Is United’s Award Space Getting Even Worse Than American’s?

For quite some time American has been really really tough with award space on their own international flights. However American has been going to lengths to improve their premium cabin award availability. At the end of last year American finally opened pretty good award space on their new Sydney flight. I covered the floodgates opening for award space on London routes. And how they opened up China flying. That was just the start. And they opened up space to Auckland, too.

What’s interesting is that United seems to have been going in the opposite direction. I still like United miles for access to awards across the Star Alliance. United has more partners flying to more destinations, and that creates opportunities for award redemption (even as United charges a mileage premium to redeem awards on their partners).

After United announced an end to serving New York JFK and moving all of their premium transcon flights to Newark (New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia once refused to get off a plane at Newark Airport, because his ticket promised he’d travel to New York — he was at the time pushing for construction of what became LaGuardia airport), they opened the floodgates on premium transcon awards. But that was 9 months ago, and what a difference 9 months makes.

United is not releasing a single premium cabin award seat in either direction on their Newark – Los Angeles flights between now and the end of schedule. There’s about 5 days total, all over the next two months, where there is a single premium cabin award on their Newark – San Francisco flights. And there’s a month or more stretch at a time where you won’t even find a single economy award on those routes.

Let me underscore that. I’m not even looking for two seats. This is just looking for a single seat, on any day. There are 3 days in March where Newark – San Francisco has availability. There’s one in March in one in April where there is a business class award the opposite direction. And over a month during the summer where there’s not even a single economy saver award on either route either way.

Have a look at Newark – Los Angeles. Notice not a single day colored in blue or green which would indicate 1 business class award seat across about 13 flights a day. And notice days that are simply white, not 1 saver award of any kind or class or service on those days.

Have a look at Newark – San Francisco. United operates ~ 15 flights a day between those two cities.

For avoidance of doubt, San Francisco – Newark looks pretty much the same. Remember I’m only searching for 1 seat, not for 2 or to bring a family.

United’s Los Angeles – Newark flight is similarly bad. Not one day the entire year where there is even 1 business class award. And that’s on 4,000 flights.

Want to see United’s premium cabin seat on their New York – Los Angeles or New York – San Francisco flights? Good luck with that. It’s one thing for American not to release premium seats on a new route with only one flight per day. It’s another thing entirely, I think, for United not to release premium seats (or even saver coach seats) on a domestic route where they have 14 or more flights per day.

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, 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. As someone who regularly has difficulty booking SFO-EWR flights with less than a week’s notice, even in revenue biz class, I’m not surprised that they’re not opening up award inventory.

    I can’t speak to LAX, but I think they’re betting that they’re going to be able to sell those seats in the next several months.


  2. Thanks for highlighting this, Gary. It’s not just premium routes, either. Why does DCA-IAH have virtually no F availability? Or ORD-SEA? Is the demand to fly to either city, on which they have multiple flights a day, that high in January of 2017?

  3. Gary, it allows them to sell dirt cheap $299 upgrades at check-in of course

    Premier RPU breakage on the route is going to increase like crazy this year

  4. I fly SFO to NYC once a month and haven’t had an RPU clear in a year, even if I fly on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

  5. The amount of focus on the blogs on premium transcon travel is a bit of a turn off TBH. The rest of us stuck at ORD/DFW/PHL/MIA/CLT/PHX and other AA hubs couldn’t give a crap that one route flies with lay-flats in business.

    Even for most travelers in SFO/LAX/JFK who aren’t in finance/movie industry and actually travel to other places in the world could care less about one route having nice hardware.

  6. I had to be in New York last fall, and it was about a week after the EWR switchover, hence TONS of space. I’ve never had the luxury of choosing among four or five flights in a day when booking premium award travel. I guess I’ll have those fond memories to fall back on, eh United?

  7. I’ve been battling this for a year basically.

    Booked a trip NYC-SYD last April and took whatever was available for the domestic segments. Now I’m still stuck with an 11 hour layover in LAX on the outbound and a two day stopover on the return. Of course I need to be home before that so I’m literally going to have to buy an economy ticket (on Virgin America) from LAX-EWR while my business award goes to waste.

  8. I’m trying to book a trip to China for next year’s Spring Festival before the devaluation.

    I’ve already booked the return trip WUH-HKG-LAX-SEA in F on Feb 8th, now I just need to book the outbound trip from Seattle to Shanghai. The date is likely going to be early Jan, but none of the AA F seats are released so far for 2017. My understanding is that I can change the travel dates and routing/partners without incurring extra fees/miles post-devaluation, so I’m thinking about just booking one departing in Dec and change the date later.

    Is it correct that I can book SEA-LAX(on AS)-PVG(on AA) now for Dec and later change it to SEA-LAX(AS) – HKG(CX) – PVG (CX) for Jan without spending more miles?

    If I ended up having to take F on AA metal, it looks like the only flight from LAX-PVG is AA 183, which is a 777-200 and there is a big chance that by the time I fly it will be revamped into a 2-cabin plane and I will get a J seat instead. Do you know what will happen in this case? Will I be getting the miles difference back? Or will I be asked to pay more miles because it might require a reissue of the ticket and the new chart requires more miles for J than the old F?

    Thanks a lot in advance!

  9. Old news. UA stopped releasing ps saver awards more than a year ago. This was discussed at length on FT. And they continue to reduce award (and upgrade) availability throughout the system.

  10. Let’s face it-DL ceo said it out loud, but they’re all thinking/ planning it: don’t use miles for our flights. We want you to use them at a 1 cent a pop value for gift cards and overpriced drinks. Stop with the silly notion that you can fly somewhere with your miles. Ever.

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