book an outbound when the schedule opens and then later add the return when the schedule opens. After all, if you’re planning a two week trip in summer, your outbound award availability will open up two weeks before your return availability, and if you wait till the return window opens up there’s a chance you may lose the outbound award space in the process.
So what should you do? The way I look at it, there are three options. The first option is to just wait till the return space opens up, which in most cases should be fine since you shouldn’t have trouble locking in award space 10+ months out.
The second option is to do everything you can to “preserve” the space without booking it. For example, American allows five day holds, Delta allows two day holds, and US Airways allows three day holds. I suppose you could try to keep holding the award space till your return window opens up, though this is risky, because award space doesn’t always go back into “inventory.”
And the third option is what I recommend if you see an option you really like or aren’t flexible with dates. Just lock in the outbound and book the return when the schedule opens up. This works great for airlines like American, where there’s no difference whether you book a ticket one way or roundtrip. For airlines like Delta and US Airways that charge the same for a one-way as they do for a roundtrip, you can book a one-way and then later add the return by paying the $150 change fee. While you don’t want to spend more money than you have to, at the same time $150 is a small price to pay for a premium cabin ticket to an exotic destination in summer, in my opinion.
With United you could go either way. Either you could book the two tickets as one-ways given that United charges half the cost of a roundtrip for a one-way. Alternatively you could pay the change fee when the return space opens up if you’d like it all on one ticket, because that way you’ll still be allowed to have a stopover.
General award availability forecast for next summer
I’ll keep this brief, but basically as of now award availability for next summer looks awesome for everywhere except Europe.
To Asia, Cathay Pacific continues to be ridiculously generous, releasing two first class award seats per flight out of San Francisco, and one to two first class award seats per flight in their other markets.
To Australia, Virgin Australia continues to release a ridiculous amount of award space in business class, often four to six seats per flight.
To South America, American and LAN are both looking pretty good for next summer.
But Europe is looking bad. Really bad. Star Alliance and OneWorld award space is as bad as I’ve ever seen it before. The good news as of now is that Air France is releasing a good amount of award space, and Delta isn’t blocking it. Keep in mind that late last year Delta stopped having access (or started blocking, depending on how you want to look at it) to most Air France award space, and for months at a time they just didn’t have access to any space. So for the entire year it has been impossible to use Delta SkyMiles for travel to Europe on Air France over summer.
As of now Delta still has access to Air France award space for next summer, and it’s anyone’s guess if/when that space will be blocked. So that’s a great use of Delta SkyMiles if you can lock in space now. Award availability isn’t great from the west coast, though from the east coast and non-hub airports it’s looking quite good. And fortunately Air France does have quite a few gateways in North America, so in many cases it’s possible to book these without a connecting flight (which is a good thing, since Delta domestic saver award availability is nearly impossible to come by).
Anyway, just some general thoughts, and if anyone has any questions let me know and I’ll do what I can to help!