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The AA awards you should book ASAP

There have been a couple of good blog posts on the US/AA merger this week: Gary covered the timing of AA migrating all US flights over to AA starting next Saturday, and MJ on Travel gave some good advise on booking paid travel and upgrades. Paid travel isn’t something I really aim for, so here’s what you should know about booking awards now, over the next months and after the US flights are all gone.

US Airways domestic flights

have sort of quietly had the best First class domestic availability of any carrier for booking 9+ months in advance. By far. Their move from the Star Alliance to Oneworld did nothing to change this. I’m not talking about some days or some routes, or every day but Fridays and Sundays (like United), US has been opening 4+ first class seats on nearly every day for within the lower 48 states for years. Of course I’m not suggesting you should regularly book US or any other program’s domestic first class travel at 50K miles roundtrip. But for those of us with no significant partner or international service from our home airport, the hardest flights to get are often the positioning flights we need to get to our business class long-haul flight.  Here’s a look at available dates in May 2016 for four passengers to Miami on US and AA (Miami has some of the best availability on Oneworld international flights), Newark on United and Atlanta on Delta.

SAT-MIA on US Airways. Usually via Charlotte.

SAT-MIA on US Airways. Usually via Charlotte.

SAT-MIA on AA only. Either nonstop or via DFW.

SAT-MIA on AA only. Either nonstop or via DFW. Leave on Friday, or return on Sunday or Monday? That’ll require a train ride to FLL and Southwest positioning flights.

SAT-EWR on United to connect to Star Alliance international flights. Slim pickings, to say the least.

SAT-EWR on United to connect to Star Alliance international flights. Slim pickings, to say the least.

SAT-ATL on Delta. Availability is actually decent in coach right now but unpredictable.

SAT-ATL on Delta. Availability is actually decent in coach right now but unpredictable.

This isn’t a glitch, or something new, it’s just the way US Airways has opened up domestic first class seats for years.

Schedule changes

So maybe they have all of these seats because people don’t actually want to fly US domestic first class. Even without a merger, US Airways liked to change schedules frequently. Now, US Airways flights booked now for winter through next spring and summer are almost certain to have multiple schedule changes, giving you the opportunity to be rebooked on pretty much your choice of AA flights.

Tight connections

The minimum connection time (on US) in Charlotte and Phoenix are 30 and 25 minutes. The tighter the connection, the better the chance of an impossible connection after schedule changes and easy rebooking. When booking months in advance, I look for the tightest connection I can find.

The ‘myth’ of availability at 11 months out

isn’t a myth at all with many airlines. This isn’t much use if you have your eyes set on Europe, but LAN to South America, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines to Asia, and Qatar, Royal Jordanian and Etihad to the Middle East all consistently release seats as the schedule opens. In fact, you only have a 24-48 hour window at 331 days to get seats on most LAN flights from the U.S. to Peru and Chile.

Over the next few months

I expect the US calendar of availability to slowly look more and more like AA. Scroll back up, it ain’t pretty if we want to travel on a single ticket on days other than Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday.

Check your calendars

Any domestic flights you need to book business class award with AA miles through the beginning of next summer are almost certain to get more difficult between next Saturday and October. I’ll quote Jason Steele’s presentation from the Family Travel for Real Life conference: leverage your inflexibility! We booked a June trip to Peru on US Airways and LAN, and will be booking flights within Peru and then back home over the next week and a half. Hopefully we still have US Airways flights to book!

P.S. If anyone has managed to read this far and has experience (good or bad) booking or taking an Amazon tour or trip from Iquitos, Peru, I’d love to hear about it!



{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Toni July 12, 2015, 12:21 am

    So, I did an Amazon tour last year in September and it was honestly the most miserable experience of my life! It was like 103 degrees and a billion percent humidity. Add no electricity, so no fans, not even cold water, there is just no escaping the heat. I was so physically ill the entire time because of the heat, and I grew up in Phoenix so it’s not like heat is something new to me. On one tour I got about ten minutes into the walk and had to just stop and sit down. My group left me there and I just sat for a few hours and waited until they came back! I am an extremely adventurous and active person, too. In fact, I had finished the four day Inca Trail, where we got up to about 14k feet and I felt fantastic. Anyway, the heat there is insane and, in my opinion, not worth suffering through to see a bunch of birds. I guess I should mention I was also seven months pregnant at the time….. 😉

    • Dave July 17, 2015, 6:40 pm

      I took a week-long trip on the Amazon river last Sept as well, and loved it. But I will agree it’s not for everybody. A good number of people in our group got sick, the wildlife is interesting but I think there are better places if that’s your thing, and when you’re not on the water the heat/humidity/bugs are pretty intense. But… it’s the Amazon! How cool is that? Also, I wouldn’t even imagine taking the trip if I were pregnant (not that that’s likely), as it crossed my mind a number of times that if something went medically wrong with me or any of my group, it would be a real fiasco.

  • asar July 12, 2015, 2:21 am

    I think Manu National Park is a better trip than Iquitos.

  • Kenny July 12, 2015, 9:04 am

    Toni and asar – Thanks! I’ll do some more research!

  • andreas July 14, 2015, 6:27 pm

    nice tip on booking flights which are likely to be schedule changed.. It happened to me once with UA and i got the most awesome direct flights.. DEL-EWR-DEN instead of DEL-NRT-SFO-DEN

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