Searching for award flights in premium cabins for one or two people can be challenging enough, but you’re really starting to play in “hard mode” when you’re trying to book three or more travellers on the same itinerary.
While most airlines are happy to consistently release some premium award space at the beginning of schedule, many of these airlines choose to limit their generosity to two award seats, and will then continually monitor their flight loads and release additional seats as needed.
Instead of taking your chances with these airlines, it’s helpful to know which airlines consistently release three or more premium award seats on most of their flights, so that you can focus your efforts on these airlines when searching for space.
That’s exactly the deep-dive that we’ll conduct in this post, focusing on Star Alliance and Oneworld airlines, as well as a few non-alliance partner airlines of the frequent flyer programs that we can easily access here in Canada.
Flights to Europe: Swiss, TAP, Turkish, Aer Lingus
Of the ideal carriers for flying to Europe in business class, only a few of them consistently release more than two award seats on any given flight. Swiss will likely be your best bet, followed by TAP Air Portugal, Turkish Airlines, and Aer Lingus.
(British Airways and Lufthansa are excellent with premium availability, but the $500+/person surcharges on their flights will burn a hole in your pocket very quickly.)
Swiss has been very generous with its award space throughout the calendar as of late, routinely making up to four business class seats available on their transatlantic flights from the beginning of schedule.
As long as you’re somewhat flexible within a few days of your desired travel date, as well as which North American gateway you fly out of, you can almost certainly find a flight with four seats available.
As is the case with most European carriers, Swiss tends to release more business class space on its East Coast routes, since the airline feels more confident of selling seats on its West Coast flights to paying customers. Boston, New York JFK, Chicago, and Miami seem to have the most plentiful, although the Montreal route does see a fair bit of award space for three or more people as well.
(Of these cities, Miami is served by the Boeing 777, which has the most cutting-edge business class product. The other cities see a mix of Airbus A330s and A340s, which are less luxurious though still a fantastic way to travel as a group.)
Sometimes you even see Swiss throwing out crazy award space, like this Zurich–Chicago flight on the Boeing 777 with eight seats available:
For West Coast folks, finding four seats on the Los Angeles and San Francisco flights, both operated by Boeing 777s, is certainly more difficult, though by no means impossible.
It’s even possible to book multiple business class seats on Swiss during peak travel season, as long as you plan far enough in advance.
For example, my assistant Rachel was able to snag four seats out of Montreal for December 23 this year, having made the booking in the middle of March.
TAP Air Portugal
TAP is also pretty generous with award space, and they tend to release four business class awards from the outset on their US routes – less so on their flights to Toronto.
TAP’s refreshed fleet consists of a mix of Airbus A330-900neos with private lie-flat seats and direct aisle access, as well as shorter-range Airbus A321-LRs which fly the Lisbon–Washington and Porto–Newark routes. The Airbus A321-LR only has 16 business class seats in total, so the single-aisle business class cabin might make for a particularly intimate occasion for your party of four.
As always, searching far in advance will maximize your chances for getting everyone on the same flight. There’s plenty of space for four people on TAP Air Portugal for next summer, but much less for the remainder of 2019.
Turkish Airlines occasionally releases up to four business class seats on their North American flights, although they’re certainly less generous and less predictable than Swiss.
Turkish’s availability patterns tend to be route-specific, in that they often release large bounties of award space on certain routes and zero seats on others. And to add a further layer of complexity, Turkish doesn’t simply release the seats at the beginning of schedule and leave it at that; instead, they like to pull existing space and release additional space seemingly at random intervals.
All this conspires to mean that your best chance of finding up to four business class seats on Turkish Airlines is to book as far in advance as possible, and target the routes that they tend to be more generous on, which are Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta.
For example, right now you can book four seats on the new Dreamliner product (which appears to be a big step up from their Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s) on the Atlanta route for next summer:
Don’t expect to see three or more business class seats on the Toronto or Montreal flights anytime soon, as you’d be lucky to find even one seat on those routes. (Then again, anything can happen with Turkish, so who knows!)
One of the best sweet spots of British Airways Avios is redeeming 50,000–60,000 Avios for one-way business class flights from Toronto to Dublin on Aer Lingus. Unlike the previous examples, the availability situation here is actually very favourable on the Canadian side as well as the US side, as the Toronto route almost always has three business class seats available when searching far in advance.
Some of the Irish carrier’s US routes fare better than others when it comes to 3+ business class seats. East Coast routes like Chicago and Hartford seem to be limited to two or fewer business class seats per flight.
However, those of you living in Western Canada might be particularly interested in the Seattle–Dublin routes, which sometimes throws up six business class seats on the same flight! (The downside here being that the Seattle route costs more Avios – 62,500 Avios at a minimum on off-peak dates.)
Flights to Asia: Asiana, EVA Air, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific
Out of the 10 ideal carriers for flying to Asia in business class, a handful of them can be counted on to deliver three or more award seats on a consistent basis.
Asiana seems pretty happy to provide three or more award seats pretty much across the board. Their Los Angeles route, operated by the Airbus A380, seems to be the most favoured recipient, followed by San Francisco and Seattle, and then by Chicago and New York JFK.
