Timing is Everything

Time. When playing this game, one minute, time can be your best friend, the next it will work against you. Being well prepared can help you score that free trip to the Caribbean Islands or any trip for less, hopefully leaving you more miles for future trips. Wanting to book an award flight today to Hawaii or Europe for next month? You are probably too late or you’ll be spending many more miles to get there.

Typically, airlines open award travel about a year in advance and Southwest usually opens award travel about 6 months in advance. When the date for award travel opens, that’s when you should ideally book your travel for lavish vacation to exotic locations, there are a few exceptions. There are more award seats when the date first opens compared to 6 months or even 1 month. Planning your credit card applications for specific bonuses to help you reach your destination and should be part of your timing strategy.

I prefer to travel for the least amount of miles possible, so I can make more trips and travel for less :-). I don’t  travel first class because I’m way too frugal to waste miles on a seat 30 feet ahead of where I’m actually going to sit (A part of me wants to try first class, but I’m afraid I’ll never go back to coach). For some, flying is part of the experience and they want to fly in luxury. There’s no wrong way to use your miles, they are yours to use any way you want!

There are a couple of different ways airlines charges for award travel. Some airlines like United, Delta, American have different levels for redemption awards and they also have partners that can help increase your odds of finding an award ticket. Airlines like Southwest and Jet Blue are based on the ticket price, so lower the ticket price, the fewer miles required for your ticket. Being able to compare both can increase your odds of getting the best value for your miles! Sometimes booking 2 one way tickets on different airlines can cost less miles than booking a round trip ticket on a single airline. Always do your research.

Portions of award charts:

Portion of Delta's award chart
Portion of Delta’s award chart
Portion of United's Award Chart
Portion of United’s Award Chart
Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 6.09.36 PM
Portion of American Airlines Award Chart

Those charts have some difference between them, so being able to find the right redemption for the trip you have might take a little work!

Experiment:
Let’s say you were looking to fly yourself to Orlando in April of 2015. I’ve selected the same dates for this trip: May 2 – May 9. The flights times are different for all of them, but if you allow flexibility in your arrival time you could save a lot of points!

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 7.13.32 PM
Rare instance where Delta is an option
United not so hot in this search!
United not so hot in this search!
AA ties with Delta. I'd fly AA over Delta.
AA ties with Delta. I prefer AA over Delta.
Southwest is the clear winner!
Southwest is the clear winner!

In this example, Southwest is the clear winner. only costing a little over 13,000 miles for a round trip ticket. That’s about a third of the cost of the others! Not always the case, but in this situation Southwest wins!

Options:
Being prepared and having some flexibility should hopefully bring about a successful award redemption. Sometimes, the difference of one day can be the difference between a 25,000 mile round trip ticket or 50,000 mile ticket, especially with the multiple level awards charts.

When using the revenue based redemption options, playing the waiting game can lead to larger savings, but it can also lead to spending more miles! Great news when using Southwest, you can book your travel and if you see the trip for less miles, you can cancel your trip and re-book with no cancelation fee! So no need to wait around and hope the ticket prices fall! It might be best when booking on Southwest to book 2 one way tickets for this reason. If you were to book a round trip ticket, your whole trip would need to be re-booked, this could end up costing more miles.

Story Time:
I was recently helping someone plan a short notice trip, when I asked if he was part of any reward programs, they said they were part of Southwest Rapid Rewards and had a Southwest credit card . When I began to look, I was able to find a round trip ticket for roughly 23,000 miles and $11.20 for taxes and fees. Great redemption, especially since it was short notice. When I asked how many miles he had, he didn’t know and said he would find out when he got home later. Fast forward to Monday morning, I got the information I needed to try and book his flight. Small problem though, the flights I had searched were gone and it was now going to cost over 50,000 Southwest miles for his trip!! So I found a smaller airport that happen to be closer, but it was still going to cost about 46,000 miles for his trip. When I went to book his ticket, he was about 600 miles short, so he had to purchase a small amount of miles for him to complete his redemption.

I also searched the cost of the cheapest flights, the cheapest flights were about $390, but the flight times were not ideal for him. He ended up spending 46,000 miles for his trip and $60, which he was happy with, so the redemption was successful for him. This could have been about half the miles, leaving him miles left over for a future trip, had all the information been available at the initial time of booking.

Conclusion:
A little planning and flexibility can help increase your chances of scoring an awesome award ticket, whether it be first class, business or coach. Maximizing one way award tickets may reduce the number of miles need and get you to your destination with more miles in your wallet.

Do you like to wait to book your award tickets? Are you like me and plan too much (no such thing 🙂 )? Do you have any stories about award redemption timing issues?

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