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If you are looking to travel using miles during the holiday season in 2014 (I know, we just got through Christmas season), then now is when the schedules with many major carriers are starting to extend to the dates around December 25, 2014. As you likely know, 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.
However, when you are dealing with needing multiple award seats for a family during a peak travel time, it pays to start looking as early as possible, and grab something if you think it will work for your travel plans. Of course, don’t get too disappointed if what you want isn’t yet available. Depending on the airline you are booking with, you may have to wait a few more days to book your return flight home after Christmas, but we are certainly very close to folks being able to make their full holiday bookings, so now is the time to start the process. Here are a few tips to snag flights home for the holidays on miles and points.
- 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 much date flexibility and need multiple seats for all your family members.
- 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.
- 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 LAX – JFK after December 17th at the saver level in coach, however there is availability all through that busy travel weekend weekend at the saver level in first. Both the saver first class seat and the standard coach seat will cost 25k 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 schedule changes to your advantage. Since you are booking so far in advance, there is a 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.
- 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 U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® card to buy the exact flights you want with points that are worth a fixed amount. Airlines like Southwest also allow you to book a seat on any flight that has a seat for sale using their own “fixed value” currency. However, their schedule is currently not extended until the holiday season, and likely won’t be for a while longer.
- Use a service like ExpertFlyer.com 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. Remember that you can also now book one-way awards on US Airways operated flights by booking via American Airlines miles.
- 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.
Good luck securing the 2014 holiday flights you are after. Like it or not, it will be here before we know it!
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