Finding First Class Award Seats


Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you’re curious just how often first class award seats are available on various routes. And so, hypothetically speaking, you collected data. Lots and lots of data. And then you analyzed some of that data and made pretty charts out of it. There’s a decent chance it would look something like this.

First up: Tokyo to San Francisco split by ANA and United Airlines:

NRT-SFO-First-Class-UnitedNRT-SFO-First-Class-ANA

From the looks of that data ANA made some serious changes to policies regarding award space in late September 2014 and they’ve carried through on it quite nicely. Access to award seats on United metal varies a bit over the same period, though it is generally more available than on ANA-operated flights.

And then there’s Lufthansa First Class for departures from Frankfurt. Lots of destinations to choose from but typically space is only made available to partners up to ~15 days in advance so the query range is narrower.

fra-phl-first-class-lufthansafra-sea-first-class-lufthansafra-ord-first-class-lufthansafra-mia-first-class-lufthansafra-ewr-first-class-lufthansafra-jfk-first-class-lufthansafra-iah-first-class-lufthansafra-iad-first-class-lufthansafra-dtw-first-class-lufthansafra-bos-first-class-lufthansafra-mco-first-class-lufthansa

There are some very interesting trends in the data in terms of routes which are easier (BOS, PHL, MCO) or harder (IAH, MIA) to find seats on. And the large blocks of dates where nothing is available for certain destinations is quite valuable information in some ways.

Comparing the Lufthansa data to United data on a few overlapping routes is also informative.

fra-ord-first-class-unitedfra-iad-first-class-unitedfra-ewr-first-class-unitedfra-sfo-first-class-united

Chicago and Dulles are notably more available than Newark and San Francisco.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

24 Comments

  1. Fascinating data, Seth. Thanks for collating it.

    Do wish you would have given a bit more info about how to read the charts. Clearly UA is not offering 350 award F seats per day SFO-NRT, but not sure what to make of that then.

    Bigger picture, I’m not sure I understand the growing bloggers’ preoccupation with F awards, F trip reports, F availability, etc., to the exclusion of C class. Most of us are just looking to get across the pond in comfort and given the growing price disparity between F and C, would rather have one or two more trips in C than blow our wad to take a shower on the plane or be chauffeured a block to the terminal.

    Just my two cents worth, but I think the growing focus on F is narrowcasting to a small subset of BA’s audience.

    1. Saying anything along the lines of Fist Class Award obsession and Seth makes zero sense. Seth is the M&P Blogger Sphere Anti-Hero.
      Just my two cents on the matter.

      1. Ellie I think you are confused. Lucky would be the one with Fist Class Award obsession. As for Seth’s nickname, how about the M&P Blogosphere Anti-bullshit Superhero? Although its pretty bush league to not label your charts.

        1. Sorry I forgot to label the Y axis. I was thinking about it at one point and forgot in the midst of putting together all the screen shots.

  2. @Adam P: I believe the vertical axis on the charts is “# of days in advance”. A blue dot indicates that award space for Day X was available Y days in advance.

  3. Robin is correct as to what the data mean; it is number of days out that the award seat is available.

    As for an obsession with premium cabin travel I think if you look at my history it is clear that’s far from my typical M.O. I’ve got similar data for C & Y seats, too. All in good time. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the explainer. It’s really useful info.

      My comment about obsession was mostly directed at other very prominent Boarding Area bloggers. I’ve been reading you for several years now and I know you often fly overseas in economy. I was just making a more global observation and curious about your sense of it.

      1. No worries at all.

        My general take on the situation is that if I could afford it I’d fly more in premium cabins. But I do not have a company which lets me churn millions of points annually on my CCs nor am I rich enough to buy the points to book the premium awards. That’s partly by choice and partly because that’s the way the world works. I don’t begrudge those who only fly in premium cabins but I do believe it limits their ability to reasonably render views on what life is like for those flying “down the back” all the time. And so I do my best to fly different airlines and get those experiences. It is what I think is important for me.

  4. Thanks for the clarification on the charts. Out of curiosity, how many seats were these for? I only ask because for some reason, my wife gets irked if I take first class vacation trips without her, so multiple seats would be better.

  5. Great data. Can you clarify what criteria were you using for FC availability? Does this take into account the number of F seats or are you simply checking whether there is any availability for one F seat?

    1. Single seat is the query I use. Two would be better, of course, but some airlines only release one at a time and there are other factors also at play. At the end of the day I had to make a decision on what data to collect and one seat is the parameter I chose.

      At least folks looking for two seats know that those would not be available if one is also not.

  6. If you were to make this data (especially United C non-East coast to Europe) available for query to First Class members, I would upgrade in a heartbeat.

  7. Awesome and very interesting data. Thanks for sharing.

    Are the wide bands where absolutely no availability anytime is present (e.g. FRA-EWR F-cabin LH for Aug, Sep & Oct) actual data or data problems? The break in the pattern is astounding.

    BTW, looking forward to J-cabin data (oneworld too if you have it!).

    1. Looking at the rest of the data I’m inclined to believe that there was nothing available on those routes for those dates. I say that because it is the same queries running across all destinations and other cities did show inventory available during that time. Of course, it could also be that the data wasn’t feeding appropriately to where I could query it so we’ll probably never really know for sure.

      1. I also suspect it’s because there was nothing on those routes for those dates. I semi-regularly check one of these routes and I noticed a sudden loss in availability that roughly matches the chart.

        Very interesting charts. I would love to see more routes for LH. I’m also looking forward to the C data.

      2. Thanks. I realize as a result of your kind reply that the date of the x axis is the date of travel. I had interpreted it as the date of query.

        I too tend to agree that probably some carriers don’t offer any award seats on a flight on certain (peak) dates and/or day of the week. You are powerfully showing that this is the case.

  8. Very interesting charts! Would love to see some data for OneWorld F (CX, BA) availability as well.

  9. @Seth

    Is it me or does it look like PHL has the best overall availability 15 days out and then followed by Dulles and Chicago?

Comments are closed.

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