When Waiting For Space To Open Up Doesn’t Work

I’m generally a pretty risk averse person, but when it comes to travel I’m not afraid of a bit of uncertainty.

I’ve booked non-refundable hotel reservations plenty of times without actually having tickets booked to that destination, due to a lack of award space. And similarly I’ve planned non-refundable flights to destinations where I can’t find any reasonable hotel options.

The cool thing about the airline and hotel industry is that they’re selling really perishable goods. Like, really, really perishable. Even if there’s no space whatsoever right now, chances are space will open up at some point, if you’re willing to take a chance and wait. Some peoples’ plans always change, and if you’re able to wait till the very last minute to book, you’ll almost always be in luck.

Taking this approach has never let me down… until today.

Let me ‘splain.

I’ve spent the past week in Sicily, and actually flew to Sicily without having a return flight booked.

I knew I needed to be back in the US at some point this week, though my plans didn’t firm up until late last week. Last Thursday I realized I needed to be in the US by this Tuesday, so I hopped online to look at award space.

I found a great award option in Airberlin’s new business class through Dusseldorf and Miami, which I was quite looking forward to trying. And at 50,000 American AAdvantage miles one-way without fuel surcharges, it’s a value that’s tough to beat. The routing required an overnight in Dusseldorf, which isn’t surprising since most flights out of Catania have a pretty screwy schedule.

After locking in my flight back to the US on Thursday I looked at hotel availability in Dusseldorf, and saw virtually nothing available. I didn’t think twice of it, and decided to keep monitoring for rooms to open up. After all, some rooms almost always open up as the cancellation deadline approaches.

So I monitored… and monitored… and monitored… and nothing opened up. Like, at all. Seriously, I’ve planned similarly many times in the past, and never had any issues.

How dire was the situation? A standard room at the Best Western was $810USD per night. How is that even a price for a standard room at a Best Western?!

Best-Western-Dusseldorf

So I went to sleep last night hoping I’d have better luck this morning. I got up at 7AM and my flight was scheduled to be shortly before noon.

And still nothing reasonable was available in Dusseldorf.

Nada.

Nor anything in Cologne, nor anywhere else nearby either.

While I’m sure I ultimately would have figured something out, at that point I figured I’d look at other flight options. As it turned out Lufthansa not only had first class award space from Munich to Washington Dulles, but the cabin was completely empty, so I’d be the only passenger booked in first class.

As of early this year Aeroplan allows one-way Star Alliance award bookings, so for 62,500 Aeroplan miles I could fly first class from Catania to Washington Dulles (which is where I needed to fly anyway).

They do impose fuel surcharges for these redemptions, though between the taxes and fuel surcharges they totaled ~$400, compared to the ~$100 in taxes I would otherwise pay. I’d say that’s not too bad, and the fuel surcharges will effectively be reimbursed with my Barclaycard Arrival miles.

Aeroplan-Award-1
Aeroplan-Award-2

I redeposited the American AAdvantage award for free since I’m an Executive Platinum member and transferred points from American Express Membership Rewards to my Aeroplan account, which already had some orphaned miles from the SPG promo last winter.

Ultimately I saved the cost of a hotel (or having to sleep at the airport in Dusseldorf, based on how dire things were looking), and have a private first class cabin from Munich to Washington Dulles with wifi, so I can even be productive while sipping all the champagne my heart desires, which is tough to beat for a Monday.

So while this is the first time that speculatively booking “failed” me, it still all worked out in the end.

Does anyone else speculatively book travel and hope for space to open up? If so, what has been your success rate?

Comments

  1. Did this on a mileage run to STT. It didn’t work, and I happened to be there during a big conference so none of the hotels had any space cheaper than $500. I ended up walking around late at night through what felt like a dangerous area and finally found a park bench to sleep on. Spoiler alert: everything turned out fine.

    Sincerely,
    Homeless In St. Thomas

  2. Often I try and nail down an economy ticket so I have an escape option and look for better options as time approaches. being 1K I can update without cost.

  3. @Lucky, I live 90 mins from DUS in Belgium! If you need a place to stay next time let me know!

  4. Oh man, we missed a chance to start a kickstarter campaign and have it pay for your emergency hotel costs. We wouldn’t want you sleeping at the airport my boy.

  5. Lucky, Dusseldorf hotels are booked and expensive because of a trade fair that’s currently ongoing.

    http://www.interpack.com/

    This is fairly common for Germany, for example, go to Munich/Hannover/Hamburg/Cologne/Dusseldorf etc. when an exhibition is happening and you will pay dearly, sometimes triple or quadruble what the hotel would charge during non-event times.
    You have to go outside of the city, sometimes up to 50-100km to find a decent priced room. Saying this, you *can* sometimes get a single room for a good rate because of people cancelling.

