With fuel prices higher and airlines cutting back service during the winter, a recent WSJ article shows that finding saver award seats for the customary 25,000 miles is becoming harder to find. I absolutely agree with this article. I’ve been trying to find an award seat for my annual Napa wine tasting weekend in early April, and I haven’t been able to find a single saver award seat on any airline for that weekend. It seems I can find availability on the Friday flight out to SFO, but not a single seat is open on United or American, not to mention Southwest is charging an absurdly high award price on that day. I was still able to get my saver award, so to say by using Citi Thank You points, for just 14,000 points round trip on Virgin America (a 30% discount because I have the Citi Thank You Premier Card), but with fewer saver awards available, it’s becoming paramount that one get creative when trying to use miles for air travel.
As such, here is a quick primer on my method for finding cheap award seats.
1. Search on the airline’s website and be creative. If you are flying to Los Angeles (LAX), can you fly to Orange County (SNA), Long Beach (LGB), or even Ontario (ONT)? Be flexible on your schedule. Some airline award search tools like AA’s allow you to search multiple days. Also, if an economy award isn’t available on the day and flight you want, forcing you to pay double miles, then think about searching for a saver first class award, which can often be the same price as a double miles award!
2. Use a online search tool like Expert Flyer to aid in your search and also create alerts. I havn’t used Expert Flyer a lot, but it has a cool feature that allows you to set alerts, which will notify you when a saver award seat or upgrade becomes available. A lot of their better options require a paid service, but it the fee might be worth it if you save hundreds of dollars by redeeming miles instead of paying for the seat.
3. One of my favorite ways to get a good deal on airfare is to load the flights you want into Yapta. Yapta is a free service that allows you to track the price of a ticket and will notify you when the price drops. This was how I found out about using Thank You Points to purchase my award seat on Virgin America. I loaded the flights I wanted into Yapta months ago and Virgin just announced a sale for travel to SFO. Yapta emailed me letting me know the round trip price was only $200 and I logged into the Thank You website and booked the ticket for only 14,000 points. This was quite a deal considering that my alternative was a 25,000 mile round trip award. This also shows you that it pays off having miles/points diversified in multiple accounts, which give you the flexibility to redeem them in the most advantageous fashion.