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Award travel reservations can usually be made up to eleven months in advance. Often, but not always, eleven months out has the best availability. Eleven Months Out is my new series looking at what you can book today for travel in eleven months.

Thanksgiving is in less than 11 months. Turkey, pie, potatoes, family, and giving thanks may be your highlights, but travel doesn’t have to be a lowlight. If you know where you’ll be celebrating this year, you can book an award now saving hassle and hundreds of dollars later.

I booked an award last January from Los Angeles to Richmond roundtrip for Thanksgiving 2012. I’ll break down how I would book the same award for 2013 if I were so inclined.

Thanksgiving this year falls as late as possible, Thursday, November 28. Last year I travelled Tuesday to Sunday, which this year would be November 26 to December 1.

Checking for Awards

The four legacy carriers will all charge 25,000 miles roundtrip in economy for an award within the continental US, Alaska, or Canada. Taxes on an award will be $2.5 per segment, capped at $10. US Airways will charge you another $25 as an award processing fee.

United and US Airways

These two are grouped together because both types of miles can be used on either airline’s flights. For both, I would search for space at united.com.

Just like 2012, united.com shows tons of space now for a roundtrip from LAX-RIC in both cabins.

LAX to Richmond. Green means space in economy and business.

Here’s a sample itinerary with economy space.

Here’s a sample first class itinerary on November 26.

United.com also displays US Airways award space. Here’s a first class itinerary.

The return is the same story–availability any day I choose.

RIC-LAX

Picking an outbound on 11/26 and a return on 12/1, both in economy, brings up the payment page and confirms a price of 25,000 miles and $10.

I could book that with United miles with a few more clicks. To book with US Airways miles, I would call 800-622-1015. The phone fee would be waived if the award included any partner-operated segments like United flights, but with the $25 award processing fee, the total would be 25,000 US Airways miles and $35.

American

American’s site, aa.com, shows award space for American and Alaska. AA.com is showing pretty good space in economy and nearly perfect space in first class.

LAX-RIC economy
LAX-RIC in first

The same pattern holds for the return. There’s a lot of space in economy, and space every day in first.

RIC-LAX in economy
RIC-LAX in first

My preferred date and cabin for the outbound–economy on the 26th–didn’t have space, so I made a dummy booking for a day later.

Delta

Delta is ridiculed for having the worst award space for good reason: it does have the worst award space. Around Thanksgiving is no different. Though with a lot of flexibility or if I were to fly on Thanksgiving itself, I would be able to book a 25,000 miles award.

LAX-RIC in economy. Green is a day with 25,000 mile roundtrip space. Yellow is a day with only medium-priced economy available.

The return would also require some flexibility, pushing my return back to the Wednesday after Thanksgiving to get a 25,000-miles-roundtrip award.

RIC-LAX in economy. Green is low-priced economy awards. Yellow is medium. Blue is high.

First class for domestic Delta awards costs only 45,000 miles roundtrip, 5,000 fewer miles than other carriers charge. That’s if you can find low-miles-price award space.

Thanksgiving Day is the only day with low-miles-price space in first class LAX-RIC

Putting together a roundtrip economy ticket, the award prices at the standard 25,000 miles and $10 as long as I was flexible on dates.

British Airways

Avios would be a poor deal on the itinerary I’m looking at in this post. An Avios award would use American Airlines and route through Dallas. Every segment of an Avios award contributes to the price, so the total would be the sum of LAX-DFW, DFW-RIC, RIC-DFW, DFW-LAX. Each of those segments is 10k Avios and $2.5, so the award would be 40k Avios and $10!

But if your travel plans call for a short, direct hop from your home airport on American or Alaska, Avios will be the best deal for an award.

Southwest

Southwest’s schedule doesn’t open up a new day eleven months out every day. Instead it opens up a new chunk of a few weeks every few weeks. The schedule is currently open through August 9, 2013 only seven months out.

Cash Ticket

Before purchasing any award, I check the cash price to make sure I’d be getting good value for my miles. I searched kayak.com with flexible dates from LAX-RIC roundtrip and got the following prices.

United is leading the pack at $449. The final step is to decide whether to book with miles or cash. Sometimes I say Just Book with Cash. Let’s plug this into the Mile Value Calculator to see how many cents per mile an award would garner versus buying the ticket.

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I would plug $449 into value because that is the cost of the ticket, and I value it at least that highly. $10 are the taxes and fees. 25,000 miles used. 5,072 miles foregone because LAX-IAH-RIC roundtrip, the routing of the Untied ticket is 5,072 miles.

Plugging it all in means we would get 1.45 cents in value from the award. That’s a pretty bad value for all the miles discussed so far except Delta miles.

That means, in general, I would prefer to book this ticket with cash instead of as an award, saving my miles for the future and earning more with the trip. Specific circumstances would change whether I actually booked with miles or cash. If I were miles-rich or cash-poor, I might book with miles instead.

Recap

There is great availability now for Thanksgiving 2013, and it will deteriorate in the next few months. Check your potential travel plans today to see if there is space, check how much a cash ticket would cost, and decide which is a better deal.

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