Tips if You Haven’t Yet Booked Holiday Flights

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In case you missed the turning of the calendar, it is already mid-October.  We’re about to go from Halloween, to Thanksgiving, to Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years in a flash.  Hopefully most of you have already booked flights for the holidays, but if you haven’t then you are out of luck.  You should have done it months ago when I posted about booking Holiday travel back in February!  Kidding, kidding….  😉 You aren’t out of luck necessarily, but keep in mind that many programs have limited or no award seats on flights that they expect would sell out.  That means that around the holidays when everyone is traveling and planes are full, there aren’t likely to be a ton of award seats to go around.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you want to still use miles for travel around the holidays this year (which in the case of Thanksgiving is just over a month away!).

  • When searching for awards, don’t be tied to specific dates.  Instead, use a search function that allows you to see award availability on many different dates at once.  You can do this directly on some airline websites, and you can also use to present some options for you all at once.
  • Consider traveling on days that aren’t as popular, such as on the holiday itself, slightly earlier than the typical holiday traffic, or slightly later than the typical holiday traffic.  The same is true for flight times and routings.  The nonstop flights at peak times may not be available, but perhaps a very early morning flight with a connection is available.  Don’t rule it out – just drink extra coffee and you’ll be fine.
  • Look at first class options as they may be more readily available than coach.  I have seen some routes that don’t have any “saver” coach reward availability, but they do have saver domestic first class availability that will cost the same number of miles as if you had to book the “standard” coach award.  It won’t save you miles, but at least you will likely have a more comfortable trip.

  • Don’t forget about partner airlines.  In doing some searches while researching this post, I saw many dates where United didn’t have any rewards available, but US Airways did.  If you had United miles you could use them to book the US Airways flights.  The same holds true for many other airlines as well.  Keep in mind that typically the partner airline must have flights available at the saver award level to book.
  • Consider the “standard” or higher reward level.  Most of us like to redeem at the 25,000 mile saver level for domestic awards on most airlines, but keep in mind that there are often more seats available at a higher mileage price.  If you find yourself in a tough spot, you can always spend more miles to get to your destination.  It isn’t fun to spend 50,000 miles to fly round trip to Florida, but it may be the best bet for some folks who want to avoid using cash.
  • Consider getting an “elite” friend to help you search for availability.  In some programs, elite members have access to more reward inventory than non-elite members.  For example, I may have had a friend who had status with United book an award that I didn’t have access to at the time, and I may have transferred him the miles from Ultimate Rewards to make the booking.  Not saying you should do that, but it may have worked for me.  😉  I may have also inherited his status on that reward ticket.
  • Look at programs like Southwest Rapid Rewards that allow you to use points essentially as cash to book awards.  If a flight is available for dollars, it is available on points.  The only catch is that the higher the price of the flight, the higher the number of points that are required.
  • If you are traveling with others, consider splitting your party if needed.  It is possible that there may be one or two award seats on a given flight, but not four or five.  When doing your searches, consider if you would be able to split up your party to different flights.  That may not always be practical, but it is something to consider when looking for award seats during peak travel times.
  • Use a service like to set alerts for flights if/when reward seats become available.  That way you will be notified if reward availability appears.  With airlines that allow award changes, you can also book something that will work for now, and then keep looking/set alerts and then change to a more desirable flight if it opens up in the future.
  • 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.
  • If all else fails, you can always use cash for a flight and earn miles that you can plan to use for next year’s holiday travel.  (Many airlines schedules open up about 11 months in advance, so you can start planning for 2013 holidays early next year).

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this – start searching for holiday flights right now, if you haven’t already.  The time for waiting is over, so get to searching!

What tips did I leave out?  When did you book your holiday travel, or are you still searching?



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  1. Another tip — consider going abroad. I noticed flights to Europe can sometimes be just a bit more expensive, or even the same, as domestic travel.

  2. @Susan, awesome! Enjoy!
    @atxtravel, absolutely. The Thanksgiving Europe sales are very good from some markets. You can get business class seats for a just a bit more than what coach seats sometime go for.

  3. Thanks for the tips!

    Another benefit to picking Saver First Class over Standard Coach at the some cost of miles is the ability to check bags for free, which can be a significant savings.

    • @Paul, absolutely. If you didn’t already get free bags due to status or a credit card then it really can save you some real $$.

  4. “Don’t forget about partner airlines. In doing some searches while researching this post, I saw many dates where United didn’t have any rewards available, but US Airways did. If you had United miles you could use them to book the US Airways flights.”

    MP, can you elaborate on this? If you have United miles, would you search on the US Airways website or on the United website? If you’re searching on the United website, what would you do differently to look for partner flights, besides not check the “United Airlines Flights Only” box, which I never check anyway.
    Paul S.

    • @Paul S, United is pretty straight forward and will bring up the US Airways options for reward flights. Just scroll to the bottom of the options to see them.

  5. Thanks for the reminder.

    I was planning on using avios to fly on American. I verified that there are saver awards available on AA but when I called BA they said they had nothing available and having AA saver awards available doesn’t mean anything. I thought that’s where BA gets their AA awards from. What gives? Any ideas?

    • @Jonathan, the inventory should match up if you are looking at a saver award. I would try again – you can also look on BA’s site (you have to select to search other partners) and see what comes up, but their website isn’t always reliable.

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