Well that changed quickly. I feel like it was just yesterday that I could book pretty much anything I wanted using my miles, no questions asked. Sure, there were the usual issues of rising prices closer to departure for both Delta and American Airlines who use a more dynamic model. But United and Alaska were wild and free in terms of releasing seats. I wrote about the abundance of award seats back in February.
Well…things have changed. A lot.
Summer is Upon Us. Everyone Wants to Travel.
We all knew that there would be a pent up demand for travel due to the border closures and shutdowns during the pandemic last year. With things extending through all of 2020, summer 2021 seemed to be the new target for travel plans.
There was also a major shift in the type of trips being planned. With borders closed still during 2022, many are looking to domestic travel instead of a more typical international summer getaway. It looks like the EU will be allowing vaccinated Americans to visit; however, this is a bit late in the year to be deciding this. Many people have already locked in their summer plans.
It’s been a difficult time for airlines, as business travel is still way down and leisure travel demand has been up in the air (no pun intended). It’s been difficult for them to adjust and adapt. Just a few months ago, travel demand was pretty flat. Now it seems that bookings are way up and demand is surging, to the point that airlines are adding significant capacity.
Carriers are actually scrambling to keep up with the demand. From the Alaska Journal: “the four big U.S. airlines — American, Delta, United and Southwest — have more than 650,000 flights scheduled for June, which would make it even busier than the same month in 2019”.
More flights than in June 2019?? Now that’s crazy. But now it tells me why all the saver award space is gone for May and June for pretty much everything I’ve looked at booking.
Finding Awards Seats Is Now Difficult
The domestic travel landscape has changed. As I search for award tickets, predominantly on United, I’m finding that seats are hard to come by to outdoor and beach destinations. Rather than months of wide open availability, I’m now seeing only limited dates. And nothing over holidays and even around most weekends.
Revisiting a previous example I used, here is availability between my home airport and Portland, Maine. Where there was an entire months-worth of open space, there is now one day with a Saver award. And it’s (of course) on the Fourth of July holiday.
Granted, last time I looked at this it was for travel during April. But it’s still a crazy contrast.
Even “typical” tickets I look at booking are hard to find. Flights just from ACV to SFO (my regional home airport to United’s hub) are a lot harder to find at Saver levels. Shorter one-stop jaunts to Las Vegas, Tucson, or outdoor destinations in the U.S. West are difficult to find for less-than-obscene award prices. Even booking a trip to Las Vegas for an event in September proved so difficult that I gave up and booked it out of a different airport.
I know my searches only cover a dozen or so destinations, so they are anecdotal. But I’ve seen a swift change over the past several weeks.
I have most of my hopeful summer travel locked in, but not all. If you’re in my boat, things may become even more difficult. Flights and rental cars may both become quite expensive, which might point people to take a good, old-fashioned American road trip in their own vehicle this summer. I might just give up on burning the miles this summer and book things closer to home. It would be nice to get one international trip locked in, though, something I still haven’t done.
In the big scheme of things, this does mean things are looking up for the airlines, which is good. I hope that as COVID-19 is brought under control that more countries will open their borders and things will being to truly, finally normalize.