My wife woke up this morning without a ticket to Zurich. She had told her friends and family she was leaving today and would arrive on Saturday afternoon. She even told her parents her flight number. Small problem: the space had not opened. The flight was 12 hours away and she didn’t have a seat…yet.
As I made her coffee, I told her not to worry…just pack and the space would open shortly. Swiss is usually not so stingy with last-minute longhaul award space when there were plenty of seats open. This flight had been J9/C9/D9 all week, meaning there were at least nine business class seats for sale. Honestly, I’ve done this long enough to know when space opens and when it will not. I’m rarely wrong. But would today be the day?
9am. The space opened on precisely the LAX-ZRH nonstop flight I wanted. I booked it for 55K Aeroplan miles and $5.60 in taxes, called to add the infant ticket (only 100CAD for business class), and checked them both in. I even scored a throne seat.
I’m not telling this story to pat myself on the back (well, maybe just a little). I’m telling this story because if you are willing to wait, you will be rewarded. Many airlines tend to release last-minute award inventory when seats remain unsold. The Lufthansa Group carriers, including SWISS, Austrian, and LOT, are great examples of airlines you can score last-minute seats on. And this is saver space too: the cheapest available.
There were back-up options. She could have traveled the next day. There was also Lufthansa space to Frankfurt available with a connection. But I wanted the Los Angeles to Zurich nonstop flight because it is timed so perfectly for sleeping. It departs at 7:20p and arrives at 3:15p in Zurich, which is 6:15a in LA. A perfect night’s rest for little Augustine.
Unlike the longer, daytime westbound flight…where first class is just so much better when traveling with a little one…the relatively shorter overnight flight is geared for sleeping. In that case, business class is sufficient.
Tips for Booking Last Minute Award Space
It goes without saying that if a flight is sold out, you won’t find any award space on it.
Use ExpertFlyer to check how full a flight is. The more 9s you see across the board, the better your chances are to score last minute award space.
These airlines are better about releasing last-minute award space:
- Austrian Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- United Airlines
- Virgin Australia
Note the majority are Star Alliance. If you find yourself booking last-minute ticket, far better to have Star Alliance points or flexible currencies like AMEX or Chase than American or Delta points.
My wife is on her way to Zurich. Thank goodness that space opened up at the last minute…or else I’d be in the doghouse today. I could have booked her earlier this week via Chicago or Washington, but a daytime flight with Augustine and shorter overnight journey? No thanks.
Waiting till the last minute is not for everyone, but if you’re at all flexible, it really pays to wait.