In the past year or so using your miles and points to book award tickets has become more difficult. Availability is decidedly less than it was less than 2 years ago.
The main reason behind the decline in reduced award seat availability is the improved global economy. Airlines are selling more seats for cash and therefore release a lot fewer seats for miles redemption. Airlines have also reduced capacity overall and most flights are going out full on a daily basis.
The improved global economy also means that the traveling public is traveling more. Some of those people are competing with you for the available award seats. This further reduces available award seats when you go to redeem as it is possible that someone has already booked available award seats you need on your preferred travel dates.
In order to be more successful in booking your own award trips we have to look at the 3 major areas:
- Preferred travel dates
- Cabin of service (economy, business, first)
- Miles available to book tickets with
We find that we have the most success in booking award seats for clients who are flexible in at least 2 of the 3 areas above. The less flexibility you have in the 3 above areas the less likely you are going to be able to redeem your miles for that particular trip. We will examine each in detail:
Preferred Travel Dates: Be Flexible!
This is probably the most important area to have as much flexibility as possible. Being flexible on your travel dates even just 1 day in either direction can greatly increase your chances of finding an award itinerary that will work for you. Even if your ideal date is not available there is a chance the day before or day after is. If you are able to shift the entire trip one day forward/backward or add an extra day or remove 1 day you may have much better success!
You should always have preferable dates in mind and work from there. Keeping in mind that popular holiday periods and peak seasons will be a lot harder (if not impossible) to find award seats on. Examples of difficult award travel dates: Summer to Europe, Christmas/New Year to Australia, Thanksgiving week for domestic USA… the list goes on!
Always check a few dates before giving up!
Cabin of Service
Everyone loves to fly business or first class when using miles and points. It is a greatly improved seat (sometimes in flat beds!) and comes with other perks such as lounge access, upgraded food, and upgraded drinks at no extra charge. We have had many requests for First Class only (no business class) or no segments in economy. Flexibility in which cabin you fly can increase your chances for success a lot. Your best bet is to accept economy class for short flights and go for business class on the long haul flights.
You also have to ask yourself what is more important: flying in a premium cabin on every segment or scrapping the trip entirely because a 2 hour flight at the beginning is only available in economy class?
Being flexible on the cabin you fly is more important if you have no flexibility in your travel dates.
Miles / Points available to book with
The miles and points you have available to you can help or hinder your ability to book the trip you want. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Having transferable points such as: Chase Ultimate Rewards, AMEX Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest can help you in this area. Citi Thank You points are also useful to a lesser extent.
If all of your miles and points are with only 1 airline our advice is to look into other programs and diversify as soon as possible. If you live in a hub city for a major airline chances are your miles are concentrated in a single program. To give yourself more options you can get a credit card in one of the above mentioned transferable programs and have more options down the road when you are ready to book some award seats.
If you only choose one program we recommend Chase Ultimate Rewards as they currently have the best transfer partners available to meet most travel needs: United, British Airways, Southwest, and Korean Air. We use Chase Ultimate Rewards for the majority of our clients for those 4 transfer partners to book trips.
Diversifying the miles and points you have is the only option left if you are not flexible in travel dates nor cabin of service. If one program does not have availability in your preferred travel cabin of service or preferred date another program might have availability. Having several different balances available to you can increase your chances of booking an award seat for your trip!