Seriously, Keep Checking for Award Ticket Availability

I know I mentioned this yesterday in my long treatise about booking award tickets on United, but I cannot stress enough that you need to keep checking – even up until the day of travel – to see if award seats open up.

I’d been trying to move our departure flight to connect through LAX (instead of SFO) and availability would occasionally open up on either the JFK-LAX leg or the LAX-Maui leg, but never on both. Then yesterday I became even more obsessed than usual about checking and saw that availability was changing several times over the course of the day. First no availability; then JFK-LAX opened up; then it disappeared; then LAX-Maui opened up but not the first leg. Then both disappeared. Then this morning – 24 hours before departure – both legs were available (4 seats in business class) and I changed flights. Other flights that had not been available for ages were suddenly available as well.

I’ve heard so many people say that they checked for an award ticket and saw that it wasn’t available — and then gave up. If you want a seat, you need to keep checking (or use a service like Expertflyer to send you alerts). It pays off.

Except when it doesn’t, of course, as I’ve been trying to change our return flight for 4 months and nothing has opened up. Win some, lose some.

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  1. I was hoping this would happen when I flew JNB-FRA on SAA back in June, but one lowsy biz class seat never did open up. I was stuck in coach for 11 hours on an overnight flight. Worst night of sleep ever.

  2. I should know this, but I assume United charges a fee for making these changes, but it’s waived if you have status?

    There’s also the school of thought that you should book your award tickets as far out as possible with as complex a routing as possible, which pretty much guarantees a misconnect due to schedule change at some point, and then you can often get whatever flights you want.

    • If you have any status at all, you can change dates & flights (with no change in origin or destination) for free until 21 days out. Then break out your wallet:

  3. I only fly United because I live near Newark Airport and you’re right; for some reason the past few months, award seats have been appearing and disappearing on an hourly and daily basis like I’ve never seen before in my life with any airline; been tracking a trip to Las Vegas in first class on specific dates and it’s unbelievable; it’s gone from no flights to some flights; to outbound to no return and finally got the both directions and right before the 21 day window and $77.50 came into play; keep up the great advice!

  4. well, ummm, for your return flight, dont you just have to keep checking hourly (or maybe every half hour) while on vacation and expect it to open up 24 hours before departure? I am not being entirely serious, but this is the same reason people check a couple times and give up as it sounded like you have for the return.

  5. I’d booked a flight from NY-Milan (with stopover) months ago for tomorrow as there was no direct flight availability except for the maximum mile option… after checking sporadically, lo and behold the direct flight opened up yesterday for both economy and business options. Definitely worth checking United up til the date of departure.

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