Finding a Better Award Seat: It Pays to Keep Checking

I'm off to Europe this September for a couple weeks. I'll post the full details of the trip later, but I just finished booking a significantly better award ticket than the one I had before, and I thought it was worth a post. My girlfriend and I are actually flying to and from Europe on paid tickets, but I wanted to use my miles to get my parents a great premium cabin experience. They'll be flying into Zurich and leaving from Prague. I first started the search for award tickets a few months ago, and I found two outbound tickets right away. I was really hoping to find availability in either First or Business on the coveted nonstop LAX-ZRH Swiss flight, but I wasn't able to find any. There was availability, however, on the United LAX-BOS flight in First Class and on the BOS-ZRH Swiss flight in Business Class.

This seemed like a pretty good option to me. They would get breakfast on their first flight, and then in Boston they would have plenty of time to make their connection. It appears that the BOS-ZRH flight has the new Swiss lie-flat Business cabin too. I went ahead and booked two one-way award seats (FYI the fees were higher than in the "receipt" above, not sure why it only says $5/ticket).

The return flight was a bigger pain in the neck. I could not find a single itinerary that had them booked in a premium cabin all the way back to Los Angeles. In fact, the best I could find was PRG-DUS-EWR-LAX, with only the Lufthansa DUS-EWR leg being in First Class, and the rest being in Economy. Not having any other options, I went ahead and booked that. My parents would at least get to experience Lufthansa First Class (which I still have never been in), but I was bummed that after that nice long first class flight over the ocean, they would then have to spend the last six hours of their trip in a Continental Economy cabin. It also stung to have to drop 67,500 points per ticket, when they were only getting one of three legs in First Class.

However, I kept checking every so often. About three weeks ago, I saw on Continental's site that there was availability on the LHR-LAX non-stop in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - SCORE! I'm guessing that this Virgin Atlantic partnership will go away pretty quickly, once the merger is fully complete. I scrambled to transfer the miles from my UA account to my CO account, and lo and behold, by the time I actually tried to book the darn thing, the ticket was gone. I was really surprised. I called CO, and they confirmed that the availability was gone as well. What a tease...

I decided to check availability again today, and I saw that the Virgin Atlantic flight was showing two seats in Upper Class as available. In fact, I could get the entire itinerary as a Business award with a PRG-FRA-LHR-LAX routing (PRG-FRA-LHR on Lufthansa). Furthermore, I would get 17,500 miles per ticket back, after I canceled the old one, as this new ticket would book as a Business Class saver, rather than a First Class saver. Also, this new itinerary left Prague a half hour later and got into LAX a half hour earlier. Another win! I scrambled to book it, and this time I got it! I just canceled the old itinerary, and now my parents will be much happier with their new routing and I am happier now that my Mileage Plus account is 35,000 miles richer!

Moral of the story: If you have travel that is pretty far out and you're a 1K (or similar status with another program), by all means book a ticket if you find an itinerary that you're not in love with. At least you'll be able to complete the travel. But as time goes on, do yourself a favor and check availability every week or so - you'll be surprised at what might open up!


UA-NYC July 7, 2011 at 04:21 am

Flying back from Europe tomorrow, originally booked 2 LH F seats via FRA (to JFK), but really wanted to try LX F. None available at booking (4 months out), but lo and behond 2 days out they opened up. LX in particular seems to open up at the very last minute (was F7 at the time, now F4 and still 2 seats available for F award tix). So moral is, book the best available itin and wait for better ones to open up (helps to be a 1K and get free changes!)

Nice award.

How much were the taxes on the Virgin return?

Kevin July 7, 2011 at 05:41 pm

@UA-NYC, I agree! @Matthew, $220 for the one-way PRG-FRA-LHR-LAX ticket. Actually, that was for two tickets - $110/ticket. The old ticket was $68/ticket in fees, so this is an increase.

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