In February from Nairobi, Kenya, I booked an American Airlines award 331 days out from Melbourne, Australia to Los Angeles in Qantas business class (with a later free oneway to Tampa.) See my Anatomy of an Award post on that booking.
On that booking, I noticed something odd about the way that American Airlines releases its domestic award space on some routes. While the calendar opens up for award bookings 331 days in advance, on many domestic routes, SAAver space is released 329 days out.
This is a big problem! Many competitive award routes, especially premium Qantas space should be booked 331 days out. And on any Qantas booking with American miles, you should be adding domestic flights to your award–either to get you home or to get your free oneway.
But you can’t add the AAnytime (high-miles-price) space to your award without the price skyrocketing. And if you book your award just to the international gateway city, then add the domestic legs later, you’ll be changing your destination, which incurs a $150 fee from American.
Here’s a look at what the problem looks like on the calendar.
This is what the economy space from San Diego to LAX looked like on October 22:
Note that the last two days on the calendar don’t show award space. The odds of a random Tuesday and Wednesday in September not having award space on this route 11 months out is basically nil.
Wait four days, and this is the calendar on October 26:
The 17th and 18th now have space as we would have expected. The space wasn’t released 331 days out. It was released 329 days out. Note that the last three days on the calendar–the 20th through 22nd–aren’t currently showing space. They almost certainly will in a few days.
A similar thing was happening with domestic first class space from Dallas to Tampa. Here is the September 2013 calendar on October 22:
We see the same pattern of no availability on days 330 and 331. Waiting a few days, the space opens up. October 26:
I’m not sure which routes open up at 329 days instead of 331. It may be random. LAX to JFK is not a 329 route. It opens up 331 days in advance.
All you have to do is get a little tricky! I’ll give an example from a recent award booking I made. My client wanted to fly from San Diego to Tahiti roundtrip with his American miles. We were booking 11 months out, as I recommend when trying to snag Air Tahiti Nui award space. See Getting to Tahiti with American Airlines Miles.
There was space San Diego to Los Angeles to Tahiti, and there was space Tahiti to Los Angeles. But the domestic space from LA to San Diego was not open at 331 days out. Having seen this exact pattern of availability many times, I knew what to do.
When I called American Airlines to book the award 331 days out at 800-882-8880, I told the agent, “Hi, I want to book a roundtrip award from San Diego to Tahiti. On the return, I’d like to stop in Los Angeles for two weeks.”
This is, of course, totally within American Airlines’ routing rules. Los Angeles is the international gateway city, so I am allowed a stopover there. All travel must be completed within one year of the award booking, so a two week stop means the last leg is 345 days out–completely fine. See The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.
While legal, it would be impossible for an agent to book at the time because she can only book flights 331 days out, but I want the last one 345 days out–or so I tell her. Because the agent couldn’t book the Los Angeles to San Diego leg, I asked her to make a note in the record that the full award was back to San Diego, and that I could call in and add the last leg without a change fee later.
Some agents don’t know about their ability to add this note. Some will want to talk to their supervisors to ask if it’s OK. It may take talking to a few people, or even calling in a few times, but eventually they will add a note that you can call back in to add your final domestic legs for free later.
A few days later when the domestic space opens, call back in and ask an agent to add the space you want. Don’t worry that you originally said you would add the legs for a certain date, but you are actually calling to add them on a different date. The agent won’t notice. And if the agent does notice, you are allowed date changes on AA awards for free anyway.
In my client’s example, I waited a week from the original booking of SAN-LAX-PPT-LAX and called in to add LAX-SAN. The space had opened as I expected, and I added the leg without issue. The client merely had to pay the $2.50 increase in taxes brought about by adding a domestic leg.
For reasons unknown, some American Airlines domestic routes load space 329 days out instead of 331 like most routes. This minor change can cause a major problem when booking in-demand international awards.
Through a little trickery, we can get an AA agent to add a note to our itinerary to let us call back in to make free changes to our award destination, solving the problem.