I’ve been procrastinating. Someone asked me for some help on an award from SLC – FCO, they aren’t really an active reader here so I use that excuse, combined with my preliminary search telling me that Salt Lake City is a really crappy place to be flying out of unless you have a wealth of Delta miles to procrastinate. I never got around to answering them, I will soon I promise. I mentioned recently that I wasn’t going to get my jollies by spilling secrets, but I think general principles and concepts that can be revisited are fair game, as they can help the reader reframe award bookings, and hopefully won’t kill the Diamond Encrusted Duck.
Strategic Loyalty Program Selection
I always advise people (even complete strangers who simply stop to ask me directions in Manhattan) that the ‘best’ loyalty program is subjective. If you live in a city that is a major hub for Delta, but doesn’t have a lot of American Airlines routes, it could well be that selecting an inferior program is the smarter move. Sure, Delta may demand 1.5M miles for a roundtrip from SLC-BOS (or whatever their current low tier rate actually is) but if you need to get to Boston and you have no other options it is probably the best thing for you.
Reframing the Equation with Re-positioning flights
What if you live ‘near’ a place that has great access to the types of award flights you really want? For example, what if you live near Boston. Boston Logan airport is a serious international airport, but as everyone knows, Boston isn’t anything near as cool a city as NYC, and neither are their international flight options.
Not too shabby, in fact there are so many routes going out of BOS that it isn’t the easiest map graphic to read, but still not a patch on NYC, if we ignored the surrounding area of LGA and Newark and just look at JFK there are a ton more routes, as the squiggly lines clearly show:
Generally speaking, all of the major loyalty programs will get a Bostonian to any of the New Yorkers destinations, because while not all routes are offered from BOS compared to JFK, they are considered to be in the same Award Region of North America. So in this example, a Boston resident wouldn’t necessarily have do much special to end up accessing the same routes as a New Yorker.
However, there will be many times when you search from an award and a specific leg of it isn’t available. For example, even for the Bostonian here, if there was award space on JFK-Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, if there was no award space from BOS-JFK, the entire booking would crap out, and the Bostonian wouldn’t necessarily know why, in fact a route that is a bus ride (ok a long and horrible bus ride) away being unavailable has ruined all their plans to visit Hong Kong.
Selecting Sister Airports
As a New Yorker, I typically fly out of wherever I have to, ideally it is JFK or LGA, but I will go to Newark and brave the New Jerseyites if that is what I have to do. In fact, if I want to use my United miles that is my primary choice of airport. Certainly, they have Star Alliance partners that fly from JFK, but due to their award chart if I want to fly Business/First Newark on United Metal is the choice for me. So I technically ‘reposition’ by commuting through that land. I could say that my primary airport has been JFK, and the sister airports are LGA and EWR. Again, I am lucky because those three offer about as much coverage in terms of destination as anything I could hope for.
But what about my friend from SLC?
As you can see their only options for international non-stop routes are the beautiful islands of Hawaii and those Parisians that everybody loves to hate. Of course, you could still get to most global destinations providing there was space on all of the legs. But also, if you added a few sister airports into your mix, you could gain a lot more.
I feel like I am wasting my time reading this post
OK I get it – it’s simple and obvious that if you are willing to drive to other airports you get more options, but what about this… what about flying to other airports to pick up more options? Again, SLC is a pain in the butt to live in as an award traveler. And almost all of the flights that leave there are on Delta, and Delta SUCKS (unless you are printing out billions of points using a certain card that I won’t get into).
Instead of waiting for the mountain to come to Muhammad, why not go to the Mountain? There clearly aren’t a lot of options from SLC, unless you have an abundance of Delta miles, but there are two options available that open up worlds of opportunities:
Use British Airways Avios to Connect to Star Alliance Flights
This doesn’t always work, but if you are able to connect to a major hub using an American Airlines flight, you could find yourself being able to access a slew of new opportunities. Airports like JFK or LAX are great examples of this, going back to our Bostonian, if they jumped on an American Airlines repositioning flight from BOS-JFK they could then make a separate booking on Star Alliance to get to their desired destination.
Use a revenue ticket to connect to OneWorld or Star Alliance
I know, its a dirty word, but you could pay for a short connecting flight that opened up opportunities from other airlines. It might be that American Airlines wouldn’t offer an award seat for a short hop, say from SLC-DFW but would allow you to buy the ticket. You could consider that an extra ‘tax’ on your itinerary, and get to your destination. Sure, you would be paying over the price for a regular North America-Europe ticket if you look at it as just what you could be paying on American, but if you instead compare it to being locked into earning Delta you could well still be at a great advantage in terms of strategy.
The real value of what we are doing here is looking at the non-stop routes, allowing us to cherry pick the best way to get from A-B, rather than being forced to accept the limited routes offered by the airline, we can craft new itineraries that suit our needs. This is very useful for asipirational travel, such as flying JFK-HKG on Cathay Pacific First Class, and can offer some rather interesting connotations that I will get to in Part 3 of this short series.
I have been told that my posts are long, and for people with the attention span of a gnat they struggle to remain focused As such I have split this one into a three parter, starting out with the basic notion of broadening your award travel options by considering ‘sister’ airports. I think this is a good post for people new to the game, and also offers some value to more experienced people who might have narrowed their vision as to the options available.
