November 20, 2022 Bennett Roulette
Some award seats never show up online. Here’s how to find ‘em
If you are a bags-packed dream-trip opportunist, or a willing-to-upgrade-till-the-end maestro, fasten your seatbelt. I have a secret strategy that can open up discount award space for $27,000 tickets you won’t be able to snag any other way.
What’s a Waitlist?
Waitlisting is where you’re put on a list for seats that aren’t currently available in the booking category you desire. Airlines have historically used waitlists as an insurance policy when they don’t sell all their seats, in that excess inventory is released to those on the waitlist. In this case today, we’ll examine Emirates’ liberal release of their premium seats for discount miles redemption close to departure.
Not All Waitlists Are Created Equal
When it comes to award waitlisting, there are good waitlists and bad ones.
Bad Waitlists: One bad example is United mileage upgrade waitlists, which seldom clear. One reason is because anyone can do it online, so everyone does.
Good Waitlists: Emirates is a great example of a good waitlist. Why? You can’t do it online. And almost nobody knows about it. That means the waitlist line is relatively short so you’re more likely to win the waitlist lottery. Many travelers (especially younger ones) refuse to speak to anyone over the phone. They actually do everything on their phone; they just don’t use it to speak to anyone. This hang-up equals more opportunities for you.
How to get the goods that never make it to the market shelves
With Emirates waitlisting, you not only get access to seats you wouldn’t otherwise, but you essentially beat your travel competitors to the draw as they will never see these seats on the airline’s website.
Think of it like a grocery store. When people go to the store and see no tomatoes there, they either give up and move on to the next thing on their shopping list — OR they ask a store employee if there are any tomatoes in the back. That’s kind of like what waitlisting is – access to the stuff that never actually makes it to the shelf. It’s like you’re going straight from the warehouse to your cart.
There are many people who just keep checking seat availability online (the grocery store shelf) every day. And there are other people who tell the “back room guy” to notify them when a box comes in — bypassing the shelf and going straight to their basket.
Waitlisting Awards With Emirates Is a Manual (Over the Phone) Task But Notifications Are Automatic
Once you’ve waitlisted an award flight, you’ll be emailed when a seat becomes available, before it’s even displayed on the website. A secret seat, if you will. That’s huge. There’s a whole stash of inventory that never makes it to the market shelf, but you can still park your patootie on it.
The Two Waitlist Winners
Somewhat similar to Lufthansa’s close-in release of First Class seats, Emirates generally releases seats three days prior to departure. Moreover, I’ve noticed that the odds of them releasing the seats are 50% or better.
So who can benefit from this?
Winner #1: The Bags-Packed Opportunist
You always have your bags packed and ready at the door, so to speak, so you can pounce when that world-class First Class bucket-list opportunity comes knocking. Perhaps you’re retired, a business owner who makes your own schedule, or maybe you’re a digital nomad.
Either way, for you the opportunity is inevitable. It just comes down to when.
Winner #2: The Upgrader Till the End
You’ve already booked a ticket, but it could use improvement either because:
A) It cost more than you wanted to pay (in miles or cash), and/or
B) It’s in a lesser class of service than you want (say Premium Economy or Business, and/or
C) It’s not on your ideal airline (has average seats or for whatever reason), and/or
D) It could be more convenient (number of stops, routing, airports, connections times, dates, etc.),
E) You’re open to upgrade opportunities after you’ve already bought a ticket. (One of my favorite things to do.)
This happened to me recently while traveling through the Baltics. I was wandering around the area when something came up that required me to return home. My first thought was to book what was most convenient and that was a LOT Polish Airlines flight. But my first thought isn’t always my best one.
Then I thought to myself, hmmm…
- What’s the best flight I could take home from the region? (Emirates was high on that list.)
- Italy (one of my favorite countries) has an Emirates A380 flight from Milan back to the U.S.
- I’m always down for Milan.
- But there’s seldom any discount award availability in First Class on Emirates.
Enter Emirates Waitlist
I made like a tortoise, and waitlisted all the flights Emirates would let me: three. In my experience, this is almost a total guarantee, as long as you’re flexible on dates. What an awesome ending to a trip. I get to hang out in Milan for a few days on my way back to the U.S. from a three-week trip to the Balkans and Baltics, where I hit country #108.
I’d go so far as to say, why not always return from Milan on any European trip? If not starting there?
Lake Como, Florence, Venice, Verona, and even the Alps are all an easy train ride away if you’ve exhausted Milan and want to expand your horizons.
By the way, as my trip was winding down, if the Emirates First Class A380 from Milan didn’t open-up, I could always just fly home from Vilnius, Lithuania, in Business Class on LOT Polish Airlines.
This strategy is similar to FCF’s Upgrade Two-Step Strategy.
How Does Emirates Waitlisting Work?
It’s easy. All you have to do is pick up the phone, dial Emirates at 1-800-777-3999, and maybe wait on hold five minutes, if that. Put on your iPhone earbuds and enjoy some Barry Manilow or Beethoven, and make dinner or clear the dishes while you wait. Personally, I can be more productive while on hold with airlines than I am otherwise. A perfect distraction that allows me to focus. It’s never been a big problem for me, and once you speak to a reservationist, they’re happy to put you on the waitlist for up to three flights for your discount award. You just have to ask.
Increasing Your Odds
The more seats that are empty going in, the better the odds of your waitlist clearing, obviously.
How do you know what flights have the most empty seats?
One way is to go to Expedia and do a search on the route and date you’re considering. Then in the search results, click on the exact flight you’re looking at. Then click on “choose your seat” (see below). Then view the number of empty seats. While not always 100% accurate, it’s indicative, and if there are no empty seats, that’s a bad sign for sure.
In general, I’d guess if you’re a week out from departure, and see four or so seats open (is the case much of the time), waitlisting is worth pursuing. With less than two seats, your odds are slim.
Also: Be aware that there are 14 seats in First Class on A380s (New York-Milan, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC – Dubai, and beyond), and eight Seats on B777s (New York-Athens; Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Orlando – Dubai, and beyond). In general, the more seats on the plane, the more potential empty seats to open-up.