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OneWorld Booking Question

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I'm going to be booking a OW190C from Jan '12 - Jan '13. I did some searching throughout these forums but I couldn't find an answer to something I was having an issue trying to resolve in my head.

In short how early do you actually book your trip/itinerary with an agent?

If I understand correctly, tickets are only good for a year from the date issued (not the first flight). Plus, with airlines only loading their inventory ~330 days or 11 months in advance, how'd you book those legs toward the end?

It just seems like a bit of a crunch trying to book a 12 month RTW trip when you only have 11 months of inventory at a given time with the ticket only valid for 12 months from date of issuance. Something seems strange.

Its as if I'd have to book my flight the day I depart (which considering I'm dependent on award availability seems quite challenging).

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    While your plan is theoretically possible, it isn't realistically possible. (I'm assuming that you're talking about an American Airlines One World award, and not a OW award issued by one of the other OW airlines.)

    You are correct that the validity is 365 days from when you purchase the ticket.

    So, to do the plan you propose, you'd have to buy the ticket in Jan 2012. The first problem, then, is that you won't be sure whether or not you can find award seats with such short notice. In actuality, you typically are more likely to find premium int'l award award seats 7-10 days before departure than 3 months before departure, but that's hardly a guarantee.

    As for the 330 day/365 day question, that's somewhat easier to resolve. You can change the date of your reservation without penalty, as long as you use the same routing/airline. So you if your final leg is, say, Tokyo to Boston, you can make a reservation in Jan 2012 for a NRT-ORD-BOS flight that's available in Nov 2012, then change to NRT-ORD-BOS in Jan 2013 after 4 or 5 weeks. Only problem with that, of course, is if nothing's available for NRT-ORD-BOS when you get within 330 days, but NRT-DFW-BOS is available. In that case, you can either sweat it out and hope the ORD routing becomes available (before your scheduled Nov departure), or you can pay the $$ to have your ticket rewritten for the DFW routing.

    All of that is theoretical, though. In practice, it's very difficult (but occasionally possible) to do a complex routing with a OW award that spans such a long period of time. It's far, far easier to do a OW Explorer. With that ticket, you can purchase 1 year before your first flight, and the ticket is valid from 1 year beyond your first flight -- so you can actually finish your travel 2 years (minus a day or two) after you buy the ticket. But alas, of course, that ticket requires dollars, not miles.

    Don

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    Actually, the problem is tougher. You CAN NOT alter the itinerary on an Oneworld award, only the dates, period. Thus if NRT-DFW-BOS isn't available and you want to switch to NRT-ORD-BOS, AA cancels the whole award and you have to start over. Obviously in a change that is made long after the first booking was made, it becomes problematic since award inventory for earlier flights may be gone by then. You don't go to the head of the line for flights you "released" when the first award was scratched; there may be wait-listed pax ahead of you, or RM might have decided not to release any additional inventory, etc.

    The best bet is to set up a route where the unbookable (later) flights are only on routes that usually display plenty of award availability, then hope for the best, or else look at a two-award picture where the early flights aren't jeopardized by questions on later flight availability. For example, have the OW award break off in Japan, then book Japan-US as a one-way all-partners award when it comes available. More spendy but possibly safer.

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    In that case, is 10 months considerably more feasible? This way I can lock in my dates prior to departure.

    Flying solo and with no engagements, reservations, ect.. that will be booked prior to my trip I have considerable flexibility... I'm just curious how difficult it is to lock down award flights.

    Do I constitute a minority attempting to manage an extended RTW trip on miles?

    And yes, it'll be an AA OW Award.

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    I wouldn't say that 10 months is necessarily more feasible. It depends whether you're trying to get really tough-to-find seats, or less-tough-to-find seats. The former can be extremely tough to find even 6 or 8 months out.

    Last year I did an AA OW award Boston-Tokyo-Hong Kong-Lyon(FR)-Boston. The trip was enormously shorter than yours (14 days), only 7 segments, and just under 20,000 miles. I bought the ticket about 310 days in advance. I am certain that I could not have purchased the ticket 1 or 2 months before departure and kept the dates that I wanted, even with a buffer of 2-3 days.

    If you do plan to try, you'll absolutely need to learn how to search for award availability for the airlines on which you want to fly.

    A question, Ryan: have you ever gotten a business class award in the past?

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    I haven't. Total rookie in this department.

    I'm beginning to familiarize myself with the KVS tool and a few of the airline websites that list award availability now so that as the date approaches I can start to get an accurate read on where I stand though.

    My first leg is LAX - MAD and I'll be spending about 3 months in Europe before my next flight out of Frankfurt (surface sector). Both relatively major hubs so hopefully that alleviates a bit of the pain having to book those early award flights only 2-5 months out.

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    In early March I put together a 16-segment business class OW award for a friend and his wife (also RTW) departing in late May. Theirs is "only" 8 weeks in duration. I've done several similar itineraries over the years; as Don says, the key is to get comfortable with how to search for open seats.

