If You Can't Find A Business Class Award, Do You Book Economy And Hope It Opens Later?
TPG reader Jake tweeted me @thepointsguy with a question a lot of readers have:
"If you can't find a Business Class award, do you book Economy and hope it opens later or just wait? I am flying IAD-JFK-JNB in March."
Jake is going to Johannesburg in March and wants to know, if he can’t get a business Class ticket should he book an economy award and then hope that a business award will open up later.
Generally the answer is no, I wouldn't do that if you're set on flying business class since many airlines will charge you to reticket your award if a different class of service opens up. However, if you have elite status that waives award fees, then this may not be the worst strategy if in a worst case scenario you'd be okay with flying economy. If you never intend to fly economy, I would not recommend booking dummy award tickets that you will cancel because a) you're taking them potentially from people who would actually want to go and b) the airline may not release business class awards if economy is oversold.
I am normally flexible enough - both in terms of timing and the kinds of points or miles I have - that I can fly on different dates and different airlines depending on the award availability that's out there for the destination I need to visit. I have a multitude of different frequent flyer accounts, so if I can’t get the flight that I want using one, I will just make it work with another routing, carrier or alliance.
I understand that not everyone's schedule is as flexible nor their points portfolio as diverse as mine, though, so if you don't have those options then you can take a gamble if you absolutely need to go somewhere. But gamble smartly.
If you have the miles to do so, book your economy award, and then if your airline is one that's supported by ExpertFlyer, use the paid service (it's only $9.95 a month) to set award alerts and be the first to know of any award seats in business or first that open up on your desired flights. That way, you at least know you're getting there, and if an award opens up at a later date, you can simply rebook with more miles.
Just keep in mind, similar to ticket change/cancellation fees, many airlines will charge you if you decide you want to change or cancel an award ticket and redeposit your miles.
Some like Delta and US Airways will charge you every time you make even the most minute changes to an award flight. American is pretty flexible as long as the origin and destination remain the same, United will also let you change dates for free without having to re-ticket (though keep in mind, you could still get stuck paying close-in fees depending on how far out you're making these changes and whether those awards are popping up less than 21 days in advance of the flights). These days reticketing is $150, so you may want to be careful of how many times you change your ticket.
As with most fees, having elite status can make a huge difference, however:
American waives AAdvantage award change and reinstatement charges for Executive Platinums only (all others are charged $150 for redeposit and $75 for close-in changes).
Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallions get unlimited award redeposit without fees as long as they are made 72 hours before departure.
United waives the fee for Premier Platinums, 1K’s and Global Service customers while Premier Silvers and Gold receive a discounted award redeposit fee of $125 and $100 respectively.
US Airways will waive the mileage redeposit fee of $150 for totally unused award tickets for Chairman’s Preferred-level members.
However, even if you don't have elite status but have booked an award on American and United (since Delta and US Airways will still charge you for changes), one trick is to try changing your flight to a time of the year that’s known for terrible weather and flight cancellations since if a weather waiver is issued - like it recently was for flights on Tuesday and Wednesday this week - your miles will be given back for free.
For more information on avoiding airline fees, read this post.