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Award Seats for family of 5

Discussion in 'Award Booking Help' started by projectx, Feb 1, 2018.

  1. projectx

    projectx Level 2 Member

    As my point balances grow I'm looking at some overseas trips. But what I'm finding out is that's more difficult than I hoped.

    For example... Trying to get to Ireland, going ORD-DUB on Aer Lingus. But finding 5 business class seats? Sounds like that's not happening. Doing some dummy searches I can see 4 seats, but apparently the most they will release is two, and even in economy 5 seats is going to be tough (or so I'm told). I've also read United will often show a lot of phantom space, so you think you can book a bunch of seats but in reality can only get two.

    So what is a person like me to do? Not only for this type of trip, but for any overseas trips? Is it a destination problem or airline problem? I can't be the only one trying to find 5 premium award seats.
  2. knick1959

    knick1959 Level 2 Member

    Not quite the same thing, but during some trip research it can appear that a mere pair of J seats aren't available on the same flight. We've, so far, lucked out and managed to fly together, but it's been close before.

    I discussed with my wife the possibility of me flying a couple of hours -> day ahead of her. I would land and prepare (rent a car if that was the plan, check into a hotel if not, or just wait if we're talking 4-5-6 hours difference). While not ideal, she is ok with this if we ever have to apply it.

    Can you split up into 2 + 3 and fly different but close flights?
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
  3. SanDiego1K

    SanDiego1K Level 2 Member

    This is what I would suggest. An alternative is to grab however many biz seats you can and get the rest in coach. One adult has to be in each cabin. Then on the return, if you again fly in separate cabins, you switch whoever gets to sit up front.
  4. projectx

    projectx Level 2 Member

    I've considered splitting on different flights. ORD-DUB has a 9:00pm flight on Aer Lingus and an 8:00pm flight on United, almost daily. That would be fine. But if finding even three seats is difficult then we're out of luck.

    Really though... just trying to figure out what airline is best for good availability in J... to go anywhere overseas.

    I've only been in this game a few years and with very young kids our trips have been domestic, or to Mexico. Southwest makes it so easy, even during peak seasons. Why can't all the airlines do that?!
  5. SanDiego1K

    SanDiego1K Level 2 Member

    With respect, Southwest only has coach seating and is a North American carrier. Further, it has monetized all of its awards. If the seat costs more money, it costs more points. It's apples to oranges.

    A friend always flies in business, usually requiring four seats. He has minimal flexibility in the days he travels due to school holidays. He redeems anytime awards. Most of us would be horrified to use so many points but he is points rich and is content to do this.
  6. NEPIC

    NEPIC Level 2 Member

    In addition to the sound advice above, I'd say it's still possible to find 5 J seats together. But you need to target specific airlines (sometimes with their own miles), and those may or may not be going anywhere you want, and may have significant surcharges.

    Some of the carriers that I have run into high quantity business class space are:
    1) Etihad
    e.g. AUH-MEL Feb 15: 5 Seats

    2) Korean - using Skypass miles only
    e.g. JFK-ICN Nov 18: 9 Seats

    3) Air France - using Flying Blue miles only
    e.g. ORD-AMS-DUB July 24: 5+ Seats

    4) Delta!!!! (though a little rarer)
    e.g. JFK-DUB July 30: 5 Seats

    5) BA
    e.g ORD-LHR Nov 20: 6+ Seats

    Unfortunately, I have not run into Aer Lingus gold mines. But I will say it's possible. You may just need to plan way out, and have enough points flexibility to take advantage of for example, Air Frances improved inventory for their own members.
  7. projectx

    projectx Level 2 Member

    Yeah, I get all that.

    What bothers me is an airline only having one or two seats available. It's extremely frustrating as a family trying to find a way to use miles. I know, I'm not exactly "earning" miles but what I see is what anyone else will see.

    What airlines would give us a decent shot at 5 seats in J? I don't want to start stockpiling miles in a program only to find I can't use them. Or do we need to just settle for Economy... or is even that too much to ask? I plan on applying for the United card this summer to help with our Summer 2019 trip to Costa Rica (economy award) but not if it's going to be fruitless.