  6. Ben;

    As a newbie with points what food/service can I expect Business Class from ATL to FRA and FRA to DFW?

  7. I was denied an entry into Russia and they put me in the last flight out of Moscow. Landed in Stockholm late at night. All the hotels were fully booked due to some trade fair that was in town.

    Called up my company’s attorney and she goes “sleep on a park bench. You won’t get raped as it’s a very safe town” Yikes! Found “the” last available room in town and paid $585 for a night at this really small dinky room at Best Western. The most expensive hotel stay in my career.

  8. Had this happen to me as well last time I was in DUS. There was a fair going on – but even when conventions go to other towns, I’ve never seen them take up inventory like they do in DUS. I managed to get my first night at a hotel in Erkrath, which was not TOO far away, before I could move to the Hilton the day after the fair ended.

  9. Are you blogging right now from the club or air? How many glasses of champagne so far? Let us know when you’re past your limit so we can start asking personal questions. 😉

    Safe travels!

  10. @ Lufthansa — Keep plying the sole passenger in F on the IAD flight with champagne, (that is until you get to the Champagne de Castelnau.) 😉

  11. Darn, missed getting to say Hi to my favorite blogger… i flew in from AMS around 13:30/14
    Could of met for a pre-caviar Falafel or Döner at Oliva at the airport… or maybe you could have guested me into the FLounge…. 😉

  12. You really have to get an Air BnB account for just these types of situations. Had my 2nd positive experience with them in Florence, Italy 2 weeks ago. Great place, and way cheaper than a hotel in the area.

  13. Lucky: why not see if one of the hotels that you have top tier status with, could get you a room with the guaranteed room availability benefit?

  14. as someone who lived in my car for the first 4 1/2 months of college, i take a different approach to such things, as (obviously) growing up poor, my definition of ‘wasting’ money is different than people who haven’t had to make decisions between gas and eating for a couple days. ergo, a few hours of inconvenience wins out over ‘wasting’ (per my definition) $.

    with an overseas business class flight to follow, i’d have stayed in the airport, maybe gotten a couple of hours of on/off sleep, and then caught up on sleep on the flight.

    i live in hotels full time now, and a few times a year something like this happens. if in a city but ‘homeless’, even if not a guest, i go where i have top status and ask the front desk if they would hold my bags for me for a few hours. in your case, i’d have stayed at the airport. it’s a good reality check to drop a few notches every now and again…

  15. @Avi

    I could be wrong, having never tried to use that perk with chains I am top tier at, but even if he could get the room, it probably would have been extraordinarily expensive… The guarantee is only for a room, but there is no guarantee about what you will pay. Also, depending on the program, you typically have to provide the hotel with 24 hours+ warning to use the benefit.

    Basically its something you would only use if you absolutely HAVE to be somewhere and the entire city is sold out.

  16. @Lucky – Why not try Airbnb next time? I found an Airbnb in Cologne for $75/night last week that was absolutely gorgeous and in a great part of town. Stayed four nights.

    I also looked in Dusseldorf and there was a ton around that price as well, but decided I’d like to see Cologne more. 😉

  17. @ Lucky – everything DID end up working out for you! Hard to complain 🙂

    @ Samuel – out of curiosity, what was the issues with Russia? Have a friend going there in a few weeks.

  18. Lucky, for award space that’s hard to come by (i.e. Business class US-Europe in the spring/summer), would you recommend grabbing outbound space when you see it and working out the return later?

  19. Hello Lucky,

    What do you mean by “very perishable” goods? Do you mean the food, or are you referring to the money they lose by not filling up space, and that chance to make money is lost forever?

  20. @ Regular Reader — The latter. Once a seat goes out empty or hotel room stays empty there’s no chance of any revenue from it.

  21. I would have slept at the airport (if it is an option) if I could even save 1/3 of your extra cost. But first I would have checked Airbnb 😉

  22. @lucky – i thought you booked this through lifemile?? I saw a blog post a few days ago about redeeming Lufthansa first class….

  23. @ Yucci — Correct, I redeemed LifeMiles for my flight to Europe, while I redeemed Aeroplan miles for my flight from Europe.

  24. Ben;
    As a newbie with points what food/service can I expect Business Class from ATL to FRA and FRA to DFW? I am flying Lufthansa and leaving THIS Saturday.

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