To anyone who will listen, I say that you should not expect to use your miles at peak times on high demand routes. Airlines use miles to get rid of distressed inventory–seats they don’t expect to sell. If you want to go where you want, when you want with “miles,” use credit card points like Arrival or Capital One Miles, which both let you book any flight with no blackouts.

But I’ve been surprised a few times that award space is pretty open for what I consider to be peak times, like when I booked an award to go to the World Cup in Brazil last year.

Rio has two big events next year: its annual Carnaval that will take place from February 5-10, 2016 and the Olympics from August 5-21, 2016.

Award space is available to both at the moment. Some of the award space is on Copa, which you would want to book with Asiana miles for 25,000 miles one way in economy or 35,000 miles in Business Class with no fuel surcharges. That’s a lot better than the 30,000 and 55,000 United miles for the same flights.

Some of the award space is on Azul, a Brazilian low-cost carrier with flights to the United States that is a non-alliance partner of United. That space, you’d have to book with United miles.

You can search Copa and Azul space on united.com. Any Azul space, you’d book right there with United miles. Any Copa or United Saver award space, you’d book with Asiana miles or whatever other Star Alliance miles you want to use by calling the airline whose miles you’re using.

The Award Space

I just searched for one passenger from New York to Rio in February and August. That’s not necessarily your home airport, but the results are representative because the United, Copa, or Azul international flights should be the ones in demand, not the United domestic flights to hook up with the international flights.

New York to Rio for Carnaval

In the week before Carnaval, Copa is releasing a lot of Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.40.14 AM

In the week after Carnaval, award space is wide open in economy and Business.Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.40.36 AM

This roundtrip with the outbound in Business and return in economy is 85,000 miles + $67. Since the return is on United planes, you could probably even get it in Business Class at the Saver price with Plan B.Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.41.56 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.42.00 AM

New York to Rio for Olympics

If you need to make the August 5th Opening Ceremony, your best option is in economy a few days before. If you just want to see some of the games, there is plenty of Business and economy award space between August 5th and August 21st.
Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.42.38 AM

During and after the Olympics, there is great economy and Business Class award space.
Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.43.22 AM

Here’s a roundtrip flying Azul economy there and Copa Business back for 85,000 United miles + $71.Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.44.13 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 3.44.19 AM

 

Bottom Line

I am surprised to see plenty of award space to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 for the biggest two events for tourists: Carnaval and the Olympics.