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What is the "wait list" for award redemption with miles? I found it on the JAL airlines site. How does it work and which airlines have this practice? And maybe somebody could share some success rates?

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Most all airlines operate waitlist systems and allow you to hook into them with awards as well. Here's the basic idea, award or not:

  • You book a ticket with the airline, selecting a backup flight that has free seats, plus another flight that would be your preferred choice, only it's full. This is the waitlisted flight.
    • You will likely need to go through the airline or an agent for this, as waitlists for awards are usually not bookable online.
  • If your waitlist clears, your booking for the acceptable flight is cancelled and you fly on your preferred flight instead. Yay!
  • If your waitlist does not clear, nothing happens, you fly on the originally booked 2nd-choice flight instead.
  • Your waitlist is tied to your booking class and the odds of actually getting the seat depend hugely on how expensive your ticket is, what your status with the airline is, how early you got on the waitlist, etc. I've generally had pretty good luck (80%+), but I have status and usually book my awards very early (6-12mo ahead).

However, the JAL page I suspect you've referring to is rather more interesting, because it strongly implies it's possible to make a waitlist-only booking, without a backup flight. However, these waitlists will be cancelled a week before the flight at the latest, which is not great because quite often waitlists clear only during the last few days.

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    80%+ sounds pretty good - which airline(s) ? – Vladislav Protasov Sep 12 '18 at 15:59
  • @VladislavProtasov Mostly Singapore Airlines. – jpatokal Sep 12 '18 at 20:55

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