Now is the Time to Start Booking your 2012 Holiday Season Trips

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Most airline programs begin selling seats for flights about 330 days out.  That varies plus or minus a few days, but roughly 11 months out is when you can often start purchasing tickets – or in my case, redeeming miles and points.  I have found many hotel chains to book even further out than that.  For example, when I was on Hyatt’s website earlier today, I saw that they were booking rooms a full year out.  I know some of my fellow blogger friends like to say that getting award seats 330 days out is a myth.  I know what they mean, but it isn’t exactly a myth.  In fact, it is how I book the vast majority of our major family trips.  In practical terms, what that means for families is that if you haven’t already, now is the time to start looking at your plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, especially if you are hoping to book any portion of your trip using miles or points.  In fact, what made me want to write this post is that just yesterday I booked our New Year’s Eve plans for when the clock brings in 2013.

Before I tell you more about our plans, I want to go back to why I think now is the time to book.  While it is 100% true that not all available award seats are released exactly 330 days out, that doesn’t mean no reward seats are released this early.  On some flights award seats won’t be released yet, on some flights they will never be released, and on others they may not be released until a magical computer program realizes that paid tickets aren’t selling as quickly as they hoped, so some award seats are released closer to the departure date.  In any event, it doesn’t hurt to start looking now for the end of the year holidays.  If you see some reward seats available on a flight that will work for you, then grab them!  If I know our plans in advance, I almost always start checking for reward seats the day that the flight schedule is released.  Since we often use Continental/United, I can book a reward flight and then change it with no penalty to a different time or date (assuming the origin and destination remain the same) until 21 days before departure.  So, for me there really is very little downside to planning ahead in this manner.  Of course, you need to check with your preferred airline to see their policy regarding award ticket changes.

When redeeming hotel points for free nights, I have also found booking ahead to be a huge advantage.    My favorite two hotel programs are Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest.  Both hotels have similar policies that state that if a standard room is available for sale at the “Daily Rate”, then that room is eligible to be reserved using points with no blackout dates.  In my experience, especially for peak travel times, the closer you get to the date, the less likely it is that there will still be standard rooms available at the daily rate.  However, if you are booking a full year out, there is often an excellent chance that standard rooms will be available, so you can snag those rooms with your points!

That is exactly how we locked up our New Year’s Eve plans for much later this year.  The “Daily Rate” for the Hyatt resort that we want to stay at f0r New Year’s Eve is already $499.00.  That is about what it was last year for New Year’s, and I expect it to remain pretty steady this year.  The last three New Year’s, we have had quiet evenings at home with our little one.  In fact, I haven’t seen midnight at any of the last three New Year’s.  However, since C will be three this year, I am hopeful we can stay up a little later than normal…even if we don’t quite make it until 12AM.  The resort we booked has a fantastic New Year’s celebration that caters to both adults and little ones.  Even though this resort goes all out for their New Year’s celebration, there is no way I would spend $500+ dollars to stay there for one night.

However, I would happily spend 18,000 Gold Passport points that my husband has been racking up due to being on the road so much for work.  That redemption comes in just a bit under 3 cents per point, which is a pretty solid return.  If this year is anything like last year, that resort will absolutely sell out of standard rooms at the daily rate well in advance of New Year’s Eve.  I can always cancel this reservation if we end up changing our plans, but booking now ensures that we can save our cash and redeem some points for a pretty good value.

My husband gave me a strange look when he learned I had redeemed points now for New Year’s Eve, but since he’s used to my antics by now, the strange look didn’t last for too long.  He sure won’t be looking at my strangely when we are enjoying the heck out of New Year’s Eve without breaking the bank!  Or, at least it will be a different type of strange look.  Here is a sneak preview of what the resort looked like last year on New Year’s, shamelessly borrowed from their Twitter feed.  It looks freaking perfect for a family New Year’s Eve celebration!

So, even at the risk of getting some strange looks from your partner, I highly encourage you to start looking now for reward availability for both hotels and flights for the 2012 Holiday Season.  It may be easy for a single person or a couple to wait until the last minute to plan, but if your family is like mine, advance planning is essential and just a part of life.  😉  However, don’t give up hope just yet if the reward availability isn’t there yet, keep checking.  In addition to compulsive manual searching, I use Expert Flyer to send me an alert if the reward flight I want becomes available.

