Award seat analysis: American vs. United – Los Angeles to New York JFK

This second installment of “Award Seat Analysis†looks at the premium Los Angeles to New York JFK nonstop market and I’ve researched availability from American Airlines and United Airlines in April 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, January 2, 2012 using ExpertFlyer.

American offers 10 flights per day on peak days using three-cabin 767-200 aircraft (10/30/128), while United offers 6 flights using three-cabin 757-200 aircraft (12/26/72). First, here are total award seats available for the month of April.

a close-up of numbersEven though American offers more flights and a slightly larger Business cabin, I was very surprised to see how many MileSAAver seats they opened up – far more than I would have guessed. First was similar given the cabin’s size. I was equally surprised to see the lack of economy seats on American for the LAX-JFK segment. Those 61 seats are available on only four calendar days the entire month, whereas United offers seats 18 days during the month. Graphically, the difference between carriers is more stunning.

a graph with a red line and blue trianglea graph with a line and a red lineI also like to take a deeper look into premium cabin awards where at least two seats are available on the same flight, as well as the total number of days with availability. American is incredibly generous on the LAX-JFK route, whereas you’d be hard pressed to book an award on United.

a blue and white rectangle with black textMimicking the LAX-JFK route, American is also incredibly generous on the reverse with ample availability. I noted many peak travel days and times had excellent availability, so all these seats weren’t just on the redeyes.

a blue rectangle with black textWinner: American Airlines (with a nod to United). American obviously takes top prize for First and Business Class availability, but I have to wag my finger at them for coach availability on the LAX-JFK sector. That just doesn’t make sense to me unless they truly have such enormous one-way demand. As such, I have to give United a win for economy, especially given their significantly smaller cabin.



  1. I just don’t get analyses like these. On any given day the numbers are going to be different. Until someone actually expends the significant resources required to gather meaningful data trends the “stats” reported in analysis like this will continue to be a guess at best and horribly misleading at worst.

    • @Wandering Aramean: Agreed that the numbers will be different on any given day. These are just a snapshot showing the amount of inventory allocated on the date of capture. There was no guessing involved. I think it does a great job of showing just how many seats a carrier opens for hard sought after award space. Makes me appreciate American a bit more in this market knowing I have a virtual unlimited chance of getting a Business Class seat on any day of the week for the whole month. Nothing misleading about that.

  2. Oh, and as a customer I care much less about the percentage of total seats available than I do the absolute number. That NN% are available overall is of little solace if the one I need isn’t.

    • @Wandering Aramean: Agreed the individual traveler doesn’t care about the totals. Maybe I’ll throw a calendar graphic in with the seats by day for future installments. For now I’m just noting, for example, American had only four days the whole month with seats LAX-JFK.

  3. I just called to change a JFK-LAX J flight on AA to a different day in Feb today and was amazed to see that ALL but 1 flight on the day I wanted had availability.

    Also while you gave a nod to UA for Y availability, LAX-JFK can be had for under $300 round trip on many days, so burning 25K miles may not be the best idea, considering you get at least 4950 miles (more for elites) from flying. So you forgo at least 29500 miles, which is a paltry 1cpm.

    • @AK, nice to know even closer in the availability is there. I absolutely agree burning miles when the fares are great is a terrible waste of miles.

  4. This also shows good inventory management.

    AA has plenty of Biz/F class seats. Knowing the historic demand, they are opening them up for saver awards in advance, so they get at least 500$ a ticket. (at 1 cpm)
    The left over goes to free upgrades for EXPs and for stickers.
    They have a large Y cabin, so can sell more and keep always a standard award available in all cabins.

    UA has smaller F and wants to sell F more than give it away for 500$ for an award (or for elites for free with UDU). They also have economy plus to keep elites happy. In a smaller cabin of Y (most of whom they can’t charge 1000$ for anyway), they are opening up more economy awards and the last few seats will still sell for a 1000$ for a Y fare.

  5. This is a very interesting analysis. Thanks for preparing this one, too. Most of the time, award availability is discussed based in innuendo, and people trying to book a specific flight on a specific day. While this data isn’t all-encompassing, and they could change availability at any time, it is much more data than I’ve ever seen in a public presentation.

    • @NYBanker: Thanks… you’ve nailed exactly why I wanted to start this series. I’ve seen oodles of coach award analyses, but never premium cabins. I think it’s pretty revealing, though not to Seth’s (Wandering Aramean) preference. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.