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Best strategy for booking reward ticket to Scandinavia for Aug 2012

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Nov 7th, 2011, 10:11 AM
  #1
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Best strategy for booking reward ticket to Scandinavia for Aug 2012

Good day,

I was slightly shocked to learn this morning that I could not get a reward flight on American Airlines (including its AAdvantage partners) to either Copenhagen or Stockholm during the first week of August 2012 (to return roughly 3 weeks later). Okay, feel free to call me naive but I thought flexibility on dates and cities, not to mention calling 9 months in advance would land me some seats! (American doesn't fly to either city themselves, and seems to primarily partner with British Airways, so obviously that complicates things.) The American representative had no advice beyond "call again" in terms of when flights might become available, if ever.

Do any of you good people have suggestions or strategies for using American frequent flyer miles to get to these cities (or Oslo), including insights into when seats currently being held might become available? Because my two school age daughters are coming with, we are pretty much limited to August. WHILE I AM LIMITED TO AMERICAN MILES, I SUSPECT THE GENERAL STRATEGIES FOR GETTING POPULAR TICKETS ON TRAVEL PARTNERS MAY BE SIMILAR FROM AIRLINE TO AIRLINE.

We would be most grateful for any advice -- I'm looking to do the trip as a graduation present for my eldest daughter, but with college impending we can't really afford to purchase the tickets.

Cheers,

Nigel
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Nov 7th, 2011, 10:38 AM
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Are you looking for 4 seats? That is likely to be near impossible during top travel dates like July-August.You MAY have to book two at a time.

Ordinarily I'd suggest award flights to London or other large British city that BA flies to and separate ticket to Scandinavia, but with the London Olympics that's probably not going to happen.

And all alliances differ in how easy it is to get tix on their partners.
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Nov 7th, 2011, 10:45 AM
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This may work for you. Avoid partners and codeshares and find the closest destinition to where you want to go serviced by AA alone. You should have an easier time finding that and it will get you across the pond. From there use either a regional low cost airline, train, auto etc. to get to where you want.
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Nov 7th, 2011, 02:07 PM
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First, I noticed this is your first post on Fodors, so welcome!

In my view it's all about (a) knowing where to look, (b)what to ask, (c) who to ask, and (d) flexibility. More importantly, it will really help to know where you're flying from. In peak season it can often be just as hard, or harder, to get connecting domestic flights from your home to an international gateway where flights might be available, compared to those international flights themselves.

That said, it took me about two minutes to see availability on BA's website for four pax from New York to Copenhagen on August 3 using BA from JFK to Heathrow, connecting to a BA flight the next afternoon from LCY (London City Airport, located close to the City of London - duh.) And returning - same drill on the 23rd. Will those dates work?

Or, a minute later, using the Qantas website (you need to enroll in the BA or Qantas FF programs online to get access to those sites - each requires around 3 min. of your time) I can see space for 4 pax from JFK to Copenhagen on the 2nd - Finnair to Helsinki connecting to CPH, and returning on the 27th on the same route. Now if you're originating in Honolulu or Boise, it might be more complicated. Are you?

Unfortunately, for now AA doesn't let you see or book itineraries online if they involve any partner flights, and since AA doesn't fly either to Copenhagen or Sweden, by definition you'll need a partner. (Note this is changing slowly - online partner award booking are apparently going to be rolled out - one or two partners at a time - starting within the next few weeks.)

However other partners have such functionality, especially Qantas and BA, so use those sites to see what might be available to their FFers, then phone AA and have AA book the seats for you. I have not (yet) encountered a case where a flight shown as being available on either the BA or QF sites wasn't available for booking using AA miles.

Generally the AA phone people aren't going to break their necks looking for all the possible permutations of AA + partner flights that could be used for any given route. They're going to look first for all-AA itineraries through the most common gateways (Heathrow in particular) and if something doesn't pop into view, they'll tell you to phone again.

But AA to London then Finnair to Copenhagen/Stockholm via Helsinki? Less likely they'll fish for that. Iberia to Madrid from Miami then on to Stockholm? Even less likely. AA to Brussels then Malev to Budapest then Copenhagen? Even less likely.

