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Award booking sweet spot: fare sales and positioning




So you’ve looked at lots of posts and done research on award booking sweet spots and the best uses of miles to Europe. Or Hawaii or Alaska or wherever you’d like to go. And one thing keeps happening: they don’t work from your airport. Maybe because you’re just outside that distance band, or maybe there are just not enough seats from your airport to the hub you need to get to. Like ever. Sound familiar?

1. Fare sales for positioning

One thing to keep in mind is the use of fare sales to the cities like Miami, Boston and Seattle that have widely available extremely good deals on some awards due to distance-based sweet spots. You can check out these posts on Avios from Florida, Avios from the West coast, Avios from the East coast and ANA miles from Houston for all the details, but here’s a couple of examples using fares that have been available within the past month:

New Orleans to Boston for $204 roundtrip from The Flight Deal which can be piggybacked with Boston-Dublin on Aer Lingus for 25K BA Avios and ~$75 in taxes. All in all, that trip would require 25K Avios and 28K penny points (from cards like Barclays Arrival or cashback cards) and you would earn 4194 United miles for the paid United flights. There are frequently even better deals nonstop to Boston when Jetblue runs fare sales, but I chose this as the most recent example.

MSY-DUB

Maps courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

Denver to Miami, also $204 roundtrip via The Flight Deal, or Washington to Miami for just $58 roundtrip via The Deal Mommy. Either could be put together with any number of Avios sweet spots within the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Since the Denver example would be an all-AA itinerary, you would also be protected from misconnects and wouldn’t have to build any extra time into your layovers. You’d even be able to check your bags all the way through! Not that we really recommend that. We don’t check bags, especially when we’re headed to a beach destination. Again, the paid flights earn miles. So the Denver example would cost $297 and 9,000 Avios to the randomly selected destination of Providenciales, Turks and Caicos while earning 3400 miles with AA or the partner program of your choice.

DEN-PLS

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The same idea could be used with any fare sale to a West coast city along with Avios to Alaska or Hawaii from the West Coast, or any other award booking sweet spot.

But some of those deals aren’t that great!

The big advantage here is availability. Four seats, six seats, whatever you need, they will be available for whatever dates the fare sale covers. Otherwise, try getting a family on that same DEN-MIA flight and simply booking the same itinerary for 35K AA miles and $93 taxes. It can be done, but the fare sale angle opens another avenue, and those of us with more than two travelers need every option we can get!

The cancellation policy is your friend.

Nearly all of these fare sales can be cancelled within 24 hours. Not sure yet which day will work? Book as many different combinations as you need to, and cancel the extra ones! Never count on a fare sale lasting. They don’t.

The one-way ticket is also your friend.

These domestic fare sales can usually be booked as one-way tickets which give flexibility if you don’t know exactly which dates will work for your family, or if you don’t have time to check for available award seats to your actual destination before booking the fare sale. Actually, see above. Book the fare sale, then see what awards are available from the gateway city!

2. Positioning for fare sales

is probably more common and easier to plan for. We’ll do the same as above, but now we’re using miles and points to get to the airport that has the sale. A couple of recent examples include the major short-lived mistake fare on Emirates to nearly anywhere in Asia, the Middle East and Africa for $200-$400, and this amazing deal from New York to Catania for $187. Outside of mistake fares there are fare sales like the recent WOW Air fares to Iceland, London and Denmark. I wanted to book that and go to Iceland, but we have decided to only take one ‘big’ trip next summer, and that’s Bali. More on the Iceland deal in a minute.

Know the routes available to you.

Whether it’s a predictably low price in points on Southwest that you can make even sweeter with a companion pass or a 4500 Avios shorthaul for positioning, it pays to know what is likely to be available. For us, that means PHX, LAX and EWR on Southwest, and Dallas and Chicago using Avios.

Be creative.

Your best bet might be taking advantage of AA’s reduced price awards, and/or possibly even hiding a city or two on your award booking! Just don’t check bags on your positioning flight if you go that route. Actually checking bags on any positioning flight adds risk and should be avoided wherever possible.

The trip I'd love to be able to take next June! The gray segments are examples of spare segments that might be able to be used to save Southwest points.

The trip I’d love to be able to take next June! The gray segments are examples of spare flights that might be able to be booked to save Southwest points.

This Baltimore-Iceland trip on Wow Air could be booked for several days for ~$280 roundtrip, and we could have used our companion passes to get to Baltimore nonstop, roundtrip for around 10,000 Southwest points per person! For now, Iceland stays on our bucket list…

nordic-landscape-nature-photography-iceland-24

Amazing Iceland, check out this and 36 other pictures here!

Finding fare sales

Hands down, The Flight Deal is the best all-around source for fare sales. There are others that might be better if you’re lucky enough to have a specialized site for your city like Escape Houston or Fare Deal Alert, and then there are forums like Flyertalk mileage run forum that you can follow or subscribe to via RSS feed. Twitter is also a valuable source of mistake fare and fare sale news.

Before you book a trip with positioning flights

  • You are not protected against delays as you are with a single ticket. If your first flight is delayed and causes you to miss your second flight, you will be at the mercy of the airline operating the second flight to get a new ticket or, if you’re fortunate, an agent could allow you to travel on a later flight. Especially on the outbound leg of a long-planned trip your family is looking forward to, I think it’s worth planning an overnight layover at your positioning destination. This actually works very well with most of these westbound trips as you can leave in the afternoon (after school or work) and get to the west coast in the evening, and then continue on to Hawaii or wherever in the morning. If you can’t do an overnight layover, you give yourself the best chance of avoiding delays on your positioning flight by booking the first flight of the morning.
  • Southwest Airlines flights booked with points are very positioning-friendly. If you miss your flight, you get your points back! So you can book two flights from your positioning point to home: one with a ‘normal’ layover, and a later one just in case. If all goes well and you are on time for the first flight, you can go ahead and cancel the later one while waiting at the gate. If you don’t cancel the flight, the taxes you paid will be available for use on a later flight. If you do cancel, they can be refunded. Note that this cancellation policy only applies to refundable tickets and award Wanna Get Away tickets, NOT paid Wanna Get Away tickets.
  • Book one-way tickets for all travel that involves positioning if possible. The worst case scenario is the cancellation of your first positioning flight due to weather. When you miss that next flight, your entire ticket may be cancelled. If you book only one-way tickets and this happens, at least your return trip is intact if you can find an alternate route or program for your outbound trip.

The exception to these rules is an AA positioning flight connecting to any OneWorld airline – AA’s policy will protect you against misconnects in that scenario. Note that does not include AA flights connecting to Alaska flights on separate itineraries as AS is not a OneWorld partner.

Have you been able to stretch a sweet spot or fare sale to your airport using a positioning strategy I didn’t include? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

– Kenny

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Giddy for Points October 30, 2014, 12:50 pm

    Great post and thanks for the link 🙂

  • Christine K @CKaway November 2, 2014, 8:45 am

    Excellent post, Kenny. I am located in a non-hub remote airport and usually have to secure positioning flights for some of the great fares out there. Combining award tickets with paid tickets is common practice for me here and you did a great job of giving some examples of making it work. Well done.

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