What Are United's Holiday Blackout Dates?

Frequent Flyer Q&A
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 16, 2002. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: frequent flyer, Frequent Flyer Q&A, Tim Winship.

Dear Tim,

I am wondering if you could possibly help me in determining the blackout dates between December 20 and January 6 on United Airlines. I cannot seem to find the information anywhere. Your help would be most appreciated. We are wishing to fly from St. Louis, MO, to Honolulu, HI. Please help me!

Ben

Dear Ben,

I hope you didn't waste too much time searching for those blackout dates because they're not displayed anywhere, online or in print. I can say that categorically because in early 2002, most airlines—United included—stopped publishing blackout dates. And they did so with great fanfare, proclaiming long and loud that the scourge of blackout dates had been done away with forever.

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So that means you can take an award flight whenever you want, right?

Well, not exactly. While there is no list of dates when award travel is prohibited, there are most certainly days and flights when award seats are not available. That's because modern airlines employ sophisticated yield-management software to make seats available at various prices, or in exchange for frequent flyer miles, according to supply and demand. Since the underlying goal of the process is to maximize revenue per flight, frequent flyer seats are given lowest priority. And on flights that are expected to sell out, there may be no frequent flyer seats whatsoever.

In other words, some flights are indeed effectively blacked out for award travel. The dates just aren't published.

I should also point out that you have chosen to redeem your miles for travel to a very desirable destination, during a peak travel period—a bad combination. And to make matters worse, you have waited until the last minute to secure seats.

My advice: Run, don't walk, to your phone and call United's service center. Have an agent check availability on and around the dates you want to travel. Be prepared to modify your schedule.

If you can be flexible, I can offer you the faintest glimmer of hope. In years past, I have been able to use miles to fly on Christmas and New Year's Day. Those probably aren't the dates you'd choose to travel if you were purchasing a ticket. But, thanks to computers and the profit motive, frequent flyers can't always be choosers.

Good luck.

 
 
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