Have you made any travel plans yet for the 2012 Holidays?  Please tell me I am not the only insanely compulsive one…..

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  1. This past weekend, I used my U.S. Airways to book for an awards travel over the Xmas holidays. It was super easy. I looked for an itinerary on Continental site then called the CSR and gave her the exact segments. Afterwards, I called all the airlines to confirm and book seats. Then I check their websites for confirmation.

    LAX- SFO (united0
    ICN – HAN (Asiana)

    PNH – BKK (Thai)
    BKK – NRT (Thai)
    NRT – LAX (All Nippon)

    All Biz class except for LAX to SFO on economy. I lucked out and will be on the refurbished flat beds on United and All Nippon Airways.

    Regardless of what people say, I always book about 300 to 330 days out.

  2. Our family usually tries to book early in advance as well. There are five in our family so the idea of trying to wait and do it closer to departure is not going to work.

    We’ve been planning our 2012 holiday travel already. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. You *know* you are NOT the only insanely compulsive one. I had to move our family of four’s BA F booking from August to December, and you can bet I’ve been compulsively watching each booking window open ever so slowly, day by day. It really is a must, especially when looking to book more than two or three international awards on the same exact flight(s). If only booking two seats, I do generally believe there is more flexibility, but as you say, as long as there are no penalties for making changes, if the seats are available now, and if you can plan well in advance, then go for it.

  4. I did this too, booked Aug 2012 Hawaii trip back in Sep 2011 when AA opens up award seats.

    @sil, keep checking onthe LAX-SFO route, it’s a short segment but why not get Biz if it’s available. Also check during check-in AND at the gate if Biz is available. The gate agent got me Biz seat when I asked and told him the ticket agent said there’s no Biz seat.

  5. @LF, good for you!!

    @sil, I am totally with you on the advance planning. In fact, I am about to enter the booking window for an award trip I am very excited about booking. 😉

    @Craig, you are so right that the larger your traveling party, the more important it is to start as early as possible. Good luck!

    @Michael R, multiple award seats is absolutely a different beast than just one or two. Glad to hear you were able to move your trip. Clearing room in the late summer/early fall for SMD4?? 😉

    @Maury, ha ha. I think we have been in the terrible twos since she was born. Actually, I am loving this stage, but those tamtrums can be interesting!

    @MichaelP, good for you for planning and ahead and getting the trip you wanted and good advice for Sil to keep checking.

  6. I booked our holiday trips too this month. Going to southern Spain during thanksgiving and on the return, “layover” lax for 3 weeks then spend Christmas on Maui. So getting 1.5 trips using aa points for one trip. The bonus is that I convinced dh to fly business award 🙂 I also got my sister’s family 2 tickets with ba points to Maui so they can spend Christmas with us. It was a lot of work tracking award openings but it was worth it!

  7. Booking 330 days out for a major vacation is not a myth. It is smart planning. We booked our Asia trip for Jun 2012 in July last year. This is the only way for us to get 4 families (15 people) for LAX-SGN-LAX in Jun on award travel. I currently checked for another person who wants to join us, the entire month of Jun is now sold out. Not a single award ticket is available for this itinerary….
    Great blog!

  8. Thank you so much for this post! I procrastinated to booking for Christmas until this week, and your post was the kick in the pants I had needed to finalize plans. I had a browsed a bit in January, but not booked anything. Once I looked at award availability this week, I was unpleasantly surprised to see that most of the routings I had browsed were no longer available. Ooops! So, after 2 days and 10 calls to Delta, and one rep hanging up on me, I have a great itinerary to Mexico departing the day after Christmas. I’m spending a couple of days on the beach, and week exploring colonial cities in central Mexico.

    On another note, I highly recommend exploring AeroMexico routings using SkyMiles. AeroMexico seems to have decent award availability, and I’ve been able to get low level award using SkyMiles with them twice. I haven’t found a good way to check AM availability online, hence my 10 calls to Delta to figure out this routing.

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