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As you may know, many traditional US carriers open their booking schedules roughly 11 months in advance for bookings of both revenue and award flights. Quick math will show that roughly 11 months from now is the 2015 holiday season, and a time when many families take to the skies to get together and celebrate the season. If you want to save some money on traveling to those holiday gatherings, now is the time to start looking for award flights using your miles and points. United has their schedule open through December 30, 2015, and many others like American and Delta are open through around Christmas Eve. Every day that booking window expands by one day, so now is the time to get serious about your search.
Here are some tips to get the award seats you want for Holiday Travel 2015:
- Start looking now! Seriously, it may seem like Christmas and all of the other November/December holidays are very far away, but you should absolutely start your search for award seats now, especially if you don’t have very much date flexibility and need multiple seats for all your family members.
- But, don’t give up if you don’t see what you want right away. Award seats don’t all get loaded at exactly the time the schedule is opened roughly 11 months out. Some award seats may appear at that time, some months later, some at the last minute, or there may never be any award seats available for that flight (at least not at the saver level we all like to book at). This is based more or less on how many seats the airline expects to sell on that flight, so start looking now, but don’t give up if you don’t find what you need the moment the schedule opens.
- Don’t be overly picky. When you are trying to use miles for flights during peak periods, you may be shooting yourself in the foot if you wait for the “perfect” flight time or routing to become available. If you are only willing to consider very specific flight times and dates, then just be ready to buy the tickets with cash or fixed value points in the event they don’t become available on miles. For example, a search of various routes and carriers shows that Monday 12/21 currently has much better award availability (and lower cash prices) than going the weekend before, if that is an option for your crew.
- Use schedule changes to your advantage. Since you are booking so far in advance, there is a decent chance a schedule change will impact your travel plans between now and December. When this happens, you can use it to your advantage to potentially switch to a more desirable flight time or routing if the new schedule does not work for your family. It never hurts to give the airline a call when a schedule change happens to see if you can work out a more desirable option.
- Consider flying first class. What could be better during the crazy busy holiday travel season than sitting with your family in first class? Seriously, if award availability is not there in economy at the saver level, then check first class availability before you consider paying more to snag a standard level (more expensive) award in coach. For example, currently there is no availability using American Airlines miles to fly from NYC-DFW on the weekend of December 19th and 20th at the saver level in coach, however there is availability all through that busy travel weekend weekend at the saver level in first. The saver first class seat costs 25k miles and the and the standard coach seat costs 30k – 50k each way, so you can guess which one I would pick between the two!
- Split up in different cabins or different flights. Along the same lines as checking first class availability, you may not find all the award seats you need on the same flight or in the same cabin. Depending on your family situation, it may be worth it to split the family with some in first class and some in coach on the same flight, or potentially even split up and go on two different flights. This strategy won’t work well for every family, but it is at least worth considering if award space is tight.
- Use fixed value points as cash if you can’t find what you want on miles. If you are unable to find award seats for holiday flights that will work for your family, then consider using fixed value points such as those from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® or the U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® card to buy the exact flights you want with points that are worth a fixed amount. However, if you are looking to purchase airfare using points as cash and don’t see a price you are happy with right now, you might be better served by holding out until a few months from the travel dates and keeping an eye on prices.
- Fly an airline with no blackout dates. Airlines like Southwest and JetBlue also allow you to book an award seat on any flight that has a seat for sale using their own “fixed value” currency. However, their schedules are currently not extended until the holiday season, and likely won’t be for a while longer. The number of points you will pay for the flight will also be tied directly to the selling price, so pricey holiday flights will cost more points than cheaper flights. However, if your family has something like the Southwest Companion Pass, or even just $715+ in points toward “Wanna Get Away” fares from cards like the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, it can still be a great deal!
- With airlines that allow one-way awards, don’t lock yourself into only searching for round trips. Maybe you can find an American Airlines outbound flight and a United return flight that will work for your travel plans. Remember that you can also now book one-way awards on US Airways operated flights by booking via American Airlines miles and Delta now offers one-way awards, too.
- Search from an account that has elite status. Sometimes, those with elite status (or even sometimes those with just a co-branded card like the MileagePlus Explorer card) have access to more award flight options than those without status, so they may be able to secure flights that those without elite status can’t access. If someone in your family has elite status then do the searches from that account to see the largest number of flight options possible.
It’s Not Too Late to Earn Miles for Holiday 2015 Travel:
If you are starting from zero right now, there is still plenty of time to earn some miles and points to use for travel toward the end of 2015, but I recommend diversifying your earnings via a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or American Express Membership Rewards like The Amex EveryDaySM Preferred Credit Card so that you aren’t tied to just one airline when searching for limited holiday award availability. Another very good option for the holidays is simply using points from a card that can be used like cash toward any flight available for sale such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.
What is your family’s plan for using miles or finding affordable tickets for holiday 2015 travel?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.