Award seat analysis: American vs. United – Chicago to London Heathrow

I’m starting a new series here on Frequently Flying analyzing award availability in markets where U.S. carriers compete with each other. This first installment looks at the Chicago O’Hare to London Heathrow nonstop market and I’ve researched availability from American Airlines and United Airlines in February 2012.

I specifically searched for award seats at the minimum amount of miles required, namely MileSAAver awards on American and Saver awards on United. Any available seat is open for premium redemptions requiring double the miles and is therefore outside the scope of my research. The data below was captured on Monday, December 26, 2011 using ExpertFlyer.

While slightly apples to oranges as American doesn’t offer First Class on every flight – only their single daily Boeing 777 offering – I was particularly interested in seeing how Business Class would compare, as I assume most people are keen on redeeming miles as a couple for a memorable trip in a premium cabin.

American offers two nonstop flights per day to London through February 8th, then has an equivalent three nonstops daily as United has all month to Heathrow. First, here are total award seats available for the month of February:

a close-up of numbersI wasn’t surprised to see the differences in First Class award availability between American and United given the disparity of service. Coach seat availability was seen every day in both directions – except United had no seats ORD-LHR on February 18th – and the numbers reflect the minimum amount of seats open for redemption. American shows a maximum of seven seats via Sabre and United nine seats via Apollo/Galileo, but more were likely open in economy.

On the Chicago to London segment, both carriers allocated a similar amount of seats to each cabin:

a graph with red and blue linesBut on the return from London to Chicago, United was significantly more generous in each cabin:

a graph with red and blue linesNot everyone flies like I do – a single seat in a premium cabin – so I took interest into just how many flights offered at least two seats in Business Class. Both American and United have the same amount of days with zero Business seats available, but American wins out with the most days with at least two seats open for MileSAAver awards on the outbound:

a blue rectangle with black textThat said, however, you’d have a very difficult time getting back on American. They currently only have two days in February where two seats are available for MileSAAver award space on the return vs. United’s nine flights:

a blue rectangle with black textWinner: United Airlines. With similarly configured airplanes and greater availability throughout the month, United offers far more options for award redemption on their nonstop flights. February isn’t a desirable month to visit London, so stay tuned for further posts in this series as I’ll also research peak travel periods.


  1. Interesting analysis. Can your findings be considered as *A availability on united flights vs One world availability on American flights? I mean are the open seats mentioned above on United available to some one with US airways miles as well or they are only available with United miles?

    • Yes, you can use your US Airways miles on United since US is a part of the Star Alliance. Award tickets would be booked through US Airways in this instance.

  2. Thanks for doing this, it is a helpful analysis.

    Three questions come to mind:
    1) This is all for non-stop travel, right?
    2) Have you considered adding in alliance partners’ availability for non-stop flights? AA pax could consider BA as well. (While there would be a fuel surcharge on BA, a big chunk of their award ticket fees would be the premium cabin tax charged by the UK…which would also apply to UA and AA operated flights). I don’t think any other Star carriers operate this route.
    3) February is an easy month for travel to Europe. Could you look at this for July or August? That’s when the rubber meets the road for many pax.

    • 1) Yes, I only looked at nonstops
      2) I’ll definitely consider alliance partners in the future, thanks for the suggestion. The UK tax is a pain, yes.
      3) You’re absolutely correct. I’ll review peak periods for future posts.

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