Book NOW, Soon Upgrades Won’t Clear To London Heathrow-And You May Not Be Able To Buy Tickets

London Heathrow airport is capping passenger volumes at 100,000 per day through September 11, against an average of 104,000 passengers at the airport. Peak travel days exceed this number. In fact during summer 2019 volumes regularly exceeded 200,000 passengers per day, and the airport set a record above 260,000 in August 2019. The airport has asked airlines to suspend ticket sales to accommodate these limits.

Heathrow blames airlines (and their ground handling agents) for meltdowns that have recently been experienced, though airport security staffing has been insufficient and the airport’s baggage handling systems have broken down as well. Each airline has to figure out how to manage the cap, by cancelling some flights or by limiting the number of passengers on each flight. How much of a cap applies to each operator appears likely to be determined by the slot facilitator.

With airlines unable to sell more seats on flights over the next couple of months, you might expect empty business class seats to become easy upgrades for customers already booked. However that’s not going to be the case.

Here are (5) reasons this is going to make upgrades (and awards) tougher to get.

  1. When airlines zero out inventory they need to zero out inventory and that often needs to include upgrade and award classes.

  2. Even if that wasn’t necessary they could foresee a loosening of these airport caps, allowing them to sell seats again – so they won’t want to have given them away as upgrades.

  3. Indeed temporary caps may lead to a surge in demand once caps are lifted and passengers intending to fly now spread some of that travel over future dates – meaning an excess in premium cabin demand relative to normal algorithms.

  4. If an airline is going to consolidate operations, they may have fewer business class seats available rather than more empty seats.

  5. And the suspension of flight sales may be temporary as they work through which flights to cancel instead of operating planes partially empty. That means they’ll be selling flights again with more limited premium cabin inventory rather than an excess of premium seats.

As of now, though, there’s still plenty of flight inventory available for sale.

And mileage redemptions are even available on some flights at semi-reasonable rates.

Based on London Heathrow’s demands this does not appear as though it will remain the case. Roughly speaking passengers that have already booked tickets, especially for travel into August and September, should be able to be accommodated on seats that are permitted to fly in and out of London. However new bookings are going to be far more scarce than usual, and be sold at a real premium. Don’t expect award travel at any kind of reasonable price or expect upgrades to clear.

If you need to get to or from London consider flying out of another London area airport; domestic travel to Manchester; travel to Ireland or ground travel to Paris or Brussels.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You’d think that for the obscenely huge fees that LHR is gouging passengers for they could manage to actually operate normally by using some of their income to have enough staff to handle business.

  2. LOL, Gary – all the flights you show as having inventory are flights TO Heathrow. The caps HAL is imposing are on DEPARTURES from Heathrow. Check inventory on AA flights departing Heathrow in the same period as those JFK departures you have in the post…

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