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A few weeks ago, I was preparing for a big miles and points redemption to Europe for travel next summer. At the time, I was fairly confident that I would be able to book our flights on Premium Economy or Business class based on the award availability I was seeing online for the dates leading up to our trip dates.
A lot can change in a few weeks! All of the saver award space I was seeing on multiple routes has all but disappeared. What?!?!
Where Did All the Award Space Go?
It’s hard to say. Airlines giveth award space and airlines taketh away award space. My dates are during peak summer travel, so perhaps the airlines are being stingier with saver space. Plus, everyone who has canceled their big European vacations in 2020 and 2021 is looking to travel in 2022 (3rd time is a charm, right?)
Newbies to the miles and points hobby might come across high award prices like this on their first try:
Zoinks! Over 100k miles for an economy ticket! That’s crazy.
During a recent conversation with an Uber driver about miles and points, the driver went off on a tirade about what a scam airline miles are and how they are never worth anything. I can see why he thinks that way if he bases it on a snapshot like the one above.
But since you are reading this miles and points blog, you are already doing more research than the average Joe when it comes to award travel. Bravo! I encourage you to persevere with your award bookings. While it’s not always easy, the awards are out there if you are determined to make it work.
Check Every Day
Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to when the award space opens up. You can’t go online one day and expect to find saver awards. Check back every day. Or use a website like ExpertFlyer to set up alerts. Start searching as soon as your travel dates become available. It may take weeks or months for the right award space to become available.
Check Nearby Cities/Hubs
If you’re trying to book a flight to or from Europe, try searching for award space in nearby cities. Sometimes, a cheap 1-hour flight or a few hours on a train can get you to the right starting spot.
Often, airlines have more award space available to their hub cities. For example, I’m searching for award space to Dallas from Switzerland. No airlines have direct flights to Dallas from any city in Switzerland. But, United has direct flights to Chicago, D.C. and Newark. Also, United partner airlines have direct flights from Frankfurt to Dallas.
Think Outside the Box
If you have a large family, consider splitting up your party on different flights and on different airlines. Finding saver award space for 2 people is usually much easier than finding saver award space for 5.
Consider alternate dates for your trip or change the order of your itinerary to accommodate available award space. Look at all airline transfer partners of your flexible points. Ask a miles and points guru for options you may not have thought of. Leave no stone unturned.
Let Someone Else Do the Work For You
If you don’t want to spend a few minutes every day checking for award availability, let someone else do it for you. Pay for an award booking service like JuicyMiles. These services usually charge $200+ per person. But, they have the knowledge and time to find the saver awards. I have never used one of these services personally.
Using those hard-earned miles and points can be frustrating. Sometimes, the ideal route and price doesn’t present itself immediately. But don’t give up! I am still searching for the right award flights for my family’s trip next summer. I may be driving my family crazy by feverishly searching every morning. Nevertheless, I persevere. I’ll write again when I have secured all of our flights.
IMO, they are worth nothing. We sign up for cards with annual fees, and often keep the cards with annual fees (how many of us carried useless cards these last 16 months, because we don’t want more hard credit inquiries?). We change our consumer behavior to pursue points and miles – often at an expense of our time, money and even comfort. We spend hours, even tens of hours, researching the whole system – monthly; all in attempt to find pockets of value. We spend hours and hours trying to redeem them for a good rate. We suffer on reward tickets with terrible routing and unnecessary layovers.
Basically, if someone is willing to play the game, travel at inopportune times, sink countless hours in to research, inconvenience yourself in your travels – there is maybe a free ride in store.
But we are paying for these tickets / rooms one way or another. The average travel blogger is out recommending an assortment of cards that would carry more than $1000/yr in annual fees. I got a chuckle out of how this post reinforces the time commitment aspect. Check nearby cities = time spent in rental cars or taking an extra day off work and paying (or redeeming) for a airport hotel. Check everyday = time time time.
With all this time….(and money) spent on trying to pursue free points and miles – we could probably have as desirable vacations by just being an Uber driver on the side.
This isn’t for everyone. There are highs and lows in this game. After enough time, you eventually realize that freedom is the ultimate reward. Not the Freedom Card, but actual freedom. Freedom from award flight inventory, terrible award flight inventory, award rooms blocked for redemption, from wasting time. We can tell ourselves we have above average trips because of an award redemption; but just as easily, we can have a below average trip because of an award redemption.
If all this doesn’t convince you; just look at the rapid devaluation of every point and mile program. Won’t be long before a hotel room costs 500k points, and award tickets top 7 figures.
@Ryan You’re right in that this hobby isn’t for everyone. Despite the time commitment, I really do enjoy it. I’m at the point in my life where I won’t book a really crappy route just to say I used miles and points. I found some award flights for the way back to Switzerland that had two long stopovers and a total travel time of almost 30 hours. No, thanks! But I kept searching just a few minutes a day and finally found a nonstop flight using miles. I hope that I portray the reality of this hobby while also encouraging others to not give up because in my opinion the benefits outweigh the hassle (most of the time).
askmrlee (@askmrlee) says
Airline schedules open about 330 days in the future meaning June 2022 is being booked now and there are more people with airline credits / vouchers trying to redeem. Reset your expectations. You may have turn your search for a non-stop into a direct or connection (directs are NOT the same as non-stops) to use your award mileage.
@askmrlee That is good advice for beginners for sure. I do think people have unrealistic expectations sometimes. I got lucky with nonstop flights to Paris for the beginning of our trip. I’m hoping to get lucky for the return. 🙂
panel surya says
This is amazing! Thanks for sharing and with so many tips. It’s true that I have also failed to take a vacation during this pandemic, hopefully it will end soon
@panel surya I hope we can all travel safely soon!