Pretty good post. I think that would be useful for a lot of people. Not everyone remembers to look for positioning flight to an airport with many more destinations
Thanks Chris, I think part 2 and part 3 might be more interesting too
I know you New Yorkers are not usually allowed to admit this, but it might have fit into this post: There is an airline called Southwest. Look into it. 😉 Starting at ~5K points nonstop to DEN, PHX, and LAS and LAX. All but LAS are OW or *A hubs. For most of us, they have far better positioning options in real life than Avios due to availability.
Great point- I actually have never flown SW but think there might be a ton of value lurking there!
I think this is a good advice especially if you have no other options. A couple of things to remember:
– Your positioning flight will have to have a very generous connection time since you could lose your entire ticket in case your flight is cancelled or late. VERY IMPORTANT
– The above will add significant time to your overall itinerary since I am not sure if I’d be willing to risk a 2 hour connection with a 3rd party carrier especially if I have a JFK-HKG on Cathay.
– I would definitely crunch some numbers with positioning flights as far as CPM, missed miles and increased travel times.
The Boston example is actually very good since there are multiple daily flights plus the short flight will probably not be as taxing as an SLC-NYC for instance (Not that I would take that positioning flight)
Good points. Although sometimes, you probably have to consider doing that. I had a hard time booking flights for the end of the December, so I had to look for positioning flights to get to *A hubs in Canada because AC availability was much better.
Agree with KennyB, Southwest’s availability cannot be beat.
Ucipass made the point that always gets me: if all your travel is not booked on the same ticket, a late or cancelled positioning flight could really mess up your plans and your pocketbook.
I suppose the rules on cancelling/rebooking flights and/or holding elite status may provide some cushion here, but as one without status, I have always been very wary of booking two separate tickets this way. Roll in the possibility of lost hotel points or having to pay for a night you don’t use, and the costs can get pricey. Generally our travel times are pretty tight and the possibility of missing a connecting flight due to a positioning problem is not a risk I want to take.
Anyone know if travel insurance would cover you in such cases?
I suppose one could take the opposite tack and say that while things may go awry some of the time, much of the time things will go just fine, and the money saved or increased availability of award seats will make up for the occasional inconvenience/financial hit. Maybe. But rarely for me and certainly not in the winter!
I happen to remember reading somewhere that Oneworld flights are supposed to “cover” each other for delays (even if you are not on the same ticket). Let’s say you booked the above referenced JFK-HKG flights on American and later an award opens up for CLT-NYC. If your positioning flight gets delayed or cancelled, the Oneworld partners are supposed to “accommodate” the delayed flyer.
I asked this question recently from an AA and got the “accommodate” answer. I am not motivated too much to do the research on this to find any terms and conditions related to this, but I would be interested in someone else’s experience.
Look what I have found!!
AA to/from AA or a oneworld® Carrier
If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed passengers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination. The ticket stock of the second ticket must be of a oneworld carrier, eligible under the Endorsement Waiver Agreement. You may contact AA Reservations 1-800-433-7300 (U.S. and Canada) or outside the U.S. and Canada, reference Worldwide Reservations Numbers for additional information if the separate ticket is for travel on a oneworld carrier.
I’m going to have to edit this post, delete your comments and claim superior knowledge!
That’s a great find! Thanks for sharing it. I remember back in the days before I knew what an alliance was we missed a flight like this, returning from Egypt, we landed in CDG and because our CAI-CDG leg was delayed we missed the CDG-LHR flight. Allison was scheduled to fly LHR-NYC but because of the delay she couldn’t make it, so they re-routed her from CDG to NYC for no charge. The tickets were totally separate yet they had no problem helping us out.
A similarly awesome rule – you get all the points back from Southwest if you no-show; you don’t even have to cancel! So for the positioning flight home, just book 2 or 3 flights and take which ever one works.
That’s pretty awesome. I feel like I should just delete my post and copy the comments into it as they are way more useful!
Great catch, Ucipass! Now that you wrote about it, I am reminded that I also saw that someplace recently too – I think it was when US officially became part of OneWorld last month.
Which reminds me of my pet peeve about this hobby: it is just so dang hard to keep all these details in my head! I bookmark some things, print out others, but never seem to remember everything. When I had to book a flight for my son at the last minute, I was so grateful that Sam of Milenomics reminded me that as a United Explorer card holder, I could book it for fewer miles than what was showing up when I checked the website; not signing in when I did a quick search and/or searching using my son’s account would only show the higher mile award. He saved me 25,000 miles!
I wish someone would do an index of every benefit, so we could access all these perks more easily. Juggling so many cards sure makes it tricky, as does the fact that every airline/alliance has different rules.
With regards to Delta – what are you referring to when you say “unless you are printing out billions of points using a certain card that I won’t get into”
I’m referring to my desire to not talk about a certain card that is capable of printing billions of Delta points.
Thanks for writing this post, Matt. I also appreciate the references in the comments to Southwest, that is on my short list of cards to apply for. I’ll admit that some of this is over my head, I’ve got some more research to do! I am also willing to fly out of Vegas, which is a drivable distance or a cheap flight. We did this in March to grab a cheap flight to Hawaii via Allegiant Air, which allowed us to take the whole family for <$400 vs. $800 out of SLC. I'm definitely willing to endure some inconvenience to get some savings for those big trips. Thanks again!
Hey Heather, glad it helped- what specifically felt over your head? Id be happy to delve into those topics more for you.