    I have no problem booking a year in advance if necessary.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
  8. knick1959

    knick1959 Level 2 Member

    Wait! You know Southwest flies to Costa Rica, right? :)

    Per your SW comments. I've been mostly a SW captive for the last year continuing through the end of this year. This having never flown them before but having acquired their CP just before the Marriott point transfers stopped counting. I've now had my experience with them and many other carriers. I just have to say that, as a CLE based flyer where SW can be pretty inconvenient, I won't fly SW unless I have a CP to make the trouble worth it. I'm not really liking it. But that's just my opinion.

    Flew to Belize on SW in Jan and it was OK. I made my own ($$$) stopovers in FL in both directions which made it bearable. CLE to BZE and back nets out as 10 hours on average done on one ticket. It's about 5 hours of actual flying. But if you are in or near a SW convenient city, that might good for you going to Costa Rica.
  9. SanDiego1K

    SanDiego1K Level 2 Member

    I'd play around with NEPIC's suggestion of Korean Air award, using their currency. I know they are particularly generous in releasing award seats to their own members. You can move Ultimate Rewards into Korean Air. I looked at a totally random date in June, returning in July. Outbound was 92.5K and return was 62.5K, so a total of 185K plus $229.60. That's over 900K points and over $1000 for one trip to Asia.

    I think there are some bloggers with families who face the same issue as you. If you can identify them, it might be worth scanning some of their past posts.
  10. projectx

    projectx Level 2 Member

    I looked into that for the Ireland trip... 80k miles RT but it was over $1,000 in fuel charges PER TICKET. Ouch.

    PWaC is the most notable family blogger I know of, although I really haven't seen anything that involves a long flight with the whole family. I mean that would be 8 tickets!

    Lol... yes. Their routings and schedules from my area are terrible to Costa Rica so I'm trying to avoid that if I can. Otherwise Southwest has been my bread and butter for the last few years.
  11. NEPIC

    NEPIC Level 2 Member

    I've thought about this a little but more and have another couple of options worth keeping in mind:

    1) Iberia. I have never seriously looked at Iberia's program (IB avios), but if you don't mind checking day-by-day, you can find gems like this:
    ORD-MAD Sept 16: 5 Seats for 170k Avios + ~$500 (yeah, 34k pp - guess I need to look into this more closely!).

    I can't verify that these seats are not available via BA avios right now (they are definitely not available via avios.com and AA etc.) because BA's site is just not working, but I believe IB provides more space to its own members with IB avios.

    Update: it does seem that BA has access to the same seats as IB. But with their crazy surcharges.

    2) Virgin Atlantic. It sucks you'll now pay more through DL than DL metal, and that you'll fork out a lot of cash if booked through VS, but between ATL and NYC there are 6 flights into LHR with at least 5 seats available for the week of Nov 12.

    That is actually better than I was thinking and I just picked two random weeks I thought are roughly low season. :)
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2018
  12. ZipZapKaZoom

    ZipZapKaZoom Level 2 Member

    Picking up the phone and calling the airline reward reservation numbers can be useful. The right agent may know a few tricks.

    For example; ANA only releases two J seats on each flight, but I called in their award reservation center and they found me three seats using their One World award partner airlines flying J from IAD to TKO on Air Canada and then on ANA to HKG returning via Air China for 95K/person.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2018
  13. milesfortravel

    milesfortravel Level 2 Member

    I try to watch for "sweet spots" in award charts to get us where we need to go as a family of 4 and try to maintain 2 Southwest companion passes in order to make it easy to position for wherever we need to catch our international flights. Sweet spots are, of course, pretty fluid, so I find it's best to have flexible currencies (UR and MR especially since they are both so easy to earn in huge quantities).

    Regarding your search with Aer Lingus--it's been a while, but we transferred MR to Avios and booked 4 economy tickets on Aer Lingus BOS-DUB in summer 2014 for my immediate family and 3 tickets on a different flight for in-laws. We also booked 4 biz tickets BOS-DUB summer 2015 with Avios back when it was only 25k Avios per person in biz. On the return in 2015 we wanted to fly home from Shannon and had to fly economy in 2 sets of 2 on consecutive days. Back then I found lots of days that had 4 seats in economy out of DUB, but I think the 4 seats in J were very unusual. Maybe availability has become more limited now? I used ExpertFlyer and set up an alert to find those tickets.

