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I received the following email from a reader.

Dawn writes:

I wanted to ask a question that I didn’t see an answer for on your site or clearly on the interwebs.

I am hoping to do a trip this winter to India. The way my schedule is looking, I won’t have the 85,000 miles I need until about a week and a half before the trip…

My question is, how difficult is it going to be to get an economy seat that close in? Any info I’ve found always seems to be about business class.

Thanks again for your great site and have fun on your travels.

Keep reading for my answer to how difficult getting last minute economy space will be for Dawn and how to estimate this for your own trips.

Will You Find Last Minute Award Space?

Some airlines, but not all, release seats as award seats close to departure that they think would otherwise be empty. I see more of this in premium cabins–probably because a higher percentage go unsold–than in economy, but I see it in all cabins. “Close to departure” varies by airline, and I see some seats released as late as the day of a flight.

The best way to see what a route’s last second availability is likely to look like when you want it is to search the award space for tomorrow (and the following days).

Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future space, but it is the best gauge of which airlines and routes tend to see last second openings.

Keep in mind when doing this what season tomorrow is (peak or off peak) and what season your travel will be (peak or off peak), so you can adjust your estimation of the likelihood of award space opening up in the future accordingly.

Dawn’s Trip

I’ll just look at one part of Dawn’s proposed trip: a return from India to the US, specifically Delhi to the New York City area.

Right now is off peak time in India because of the extreme temperatures and monsoons. Dawn’s trip during the US winter will be more a more popular time to travel to Delhi, when temperatures are more agreeable and the weather is drier. For that reason, I would expect to see more last second availability now then when she actually plans to travel, and we should temper our predictions accordingly.

Here’s Delhi to New York for tomorrow and the next few weeks. The good news is that four out of the next 12 days have at least one way to return from Delhi to New York for 42.5k miles in economy class.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.26.15 AM
Blue = premium award space. Yellow = economy award space. Green = both.

Analyze More Closely to Find Patterns

At this point, I would dig even deeper, clicking on each day to see what the actual itineraries are. I’m looking for patterns in what routes and airlines have economy award space to see what Dawn can expect in a few months when she looks to book.

There is one direct flight, flying United, that leaves today.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.32.53 AM

Here are some of the multi-segment itineraries scattered over the next 12 days that have economy award space:Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.34.19 AM


Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.50.30 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.50.50 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.34.41 AM
Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.37.15 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.37.49 AM

While there are lots of different routing options (flying United, SWISS, Lufthansa, Air China, and Ethiopian), the airline with the most flights available with award space overall is Lufthansa.

At this point, I would dig even deeper and look at a few segments for their availability.

Checking Individual Segments

The first I wanted to check was Delhi to Frankfurt since the Frankfurt to New York route has the most economy award space over the next 12 days.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 12.19.14 PM
Direct flights from Delhi to Frankfurt

This route has three days over the next 12 that have economy award space options.

That means that DEL-FRA-NYC could be a good last minute routing option.  Let’s check out Delhi to Munich, Lufthansa’s other hub.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 12.26.43 PM
Direct flights from Delhi to Munich

There are two days with economy space between Delhi and Munich over the next 12. So while DEL-MUC-NYC could be a possibility, it looks more likely that Dawn will find space flying DEL-FRA-NYC.

Neither of Lufthansa’s routings are the most direct way to get from Delhi to New York, but from the pattern we’ve seen there is more of a chance that she will find last minute economy award space for 42.5k United miles flying Lufthansa rather than the direct United flight from Delhi to Newark.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 12.38.57 PM

Repeat the Analysis

For Dawn’s other segments, she can perform a similar analysis to see the likelihood of finding last minute award space.

What routes and airlines have you found with consistent last minute economy award space? First class space?

Pro Tip if Booking a United Award Last Minute

United charges a $75 fee when you book an award within 21 days of departure.

If you want to book a United award within 21 days of departure, book the same flight for 1+ months in the future, then immediately call in to change it to within 21 days of departure. No close in ticketing fee will be charged.

Bottom Line

The best way to predict last minute award space patterns is to search your desired routes for tomorrow and the following days, adjusting your expectations based on what the tourism patterns are for right now compared to when you actually want to travel.

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