Good to hear that you’re making progress, AMDGlobal and, as I thought it, it seems that it is indeed the inbound availability that is proving challenging.
If the availability allows it at the moment however, then I would also seriously consider employing VK’s strategy of booking two seats on each of two consecutive days, in the hope that additional availability will open up on one of the days to allow you to travel together.
This was precisely my modus operandi (albeit on Singapore) when arranging to get five of us to Australia and New Zealand last year. With the exception of just one sector, the availability did indeed appear and we were able to fly together for the additional cost of a fairly marginal change fee. Bear in mind that any additional availability may only open up quite close to actual departure, however.
Your original post illustrates a very salient point too; it’s easy to forget that mileage programmes were only ever developed to reward loyal customers with the opportunity to occupy otherwise unsold seats.
Nothing about that concept has changed and, indeed, as revenue management has improved and the economic climate has deteriorated, the number of unsold seats should in theory decline as businesses become leaner.
However, concurrently, airlines have commoditised their programmes to such an extent that it’s entirely understandable that many programme participants feel that they’ve ‘bought’ those miles balances that they now hold, one way or another, and have done so on the basis that redemption will be straight-forward.
When they hit the underlying and inescapable fact that redemption has always and will always only be available for seats that are, or are expected to remain, unsold, they’re likely to be not just disappointed but actually of the opinion that they themselves have been mis-sold something.
On that basis, the savvy traveller should always start by accepting that there will be very few unsold seats, during school holidays, to popular leisure destinations, at convenient times. A few of the better schemes, and I count the Executive Club amongst them, do sprinkle some availability around, to maintain a level of credibility and to reward those who look and book early. If you see the seats, then, I’d always say: book quick!