So YOU do the legwork and present it to AA, problem solved. Start by signing up at the Qantas or BA FF sites, and you'll be ahead of the game pronto. You've got plenty of time - the airlines release seats into award inventory on a rolling/demand-based basis, not all at once.
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Nov 7th, 2011, 07:43 PM
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Wow Gardyloo; I'm bookmarking for future.
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Nov 7th, 2011, 08:11 PM
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I am also very impressed. We have, however, found that AA/FF service reps have been more than willing to work with us to find creative ways of getting us back and forth from Europe. But next summer, what with the Olympics jamming flights through LHR, that may be harder to pull off.
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Nov 8th, 2011, 05:05 AM
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Thanks for your generous advice and warm welcome, especially Gardyloo! Seems like some great advice!

But do I understand correctly that IF flights on partners are available for purchase, they SHOULD also be available through American as partner awards? I am anything but a frequent flyer expert, but I had always thought that only a percentage of a partner's open seats were available as rewards. If the open seats of partners are generally available for rewards then "doing the legwork" certainly looks like the way to go!

Cheers,

Nigel
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Nov 8th, 2011, 07:00 AM
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>>>If the open seats of partners are generally available for rewards then "doing the legwork" certainly looks like the way to go<<<

Gardyloo is telling you to join the BA and Quantas frequent flyer programs so you can search reward/ff tickets (not tickets for purchase) on their websites because their reward/ff availability doesn't show up on AA.
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Nov 8th, 2011, 07:05 AM
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But do I understand correctly that IF flights on partners are available for purchase, they SHOULD also be available through American as partner awards? I am anything but a frequent flyer expert, but I had always thought that only a percentage of a partner's open seats were available as rewards. If the open seats of partners are generally available for rewards then "doing the legwork" certainly looks like the way to go!

No, I must have been unclear.

Other airlines who happen to be AA partners show on their own websites what seats they have available for mileage redemption - on their own planes but also, in some cases, on partners' planes as well. AA does not, so you have to go to those other airlines to see what might be available. As a general rule (thus there are exceptions) if a partner airline shows an open seat for redemption by its own FF members, that same seat ought to be available to members of partner FF programs.

(By the way I prefer the term "redemption" to "award" or "free" seats since directly or indirectly, you paid for your FF miles. Those tickets are not "rewards" like you won a prize, nor are they "free" seats; they're just paid for with an alternate currency - miles.)

The available seats shown on the FF redemption web pages run by, say, Qantas, are not "for sale" per se. They're seats that the operating airlines (be it BA or AA or Finnair, whatever) have told Qantas to go ahead and use for mileage redeemers.

Putting seats into redemption availability is not at all about a "certain percentage" or anything that easy . All airlines run very sophisticated, rather secretive computer modeling programs (called, variably, "yield management" or "revenue management" programs) which continuously look at how sales are doing on each flight on each day, what historic patterns might apply to given routes or flights, what percentage of economy vs. business class seats are being sold (for money) and how that stacks up against past performance, and so on and so on. The computers never sleep. The programmers all attended Hogwarts.

Anyway, these programs will periodically (maybe twice in a day, maybe not for months on end) release seats into redemption "buckets" (classifications) when they will show up on the agents' screens and/or on the airlines' websites. There is no way to predict when this will happen. Anybody that says, "Oh, they'll all show up at 330 days before flight," is blowing smoke. Some may, but the majority of redemption seats will trickle out, one or two at a time as a general rule - the computers don't want to blow it - right up until shortly before fly day. If you go to AA right now and look for redemption seats this weekend, chances are you'll see lots, more than you'd have seen a month ago.

Which means in your case, use the other airlines' redemption screens to see what might be available, then phone AA (since you can't book partner redemption flights online at AA - yet) and say, "On the Qantas website I saw four mileage seats from JFK to Helsinki then on to Copenhagen on Aug. xxx - can you check if those are available, please?"

To which you may very well hear, "Oh wow, sure, I can give those to you. Good catch," or something similar from the AA person. Happens every day.

To do this you have to enroll in the other airlines' FF programs - free and online - in order to be able to log in to see their mileage redemption offerings.
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Nov 8th, 2011, 08:45 AM
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Gardyloo,

No you were perfectly clear and I a wee bit dense! Thanks for your further explanation (and you as well Kybourbon) which hopefully will school others besides myself. I did suspect that there was a mysterious algorithm at work -- not everyone can get a job at Google!

Cheers,

Nigel
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