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So I've booked a couple of flights with online travel agents based on best price alone.

But it would be nice to know how full the flights could be in advance. One flight is for tomorrow so I could probably get a reasonable idea for that one if not the one which is in a month and a half from now.

Is there a generic way to find this online? Or would it vary from airline to airline? Or is it something I might be able to learn at the airport but not before? Or would I have to make a phone call to get some idea rather than expect the Internet to provide any help?

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Why would it be nice to know that? I mean, would you do anything differently in preparation, knowing that the flight will be, say, full or near empty. –  Jonik Sep 16 '12 at 12:08
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There is a difference. For example I like to know if I can use two seats or if I have to stick to my own seat. –  RoflcoptrException Sep 16 '12 at 14:05
    
Sure. But knowing about that beforehand hardly makes a lot of difference, eh? –  Jonik Sep 16 '12 at 16:59
    
@Jonik: I'd be more sure of getting my seating preference. And I'd have some idea of the odds of getting empty seats next to mine. It also makes a difference for how quickly the place will board and deboard and how quickly you'll get your meal once you see the food carts. –  hippietrail Sep 16 '12 at 17:53
    
One additional thought to keep in mind: non-revenue passengers (airline employees, and those to whom they extended their pass privileges) don't always book (or really list themselves) for flights. So a flight that may not have been completely booked will nonetheless become full, and revenue passengers who had hoped to be able to occupy more than their seat can not do so. –  user8505 Sep 22 '13 at 5:36

2 Answers 2

Partial answer:

Airlines that allow you to select seats during booking show how many seats are available, I've used this myself. However the further ahead of the flight you book the more likely it is that more passengers sign up.

That said, you can check the same flight for a number of days coming up after the current date and you should get a good idea of the average. This has worked great for me.

But do note that this does indeed take some time, especially if you are comparing different airlines on the same stretch. But if you've got 20-30 spare minutes, it works.

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Especially if you're looking at business class, there seem to be an enormous number of people who buy a ticket but don't choose a seat - as a result the "choose your seat" may show 5 options but an availability checker will tell you there is only one seat left for sale. 4 people haven't booked their seat. Still it does give you a bit of a clue. –  Kate Gregory Sep 16 '12 at 15:46
    
@KateGregory Indeed, this is very true. I posted my answer only from personal experience, and so far it has worked out pretty good. Gives a clue as you said :D I had not considered how business class might be or not be, never flew business class, with fewer seats my method might be less accurate there. –  Alendri Sep 16 '12 at 16:09

There are several tools you can use to find out about load. Many frequent fliers will choose their flight not based on convenient times, but on likelihood of getting an upgrade, for example.

  • KVS is user-supported and has a really horrible web site, but many people swear by it. You download an app that you run on your machine and it can find routings and show you availability.
  • Expert Flyer has a free trial that might be all you need on this trip.

I have never used either, but on the FlyerTalk forums, people used to always paste KVS results and these days they seem to mostly post expert flyer results when they're helping each other plan something epic. There could easily be more tools, these are just two I have heard of. There is a big list on flyaow.com which is a site I used to use to check availability, but which doesn't offer that any more.

Back when I had status, my dream flight was super full in economy (no more seats for sale, or less than 9 in the top few buckets, 0 in the lower buckets, meaning it's overbooked) and wide open in business. That is a flight where op-ups will be happening if all the economy people show up. And yes, I have chosen flights based on that (or chosen for another reason but then monitored my flight), seen that pattern, and got an op-up. But that was long ago.

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