    In my experience it's useful to join several FF plans, in particular Qantas, BA, Asiamiles (CX) and Iberia's - and use their native search functions. As good as Qantas' or BA's award search engines might be, they don't always pick up flights with carriers such as Iberia or Royal Jordanian, but by using several sources you can "triangulate" in on tough seats.

    The big blocks are usually Qantas flights transpacific, Lan between Oz/NZ and Santiago, and Cathay Pacific transpacific (although these have become slightly easier of late it seems.) Work on the "backbone" flights and be prepared to juggle your time frame accordingly.

    Since LAX-MAD is so new, you might have trouble with that as your first segment. BA is usually easier out of LAX, but of course those will come with big fuel surcharges.

    What's your proposed itinerary?

    Keep at it and good luck!

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    First off I just want to thank you two for the info you've provided so far... much appreciated. I've already signed up for QF and BA FF programs and have become pretty familiar with their tools.

    The 'backbone' of my trip is as follows:

    LAX - (MAD or BCN) // Land Segment // PRG - BUD - AMM - BKK - HKG - AKL - SCL - LIM - LAX

    While there's direct flights between all these stops I realize that it's going to be tough to lock those in on an award ticket so I'm trying to leave a handful of allotted connections open.

    I can do it the opposite direction too. Your right in that it seems LAX - Spain is turning out to be the hardest ticket at this point so starting with LAX - LIM might prove favorable since QF shows that to be a flight with a lot of award availability. Starting in the southern hemisphere would make sense weather-wise as well I suppose.

    As you noted, I'm trying to avoid LHR like the plague.

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    Another key tool, if you don't already use it, is the Great Circle Mapper (http://gc.kls2.com/), which gives the mileage between airports. (The mileage figures that OW uses aren't precisely the same, but they're very close.)

    I know nothing first-hand about the availabilities to/from South America, so I can't comment.

    As for LA to Spain, I think you can almost have a glimmer of optimism. You actually have a decent chance of scoring a late seat for that, especially if you can leave right on Jan 1 or even Dec 31. Business class award seats tend to be more available during holiday periods -- U.S. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year (and on some routes summer vacation times), because there are a lot fewer businesspeople traveling to/from meetings.

    Also, I would not necessarily try all that hard to avoid LHR. It can be more aggravating than other airports, but it can also have some good features. First thing comes to mind is quality of business class on BA, which tears AA and IB to shreds on seat quality (full-flat vs angled). Next, the business class lounges in LHR are actually decent (even AA's).

    So, in trying to get from LAX to Spain, you've got lots and lots and lots of different potential routings, and I'd be guardedly optimistic that you could find a business class seat 7-14 days in advance. Note that, in my experience at least, you would be far more likely to find a seat 7-14 days in advance than 2 months in advance. That's because many airlines (esp AA) will make more and more award seats available as the departure date approaches if many revenue seats remain available.

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    Well, you're only showing 11 segments out of a max of 16, and you'd have several thousand miles of allowance to spare within the OW190C tranche, so I really wouldn't sweat the LAX-MAD part; you could easily go LAX-DFW-MAD, or LAX-MIA-MAD, or ORD-MAD, JFK-MAD, BOS-MAD, even SJU-MAD, if you were set on flying IB in J. (I actually disagree on the quality difference between IB and BA in J - IB's new flat seats are great, I've always found service in IB longhaul J to be superb, and I love Barajas airport, even compared to T5 at LHR.) Plus, if avoiding LHR means avoiding BA fuel fines, so much the better.

    The tough segments will be HKG-AKL, AKL-SCL and LAX-MAD, although I agree with Don re seasonal availability. However IIRC IB will reduce frequency on LAX-MAD during the winter, and LAX is always a tough originating point for J travel (except on BA) due to supply/demand features.

    You might look at HKG-SYD-AKL (more volume) or even SYD-EZE-SCL; don't know how full the Buenos Aires flights on Qantas are running. All travel to and through South America is very seasonal - you might look at using Miami as a hub for that as well - way more volume than other US gateways for AA or LA.

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    The extra miles are there because prior to this sobering realization re: award availability and the limitations of flying RTW on an award ticket I had intentions of bringing Easter Island into play. This idea was amplified once I heard of the LIM - IPC direct which would permit an interesting LIM - IPC - SCL flight.

    I've since read they've suspended the nascent LIM - IPC route until Jan '12 which would still put it in play since I'm not leaving until then however even if they do reinstate it, I think it's a reach to assume I'll be able to secure a seat.

    So I'm leaving myself the extra miles and connections as merely a contingency. If I can swing the 150 tranche I'll do it, but it's good to know the miles are available if needed.

    I'll be flying home (PHL) for the holidays so a PHL / NYC departure is always a possibility as well in the event that opens up more options.

    Bottom line, I'm nothing if not flexible thus my optimism in being able to make this work. I would leave Jan 1 in a heartbeat if it was the only seat available.

    Once again, I can't thank you guys enough for your info. I wish I could book this today.

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