How to Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats for My Group?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Lynne commented:

How can you determine how many award seats there are per flight?  I have a large family and am hoping to purchase all seats with points to Europe.  But I am afraid there will not be enough award seats on one flight.

Thanks for the question, Lynne!

Finding a large number of award seats on the same flight can be difficult (especially Business and First Class tickets!).  Fortunately, it’s not hard to find out if a certain flight will fit your needs.

How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
Traveling Is More Fun With Friends and Family!

I’ll show you how to determine if there will be enough open award seats for you and your travel companions.  And recommend a few strategies to book awards for a larger group.

Know How to Find the Maximum Amount of Award Seats So Everyone Can Fly for Free!

Searching available award seats is basically the same process as searching for a paid seat.  Most airlines have 2 kinds of award seats:

  • “Saver” level award seats, which let you use the fewest miles for an award ticket.  These are usually capacity controlled, meaning the airline limits the dates and number of seats that are available for this price.
  • “Standard” level award seats, which are usually available for double (or more!) the miles needed for a saver award.  There are many more seats available, and are a good choice for less flexible travelers.
How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
An Example of Both Standard and Saver Award Prices With United Airlines

Here’s an easy 2-step process to find award seats with United Airlines.  Other airlines have a similar process.

Step 1 – Navigate to and Choose the Number of Passengers

Enter the number of travelers in your group.  You can only choose up to 8 at once.  If you have 9 in your group, you will need to call 800-864-8331.  And for 10 or more, you will need to contact United GroupsSM.

How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
Step 1 – Select the Appropriate Number of Passengers

Step 2 – Select the “Search for Award Travel” Box

If you don’t check this box, your search results will be for paid seats only.

How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
Step 2 – Check the “Search for Award Travel” Box, and Press “Search”

You will then be able to see which flights have enough seats for your group!  You can see the available award levels and cabins in one place.

Note:   If you hold the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, you will have access to even more award seats.  When you log-in as a cardholder, you will be able to book a standard award, as long as the flight isn’t sold out!
If there is a seat available, these members have unrestricted access to book a Standard Award, even if it’s the last seat on the plane.

And in practice, folks will see more saver award seats, too!

How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
The Top Row Describes the Award Type

Flexibility Is Key to Big Travel With Small Money!

One thing to remember when you are booking an award flight is to be flexible.  After all, you are booking a trip for nearly free, so there are going be some trade-offs at times.

Search Different Travel Dates

You may not be able to get an award flight at the exact date and time you want.  This is especially true if you don’t book well in advance!

How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
You’ll Save LOTS of Points if You’re Willing to Modify Your Travel Dates

You are much more likely to find available award seats if you search broad dates.

Mix Your Award Levels

If you can’t find the number of saver award seats you want on a flight, you can book as many saver awards as possible, and book the rest as the higher-priced standard awards.

Note:   If you are searching for more saver level award seats than the airline has made available, the website will usually show NO available seats.  Try searching for fewer saver level seats.

For example, if you need 4 saver level seats, but ONLY see standard level award seats available, try searching for 3 seats.  Even if you find just 1 saver level seat, you will save a lot of points!

Search Hub Airports Instead of Your Home Airport

Lots of times, it will be much easier to find award seats by searching for flights originating in nearby hub airports instead of the smaller airport that is closest to you.

How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
A Free Flight to a Beautiful European Destination Can Be Well Worth the Inconvenience of Getting Yourself to a Hub

For example, if you live in Indiana, you will have an easier time finding award seats to Europe from Chicago instead of Indianapolis.

Mix Your Airlines

It’s a good idea to diversify your points to increase your award flexibility.  That way, if there aren’t enough award seats with one airline, you can book the rest of the seats on a different airline.  Your group can reach the same destination without flying on the same plane, after all!

For example, if you are flying from Washington, DC, to Zurich, Switzerland, you can use United Airlines miles to book some of the seats with United Airlines, and use Flying Blue miles to book the rest and fly on KLM or Air France.

How To Determine If There Are Enough Award Seats For My Group
Zurich Is a Gorgeous City! Emily and I Spent 10 Hours There and Wanted to Stay Longer

You can even book both of these awards by using the points you earn with cards like the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card.  That’s because it earns points that transfer to United Airlines AND Flying Blue, as well as other great airlines and hotels!

Bottom Line

It’s easy to find out whether there are enough award seats for your group.  Just search as you would for paid seats, but remember to check the “Search for award travel” box.

Most airlines have 2 levels of award seats:  Saver level awards take fewer points, but have little flexibility and are capacity controlled.  Standard level awards are more available and flexible but cost a LOT more points.

If you are searching for more saver level award seats than are available, the airline’s website will usually show NO available seats.  So try searching for fewer saver level seats, and then you can purchase the rest as the more expensive standard awards if necessary.

There are also a lot of other ways to find the award seats you need, like searching airports other than your home airport, and taking different airlines.

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