Dear Cashing In,
we are in for a busy summer travel season. I have diligently been saving
rewards points for a free trip to see family in Detroit but am worried I will
not be able to land a desirable time, or maybe not even get on at all. What are
the odds of getting a good free seat when summer travel season gets even busier
than usual? -- Imran
can be frustrating to be sitting atop a pile of miles or points that you have
spent months accumulating and then not be able to use them the way you want.
you're right: According to the Wall
Street Journal, tickets are selling earlier and flights are filling up
faster than in previous years.
people like you attempting to use miles, that probably means that seats set
aside for award travel will also fill up more quickly. That's always true of
popular summer destinations, but likely more so this year. The fifth annual SwitchFly Reward Seat Availability Survey, released May 8, showed that showed
that many airlines are making award seats more available than in the past, but
seats on popular routes can still be hard to find.
airlines open a flight for booking -- usually around 11 months ahead of time --
they set aside a small number of seats for award travelers. Depending on the
size of the plane and the projected popularity of the route, this number could
be as high as nine, or as low as zero. In my experience, it's usually at least
two or three.
seats often fill up quickly, but the airline can add more if it sees the flight
is not selling well. People who book award tickets for a living say they occasionally see award
seats added the week before the flight.
want to travel this summer and you're not seeing a lot of availability at the
lowest award level, your options are limited. You'll probably have to be
flexible in terms of dates or routing of your trip, or you'll have to spend
more miles than the minimum to secure a seat -- maybe twice as many.
looked at some sample flights to Detroit in July. I don't know where you live
or what points you have, but it does not appear to me that flights to Detroit
are totally unavailable. You might have to fly in the middle of the week, or
make two stops -- such as Richmond to New York to Chicago to Detroit on American
Airlines -- but if you have some flexibility that might work for you.
see any flights that might work for you, you should book them now. The odds of
the availability getting worse are higher than the odds of better flights
suddenly becoming available.
is common. Airlines and card companies love to tout the ease of racking up
miles, but when it comes to spending them, it's often not so easy.
best results, book award tickets when they first become available. Of course,
that takes planning.
you're consistently finding yourself in this dilemma of being unable to use
your miles, consider a credit card that gives you flexibility in redemption.
Just about every major bank has a rewards program that lets you redeem points
on any available flight. The number of points is pegged to the cost of the
flight. Cash-back cards are probably the simplest to use.
See related: ,
As airlines merge, frequent flier miles decline in value