There is nothing worse than saving up your points only to discover there is no award availability. Sadly, some travel bloggers are trying to perfect the art of finding award space availability. Yep, it is getting bad, so make sure you put the following tips into practice so you aren’t left with “useless points”.
You already know to “change-up the dates” if you can’t find award availability, but here are some other things to try.
Book in Advance
Most airlines release a set amount of “award space” for each cabin on each flight. Let’s take an American Airlines two-cabin Boeing 737, for example. American Airlines might release 4 “saaver” award seats in coach and 4 “saaver” seats in first class. Once those seats are booked, you may then have to book an award seat for double or triple the amount of points. Additionally, the airline may completely black out that flight for awards once capacity is reached.
During holidays or peak travel times, airlines may not open any “saaver” level award space for select flights. To repeat that, there are certain flights that you will NEVER be able to book at the low-level award pricing.
Knowing that booking far in advance is almost always in your favor, try to lock-in dates the earliest you can. United and American Airlines charge $75 for “close-in” award bookings (21 days or closer). It appears that Delta and Alaska “up” the miles needed for each award flight within 21 days. These are not absolutes, but it is safe to say that you should book 21+ days in advance if possible.
Try to Modify Your Destination Airport
To some this may be an obvious solution, but I feel it is worth mentioning. Remember, award space availability varies on every single flight, so you increase your odds of finding space by adding other airport options. If you are wanting to fly to Miami, try plugging in Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach airport.
American will automatically include nearby airports on most award searches. Make sure you give this a try if you can’t find award space and there are nearby options you are willing to take. If you are trying to get to Milwaukee, it may make sense to take an award flight to Chicago as a last resort.
Use an Alternate Departure Airport
You might be thinking at this point, Caleb, are you just going to tell me to fly out from a different airport and fly into a different airport? Yes, yes I am. Positioning flights are one of the most powerful tools you have to find award availability. Remember, this post is to help you when/if you can’t find award space.
In a perfect world, your 100% ideal flight will have “saaver” level space and you can snatch it up. Sadly, that is often not the case.
Sometimes it makes sense to drive to a different departure airport, at times, it may even make sense to fly. Yep, a positioning flight is one that is solely used to get you to a different “starting airport”. (and it works, sometimes..)
American Award Space SUCKS
I was recently looking for AA award space from Phoenix to Miami, availability is VERY limited. In the next three months there is almost ZERO weekend Saaver award space. That means I can either use 2x the amount of miles, fly midweek, or fly into Tampa (not an option).
My last option is to change-up my “departure” airport by positioning myself to another city. Fortunately, Alyssa and I have Companion Pass so getting us to another airport is rather inexpensive. There are one-way flights from Phoenix to Minneapolis for really cheap, like 4,000 Southwest points cheap.
Flight availability on American Airlines really sucks, you should know that before you start collecting AA miles. If you already have them, you are going to have to stay flexible if you want any real value on domestic flights.
As you can see above, MSP to MIA has a lot more availability than PHX to MIA. We can speculate all day about these stupid award space practices by American (and others), but I digress.
In the case of my home airport of Phoenix, I know that I can usually get to Denver, Minneapolis, and Dallas for minimal points with Southwest. When I can’t find decent award space from Phoenix, I start to look at options from these other airports. Give this a try.
If American wants 20k per passenger to Miami leaving Phoenix, it is worth hopping over to Minneapolis for 4,000 Southwest points and paying only 12,500 per passenger to Miami. (a savings of 11,000 points if two people are flying with Companion Pass)
Hidden City can also work on award flights
Hidden city is a rather simple concept that airlines don’t much appreciate. It involves booking a flight from A to C with a layover in B. The “catch” is that your layover city “B” is actually your desired end-point. Sometimes airlines have to route you through their hub to get you to “C”. By routing you through their hub, you have the choice to not catch your second flight to “C”, also known as a “hidden city” flight. You made it to “B”!
At times it is cheaper, both with cash and points, to book a flight with a “C” leg that you don’t plan on taking.
A few catches;
1. You must book as one-way flights and this only works on your last leg
2. You cannot check luggage, you must carry-on
3. This trick only works on routing through hubs or connection cities
In the above example you have two options to book the 11:33PM from PHX to ATL. You can book it as a “conventional” non-stop to ATL for 12,500 or you can book to DAL (Dallas Love Field) for 9,000 SkyMiles (with a stop in ATL). This does not work in every scenario but in this case you are saving 3,500 points one-way. Delta award flights start at 5,000 miles so saving 3,500 is appreciated.
You probably weren’t expecting that one. I know it sucks, but sometimes you just need to pay cash. If there are no good award flights and you’ve tried some of the above tips, you may need to bite the bullet.
If a domestic flight increases to 25,000 points for a one-way, you will want to think twice about burning that many miles/points. You should aim for at least one cent per point when redeeming. If you are going to use 25,000 points for a one-way domestic flight, you will want to make sure the cash price for the same flight is over $250. If it is less than $250 you are getting under one cent per point, a bad redemption.
I know it is never fun when you worked hard to earn all those miles, but don’t burn them just for the sake of “free travel”. You want to make sure you are using points wisely, and over one cent per point should be your aim with airline miles.
If I want to go Phoenix to Miami on the May 5th it will run 20,000 American Airline miles one-way. I can book a flight to Denver for $79 and then book an onward flight to Miami for $83. That means I can get to Miami for $162, in this case using 20,000 American miles is not a good redemption. (Unless you greatly value a non-stop)
I value American miles at about 1.25 cents per point, so I would not burn 20,000 miles unless all my cash options were $250 or greater. You have to make that call.