For those of you pressed for time, the short version as to "why" is rather simple. You want what I want, which is what my neighbor wants, and his brother wants and there's a very limited quantity of what we want, when we want it. Nearly every region of the world seems to be synched with school holidays, Christmas, Chanukah, Easter, you get the gist. When you couple a limited quantity of something, with an increasing number of people competing, you end up where we are now. As to "how" to fix it, the answer requires slightly more examination.
Certain Routes Will Always Be Slammed
I had a trip scheduled for February from New York to Hong Kong round trip. Due to work restrictions, I needed to move the trip. In doing so I also wanted to make it into an open jaw going from New York to Tokyo and returning from Hong Kong. There are only so many direct flights per day from New York City to Asian capitals and as you can imagine, there aren't many seats up for grabs. I couldn't find availability for two people for almost an entire calendar year. In the end, I was able to snag two tickets on Japan Airlines Sky Suite and Cathay Business Class by picking off the seats as they were released into schedule for September and October of NEXT year. There was no other way. The takeaway here is that if you have a flight in mind on a route that is always busy with limited daily flights, look very very early (as the dates are released) or be flexible to wait until a last minute seat opens up, which they often do.
Certain Dates Will Always Be Nearly Impossible
I get it, school holidays are unavoidable for many of you. For the rest of you, avoid them like the plague and learn to travel off season. In fact, I find that most of my favorite destinations such as South America, South Africa etc are at their best "off" season. If you're stuck to the school holiday system for your travels, consider being early or late with your departure and booking, avoid the middle. If your summer holiday begins June 1st and ends September 5th, look to leave say... May 31st or August 31st, getting back September 4th or 5th. As for booking, being early to the game is generally your best bet. I find that rates and availability in the last week before school resumes is often far better than the entire middle of summer, same theory applies for the beginning. For things like winter holidays, I find great availability traveling on New Years Eve and the day before Christmas.
You Don't Need To Book A Round Trip In One Piece
Taking a simple round trip somewhere? If you've shared any of the experiences using miles that I have, you will have likely found availability one way but not the other. Sometimes using miles one way and using cash for cheap tickets the other way can be the perfect solution, simultaneously stretching your miles. In the example of US to Europe or vice versa, I regularly find great availability in one direction and then try to fly someone like Norwegian, WOW Air or other discounters the other way. Sometimes the fares are as low as the taxes would've been using miles on a round trip. If you're hell bent on using miles both ways, remember, you can book one way and keep searching for the other leg. Availability comes and goes. Worst case, you can cancel the one way you booked outside of seven days before the flight with little penalty.
Don't Ever Stop Searching
Sorry for the day time soap opera title, but it's true. Don't ever stop searching for your perfect ticket. Think about it, from my example above of changing my dates to Hong Kong, two tickets just magically appeared on flights to and from Hong Kong, which last I checked, were previously sold out. Sometimes airlines add seats to availability using miles when they don't anticipate selling them and sometimes people need to change, thus freeing up availability. Proactively searching in your free time is your absolute best chance of scoring the exact dates in the exact cabin and flight you want.
Nearby Cities And Airports
If you live in one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world, as I do, you'll find competition for seats even worse. If you're taking a long trip, sometimes getting close to your final destination is better than not going at all. Considering nearby, less frequented cities, routes with connections and alternate airports can be huge. If you want to go to Hawaii, perhaps look for flights to a less touristy island and then pay for a cheap flight to connect over to your island of choice. You'll get the expensive long haul ticket out of the way. Same for Europe, Asia, United States and more...
Buy Miles In A Sale To Open Up Better Cabins
In general, buying miles at regular price is a bad deal. Everyone does love a sale, and airlines actually put out some pretty great ones from time to time on miles. I got married in London this summer and I desperately wanted my cousin in the states to attend. He was hoping to use miles, but found zero availability in economy. Well, it turned out there was great availability using miles in business class and by buying just 5,000 more miles in a sale, he was able to follow the advice of buying a one way ticket using cash and using miles the other way, resulting in an extremely cheap round trip with one leg in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. I think he almost would've preferred to stay on the plane than attend the wedding!
There are times when you just flat out cannot win. There are other times where you simply think you can't win. It's in these situations that you need to hunker down and check through the tips above to see if you've overlooked your golden ticket. Using miles is rarely easy, but it's almost always worth the effort. Happy travels.
I started this post a week ago, but was further inspired by this piece in CondeNast.
As Always, Get In Touch: GodSaveThePoints@gmail.com