Booking Award Flights
With all that changes in the points and travel hobby, one thing is a constant for me. I do not enjoy booking award flights. I’m confident that will never change. And I doubt I’m alone here. So then, how do I reconcile this booking allergy, seemingly contradictory given my chosen hobby, while still benefitting from award flights? I’m currently relying on a few methods to book flights at reasonable award rates without much of a hassle or time commitment. I’m focusing on those today.
Checking American’s Site Early and Often
American has ended Saver and Anytime awards, but flexible travelers can still find discounted award rates without too much work. Individuals can book American flights up to 331 days in advance. And American has a very liberal award cancellation policy. Travelers can cancel and have all miles reinstated until the first flight on the itinerary departs. While changes can’t be made to an existing award reservation, travelers just need to cancel the entire reservation and rebook. Those with healthy mileage balances (myself included) may prefer to rebook prior to cancelling original reservations.
Why does all this matter? Because American’s award rates are always changing, often for the better. Essentially, American rewards travelers who speculatively book. For instance, I’ll happily book a one-way 8k award flight, but then rebook and cancel the original if I see the same or similar flight at a 7.5k or 6k rate.
Of course, variations of this strategy can be used with other airlines. But I’ve found most success with American lately.
Booking Via Partners
I’m far from a wizard at complex bookings, including ones involving partners. Plenty of others are, probably because they enjoy it. And some happily take your money while enjoying this task. Meanwhile, I’ll take small wins, like using Air France Flying Blue currency to book Delta flights. Often, Flying Blue’s award rates for domestic non-stop Delta flights are substantially cheaper than directly booking with SkyMiles. For instance, I recently booked one-way tickets to Atlanta for 10.5k Flying Blue miles. Nothing special, many probably say. But that rate looked more attractive when compared to Delta’s one-way rate closer to 17k, for basic economy.
Savings Around the Edges
With my flexible schedule, I’ve embraced red-eye flights, early morning departures, and less popular days of the week for travel, sometimes in combination. I’ve found a more plentiful inventory of cheaper rates, especially on trips where connections are unavoidable. To cope with an inconvenient multi-segment itinerary (egads), I soften the blow with a stop at a comfortable airport lounge, a part of our hobby on the upswing.
The Southwest Contingency
Whether nonstop or involving a connection, I usually book a Southwest award flight when feasible. Rarely do I actually take that flight. It’s more about the “insurance” that Southwest booking provides. Let me explain.
I have plenty of Southwest currency, one that I don’t find myself using as fast as others. Some of you may be in the same position. Once I have a travel need, I quickly book a Wanna Get Away fare on Southwest, just to have something on the books. I’m leveraging Southwest’s flexible cancellation policy, where I can have my Rapid Rewards points redeposited if/when I decide to cancel (up to 10 minutes before the flight).
Once I have that Southwest itinerary booked, I know I can look for superior award rates, often with more convenient schedules, for the weeks and months before the actual travel time. Worst case, if I find nothing better, I take the reasonable-enough Southwest flight. But routinely, I do find something superior and then cancel the Southwest booking.
This strategy may not be as valuable now as it once was, since many carriers have somewhat relaxed their cancellation and change policies. And Southwest’s booking schedule doesn’t go as far out as other airlines’. But I still use this method and have no plans to stop.
Minimizing stuff during travel has many benefits, but a major one is maximizing the benefit of low-cost carriers. For instance, one can find impressive award rates on Spirit while avoiding their sky-high baggage prices. Of course, flying such carriers can come with another set of challenges. Perhaps you’ve read about those incidents on other sites.
But by smartly packing, one can efficiently fly on the rock-bottom award rates of certain discount carriers while avoiding the baggage gotchas.
We’re all different, and I understand that some or all of these methods aren’t feasible for some travelers. And other times, hobbyists are in a “you get what you pay for” situation. In order to enjoy certain premium experiences, there’s no getting around paying up – with miles, points, or both. Don’t overly fall for the “sweet spot.” Instead, save when you can, use those extra miles when you must, and have no regrets.
How do you lower your award flight rates without too much effort?
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