    We flew to Bali on Cathay Pacific and mixed up F and J tickets in order to get us all on the same flights (booked with AA miles then, but still possible to book at a good rate through Alaska miles now). Cathay Pacific seems to have great availability in J a year out.

    We have always had good luck getting coach seats on United for our family of 4 for overseas travel (very convenient since we're based in Denver) but coach tickets to Europe have been so cheap lately that now we just buy them with our Amex Biz Platinum cards (used to be 50% points back on chosen airline, now it's 35%). MR are so easy to earn and 35% points back on chosen airline and on business class flights is great, because you just have to wait for a sale and then you can get tickets for your whole family. For instance, we have upcoming J travel for our family of 4 to the Cook Islands that came out to 100k RT per person (with no additional taxes or fees.) We'll touch down in the Cook Islands and continue in economy for the 4-hr hop to New Zealand on the same Air New Zealand flight using cheap Singapore Airlines award tickets for the last segment. Our economy trip last year to France only cost 18k miles RT per person with the 50% points back benefit (without any add'l taxes or fees, which I love, since these really add up when buying multiple tickets!) I subscribe to the twitter feed on SecretFlying.com to watch for good deals, but you also look on the premium fare deals on flyertalk.

    We also used MR to get our family of 4 to Japan on ANA F this summer while there was a 30% transfer bonus from MR to Virgin Atlantic. It only cost 85k miles w the bonus for each RT 1st class ticket from LAX-NRT using Virgin Atlantic miles. We did have to split into groups of 2, although the flights are only 1 hour apart on the same routing. After a week in Japan, we are using United miles to fly on partner airlines to Australia for only 40k pp for business class (miles required has since increased, sigh, but the ANA deal is still available and I'm sure there will be another transfer bonus. ANA has flights with both F and J, so that is a way to get everyone together or at least get everyone there in 2 groups.)

    One final thought is that if you subscribe to blogs, lots of times they'll post when there is unusually good reward availability to a destination. If you are flexible with dates and destinations, have a lot of flexible currency miles, and you're willing to jump on something quickly, you can absolutely book international award travel in J for a family of 5.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2018
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  14. italdesign

    italdesign Level 2 Member

    Sorry projectx, as a solo traveler, I can tell you it's hard to find one good award seat across the ocean. I usually don't have to look too hard because I've got miles in a zillion different programs, but I also settle for 4-5 segment itineraries (no stopover) all the time. I agree with whoever mentioned Anytime awards. That's certainly what airlines want you to do, and they make it pretty restrictive so you don't have much choice.
  15. projectx

    projectx Level 2 Member

    That's what I'm thinking of doing. If there is one common thread I've noticed, is that all signs point back to Alaska and United miles. Not a guarantee by any means, but seems to be the best chance. For example I was poking around the other day and found 5 seats ORD-SYD in July. Granted that's considered "winter" but really I'd just want to spend a couple days in Sydney before heading north to the Great Barrier Reef.

    I see a lot of Alaska CC churning in my future.
  16. milesfortravel

    milesfortravel Level 2 Member

    Yes, I agree these are great programs for buying multiple tickets. My top advice would be to make sure you have flexible currencies too. For instance, once you get to Australia you’ll want to fly up to Cairns if you want to go to the Great Barrier Reef. We used Etihad miles (as you probably know, can be earned through Amex MR, SPG or Citi TYP) for Virgin Australia flights for that domestic hop up to Cairns for our upcoming July trip. I love being able to transfer into multiple programs to take advantage of those sweet spots!
  17. bayguy

    bayguy Level 2 Member

    I have a family of 4 and been lucky last 5 years on finding business class seats to Europe(Iberia using AA), Australia(United), South Africa(Cathay using AA/US Airways), South America(LAN using AA miles), India/Dubai(Etihad using AA). The trick is booking when seats are opened at 330 days or first opportunity.

    We decide where to travel for next year(only summer due to schools) and then see which programs are most suitable. We are incredibly lucky so far.

    All the best.

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