The maximum limit of award seats that they release seems to be six on each flight. For example, here’s Seoul–Seattle and Seoul–Los Angeles with six business class seats each:
Whether you’re interested in bringing your large family onboard a special business class experience, or throwing an international bachelor party and trying to get there in style, Asiana should be one of the first places you look to snag more than two business class seats on a trip to Asia.
EVA Air business class is one of Star Alliance’s best, so it’s great news that they routinely release three business class seats at the beginning of schedule (in EVA’s case, this seems to be 330 days before the date of travel).
Planning in advance is the key to booking EVA Air business class – in recent years, everyone seems to have woken up how fantastic their onboard product is, so I’ve seen their business class seats vanish within a few hours after coming online.
If you’re booking for a party of more than three passengers, keep in mind that EVA’s strong North American route network allows you to put the other passengers on a flight through a different gateway airport. For example, you could book three people on Toronto–Taipei and the other three on Toronto–Chicago–Taipei, after which you could all resume the same journey onwards to your final destination.
The other thing to note about EVA is that they are extremely generous with last-minute award space at around five days before departure if they have unsold seats in business class – I mean, here’s a staggering eight seats on two separate Taipei–Los Angeles flights a few days from now:
Therefore, another strategy might be to secure whatever business class seats you can get when booking far in advance, put the remaining passengers in economy class, and then take your chances on a last-minute upgrade. The odds would very much be in your favour.
On the whole, Air Canada is very fair about making at least two and often three or more of their business class seats available on most of their flights to Asia. Meanwhile, the usual problem of hefty fuel surcharges when booking Air Canada through Aeroplan is alleviated by flying to places that have regulated fuel surcharges, such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
As an extreme example of their generosity, here’s a view for eight passengers on Air Canada business class on the Toronto–Tokyo Haneda route for next summer.
An ExpertFlyer search for three passengers on the same route across a week-long also turns up a very plentiful selection:
With Air Canada, as long as you’re searching sufficiently far in advance and choosing destinations that have fuel surcharge regulations, you can bring a party of three or more across the Pacific onboard their Signature Class service in a pretty reliable fashion.
Finally, on the Oneworld side, Cathay Pacific can generally be counted on to release up to four business class seats on their flights at 330 days out, although these tend to get snapped up very quickly. It’s best to plan ahead and secure these seats around the time that they’re released; otherwise, you’ll be left waiting for the airline to release last-minute space (which they do sometimes but not always).
The British Airways and Qantas websites will show you the award space that’s available to partners, although Cathay has been known to make additional award space available to members of its own Asia Miles program, although the total number of Standard award seats released per flight doesn’t appear to go beyond four.
The airline’s Toronto route seems to be more limited in award space than the Vancouver and US routes, and New York in particular has the most flights per day and so would give you the greatest chance of finding the award seats you need. However, keep in mind that there’s been a fair bit of uncertainty with Cathay Pacific’s routes recently, as they’ve been making cuts to their schedule left, right, and centre, as a result of the civil unrest in Hong Kong.
Other Airlines & Strategies
We can also look beyond Europe and Asia to identify a few carriers that are friendly to booking more than two seats on the same flight.
For example, Copa Airlines doesn’t shy away from offering up to eight business class award seats on their South American flights (the same is true for Avianca):
If you’re planning an Aeroplan Mini-RTW and need to fly between Europe and Asia, you’d be well-served by any of the airlines we discussed that operate trans-Eurasian routes:
Unfortunately, Africa’s largest carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, only seems to make two business class awards available per flight. Nevertheless, EgyptAir might be a viable option to fly within Africa, since they regularly have up to four seats available:
For flying into the Middle East, Emirates releases a huge amount of business class award space across most of its vast route network, although you’ll need to be truly swimming in Alaska miles to book these:
Sadly, while Australia and New Zealand are some of the world’s most popular travel destinations, they also happen to be one of the hardest places to visit on points in a premium cabin – and that applies even to one or two travellers, let alone three or more.
That brings me to my final point, which is that even if you aren’t able to arrange for three or more passengers on the same flight, there are a wide variety of options at your disposal, as long as you have some flexibility in your travels. It’s up to you which of these options you might prefer:
Booking one or two passengers on one flight in business class, and the remaining passenger(s) on a separate flight or itinerary, also in business class
Booking one or two passengers on one flight in business class, and the remaining passenger(s) on the same flight in economy or premium economy
On either of the above, being open to making a change at a later date and/or taking advantage of last-minute availability to get everyone onto the same flight
Changing your preferred travel dates to find a flight with enough business class seats
Changing your routing to fly out of a different gateway airport on a flight with enough business class seats
Obviously the ideal scenario is that everyone in your party gets to enjoy the business class experience in each other’s company, but ultimately, as long as some or all of you are travelling to your destination in comfort, I’d still consider that to be a great use of your points, even if you do need to split the party and/or pay a few hundred dollars in change fees to make it happen.
I know many of you who have families often find yourselves looking on in envy at the solo and couple travellers who seem like they have free reign over business class availability, since many airlines choose to only release two seats at the beginning of schedule. The airlines outlined in this article give you the best shot at booking three or more business class seats on the same flight and securing a memorable flight experience for everyone in your travelling party.
By planning well in advance, putting in a bit of legwork in finding the right routes, and being ready to take advantage of last-minute availability like we see with EVA Air, you’ll still be able to use your points for maximum value in business class even if you travel as a larger group.