Tips for securing award seats

CBS Marketwatch offers six tips for securing airline awards. They’re basically sound, but I’d quibble at the margin with them and clarify in some cases. So allow me to rewrite their six.

  1. If you don’t earn alot of miles, consolidate your miles into one or two programs so that you reach a critical mass of miles for redeeming tickets. If you do earn alot of miles, be sure to spread out your mileage earning so that when it comes time to redeem, you have more than one option to use to find availability. (And if you don’t earn alot of miles, make sure you take advantage of more opportunities – credit cards, telephone, online shopping, etc.)

  2. Be flexible. Sure, I agree with this one. If you’re able to choose a variety of days for travel, your chances of claiming an award go up. The article says to avoid Mondays, but Sundays are certainly difficult as well.

  3. Plan ahead. While the article suggests booking 331 days out, that isn’t the only strategy. Typically airlines make a few award seats available when a flight comes online in the reservation system, but continues to add flights over time up to departure as the airline evaluates how many seats are likely to be sold. So while checking right away for a seat may be useful, it’s also useful to continue to check. And at the last minute airlines often dump award seats — in other words, get in early or very late — but the toughest time to find seats is in the middle.

  4. Consider rule-buster or other double mileage awards. These are never as good a value, to be sure. And the article is a bit doomsday-ish about the fate of frequent flyer programs (better to spend double the miles than to lose them all when the program goes under!). So I wouldn’t be as excited about these double miles awards as CBS marketwatch. But sure, consider them. However, if you’ve spread out your earning so that you have multiple programs to choose from for redemption, you’re a whole lot less likely to need to spend double the mileage!

  5. Mileage upgrades. The article says they “may be difficult.” Well, gee. So how do you get them? Check if there’s availability before you book the ticket. If not, be flexible with dates, times, and routings in order to get a confirmation right away (provided the airline you’re flying allows that). Barring that, look at the load factors for the flights you’re choosing — are the premium cabins generally oversold? or are there business class or first class seats going empty? Pick flights, whenever possible, with open seats. And choose aircraft with as many premium seats as possible — choose a 747 over a 777 over a 767, etc.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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