Booking award tickets is not always easy. You have to be flexible and it takes practice to learn how to best search each airline's online award booking system. You can get ahead of the curve by following our 10 Tips for Booking Award Tickets.
#1 – Start searching 11 months out when the award space is first released
If what you want is not available 11 months out don't give up, keep searching, as award space is always changing. Availability fluctuates all the time. Sometimes the best availability is five to six months out, so don't give up!
# 2 – Can't find what you want? Try nearby cities and commute with Ryanair or Easyjet
Let's say you want to go to London but there is no award availability. Consider flying into a nearby city such as Dublin and take Ryanair or Easyjet into London. If you're booking with AAdvantage miles to Europe avoid flying British Airways at all costs, the fuel surcharges ruin any award redemption.
#3 – Always search for two award tickets if you are planning to travel with another person
This is a big one! If you are planning to travel with two or more people you MUST search for that number. Just because it shows that there is award availability for one that doesn't mean there is room for two. Many times there is only award space for one seat, especially in premium cabins. If you were to book that one available ticket the award flight would disappear, so always search for the number you require.
#4 – Consider First Class or Business Class to maximize your point potential
Flying economy for free is great, but flying first or business class is in a league of it's own. The incredible thing is that many times you can book first or business class for only 15k or 20k points more. This is especially true for American's AAdvantage program, where you can fly first class for only 50k miles. We did it last summer to Germany round-trip for 100k AAdvantage miles each, and it was well worth it!
#5 – Don't stick to one frequent flyer program
We typically don't fly international round-trip on the same airline. Having points and miles in multiple programs increases your flexibility gives you more options to book when you want. Many times we'll fly American or Delta out to Europe and United back. One-way fares are a great way to improve the chances you'll get to fly when you want to.
#6 – Can't find seats? As a last resort try calling the airline telephone booking line.
The airline phone reps are capable of some amazing things, and they might have the right trick to get you where you want, when you want. Their magic just might be worth the telephone booking fee.
#7 – Build-up Starwood points since they can be transferred to almost any airline
There is nothing worse than being one or two thousand points away from an award ticket. Always make sure you carry a balance of SPG points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or Amex Membership Rewards points, just in case you need to top off your airline account.
#8 – Consider Southwest since you can cancel award bookings
I love Southwest and one of the great perks is the ability to cancel award bookings. Southwest also features dynamic award pricing so if there is a sale the number of points required will decrease. If you find the same flight for fewer points, later on, cancel your prior award booking and rebook for fewer points. Don't forget about the incredible Southwest Companion Pass as well.
#9 – Avoid award bookings 21 days before departure
American and United charge $75 extra for award bookings 21 days before departure. Thankfully Delta does not charge extra for last minute bookings. Foreign airlines rarely charge any fees for last minute bookings.
#10- Be flexible
The airlines want you to spend more miles if they can! Never settle for expensive awards if you can avoid it. Take your time and research where you want to go and which rewards programs offer the best routing.