Sometimes it’s best to book an award very far in advance and sometimes it’s best to wait until very close to departure. This depends on a lot of things–really a topic for another day–but here are a few generally true rules about some of the more aspirational products out there… the ones my clients tend to ask about the most.
As always, if you’re looking for a professional touch and a more expeditious booking process, consider hiring a pro.
Etihad First Class – Book as soon as possible, but don’t stress out about booking 330+ days in advance. They seem to release 2 seats per flight, so if you’re looking for more than that, the less important members of your party will likely need to fly business class (life could be worse). The longer you wait, the more flexible you may have to be, but with a very limited number of partners, Etihad space isn’t too hard to come by. The best way to find availability is at Etihad’s website and to search for “Guest Seat” availability–that’s the space that partners have access to.
Lufthansa First Class – Wait for it… in fact, you have no choice but to wait for it unless you are redeeming Lufthansa’ Miles & More miles. Lufthansa doesn’t release award space to partners outside of 14-15 days before departure, though inside that window they’re fairly generous. Checking space can easily be done on United.com or more accurately with ANA’s award search. If you’re set on flying Lufthansa, but can’t find a flight, the best way to find one is with the Wandering Aramean’s travel tools. “First class” members (it’s really cheap) can set an alert for all flights departing from/arriving at a given airport (in this case you’ll want to use Lufthansa’s hubs) on a given date which will all but ensure you find something. If you want to be more specific you can also set an alert for an exact flight.
Qantas First Class USA to Australia – Book yesterday. No, seriously, probably even before that… Qantas is extremely stingy with premium cabin space on the USA routes and their own members and BA’s members get a first bite at the apple because they can book award flights about 20 days before AA members can (~350 days out vs ~330 days out). If you see a flight–particularly an A380 flight, take it right away. Call AA (or Alaska or whoever) and immediately put it on hold if you can’t finalize your itinerary quickly. You can always add on to your trip while the flight is on hold. I have seen seats open up toward the last minute before, but I have no way of knowing whether Qantas actually released award space or whether somebody else just cancelled their award. My guess is the latter since it’s very unreliable. The best way to search for Qantas space is at AA.com. You can use BA.com as well, but AA’s website is much more intuitive and faster to use. Note that if you’re dead set on flying Qantas first class, there are much easier routes (LHR-DXB in particular), but if you’re based in the USA, that probably does you less good…
Emirates First Class – They used to release a fair amount of space in advance–a lot like Etihad a couple per flight, but recently they’ve become more stingy. Perhaps the economy is turning around and they’re selling more seats, or perhaps they have a new revenue management model, but it’s not as reliable as it was. In general, Emirates releases space closer to departure, but often weeks/months out–not just days like Lufthansa. There’s no hard and fast rule like Lufthansa, either, so you’ll have to keep checking or set an ExpertFlyer alert. The best way to find Emirates space is to use the ExpertFlyer award search.
Asiana Suites – Asiana has a fantastic suite product on it’s 777 flights on the JFK-ICN route (and this route only, at this point). It features the largest TV in the skies among lots of other slick features and plenty of personal space. And you need to book early on this one. Not militantly so like with Qantas, but if you wait til 9 months out, you’re likely to be disappointed. Ideally this should be booked within 2-3 weeks of the first available day and the sooner the better. The best way to check availability is either United.com or the ANA 7-day tool since you’re trying to isolate a single flight and class.
British Airways First Class – This is a tough one to make a hard and fast rule. In general, if you can book very far in advance, you’re likely to find something if you’re slightly flexible on dates…and booking something in advance is comforting because you know you can plan your trip, book hotels, take time off from work, etc, so there is definitely something to be said for booking in advance, but if you can wait, BA gives away the store within a few days of departure. It’s not unusual to see 4-5+ seats available on some 747 flights very close to departure. Check this out:
That’s 7 seats from London to Hong Kong tomorrow! In fact, on some of the super premium routes (think LHR-JNB), last minute is really your only bet.
Cathay Pacific First Class – This is another one that could go either way… you are likely to find at least a pair of seats on a given route (maybe not exact flight, since some routes have 3-4 flights per day like New York, London and LA to Hong Kong), but if you’re a bit flexible you can usually work something out–to a slightly more reliable extent than British Airways, I’d say. But like BA, they’re extremely generous with space late in the game. In May, were able to change our return from Singapore at the last minute to get an extra day no problem and had our choice of flights. Again, check this out:
That’s 6 seats on a Cathay flight the same day as the BA flight above! And they actually had 2+ seats on all 3 flights LHR-HKG that offer a first class cabin (and business class space on all 4 flights including the one that doesn’t).
Want to know the best time to book any other products?