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Today was an exciting day for this point-loving family. It’s exciting to earn points, but it is very exciting to make them work for you. We have numerous trips planned for this year that we hope to pay for by using points . Since most of the airlines we use allow award bookings starting anywhere from 330-335 days out, this means that I start looking for award seats roughly 11 months before our trips. As you can see, for our family vacations we plan way in advance. This is for many reasons, but ensuring airline seat availability is one of them. Gone are the days when booking that far in advance guarantees you will get flights you want (if there ever were days like that), however I have found that it does improve your chances to start looking as soon as the dates you are interested are released. I have found that there are sweet-spots for getting award seats. Very far out, and pretty close in (a month or so before) seem to be the sweet spots.
Honestly, I have had very good luck with Continental over the years in terms of using miles. I almost always can find an award flight that works for us regardless of when I am booking, but sometimes the pickings are slim and it always helps to start early and then be persistent with checking as often as you can stand doing so. When I am “hunting” award seats, I check just about every day. It’s kind of like how some people check the weather or the news…….I check award seats.
Today that hunting paid off! We are planning a family vacation for early summer 2012. That means that this is the first “sweet spot” of when I generally have had good luck scoring award seats. The dates I wanted to book just opened up today for booking and I was able to nab three seats on a direct Continental flight! I have been checking every day for the past couple weeks to look at trends of what days of the weeks and what times award flights were becoming available. Of course there is no guarantee that the pattern of previous weeks will hold true for the week I wanted, but it held true close enough to work for us. We will be gone one day longer than we originally planned, but that probably is for the best anyway. Less rushed vacation! Flexibility really is the key for award booking success. Enough with the jibber-jabber, here is how the process went down.
1. Search as often as possible for open seats. In my case, today was pretty much the first day that reward inventory was loaded for the days I wanted. The colors of the days helps give you somewhat of an idea what might be available, but don’t trust the colors alone. Click on the days you want and see what flights they may have available. Again, the key to success is flexibility. In this case it meant staying a day longer than we thought we would – kind of a good accident. 🙂
2. I have some miles in my United account that I wanted to go towards booking these flights, so I transferred those miles to my Continental account. Continental and United miles are now inter-changeable. The transferred miles appeared within 60 seconds.
3. As soon as I found dates/flights that would work, I also needed to transfer miles that I earned on my Chase Sapphire card to my Continental Onepass Account. These were all courtesy of the 50,000 point sign-up bonus plus the extra 50,000 from “bumping the bonus”! I left them in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program until I found flights I wanted as they are much more versatile in that account than they are once I move them to my Continental account. It is pretty much never advisable to move miles out of accounts such as Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards until you know there is availability on the flights you want. Exception is to beat the upcoming September 30th deadline when you can no longer transfer Membership Rewards Points to Continental.
You can transfer miles in 1,000 point increments. This just means that you’re rounding to the nearest thousand, not that you can only do 1,000 at a time.
I selected the 67,000 miles I needed to transfer to go towards the 75,000 miles I needed to book three domestic economy round-trip awards of 25,000 miles each.
Once the transfer went through I received this confirmation page. The points were transferred in less than a minute.
Now it was time to actually book the flight! I selected the times that I wanted (there weren’t many available choices) and then the seats. This is very strategic when traveling with a wee one. Since we aren’t elite, we can’t book the several rows in Economy. We usually go back and do that when they open those seats up to everyone 24 hours before take-off. Until then, we make sure to avoid the exit rows and the rows in front or behind the exit rows. I once had to move a sleeping Little C in her carseat because we were in a row in front of the exit row. Apparently that is against regulations for children even though it isn’t actually an exit row. Never going to make that mistake again!
I finalized the selections and voila, we are booked!! There was no cost to us for the sign-up bonus that came with the Chase Sapphire card and only $15.00 in taxes for all three seats combined!
Without miles the three seats would have just about come to $1500.00. That is a lot of money to spend just to get there. Add on hotels, meals, activities, etc…. and we would not be able to travel much with our budget. Miles really do make travel possible for our family.
Another bonus of using miles is that on Continental reward seats are actually more flexible than the tickets we would have purchased for $1500. We are able to change dates/times up to 21 days before for no penalty (as long as origin and departure airports stay the same). Only 10.5 more months to go until take-off! Yes, I’m crazy. 🙂