Travel rewards programs are about collecting as many points and miles as possible in order to pack that bag and travel wherever you want, for free. But when it comes to traveling when you want, things get a little trickier.
You want to get the most from your points. That's why it's important to know when to book your ideal trip, to get the most value from your points and miles while making sure the travel stays convenient for you. Here are some tips and tricks I use when redeeming my hard-earned points and miles to land the rewards I want.
Like fashion, the travel industry is seasonal, and in its busiest seasons, which include summer and major holidays, there are fewer opportunities to fly on an award ticket. If you do find a redemption opportunity, you may need to use way more points and miles to get it than you would off-season.
If you're planning a trip to a popular place at a busy time (Christmas in Hawaii, anyone?) start looking for an award ticket as soon as you know your plans. WebFlyer, a site that researches rewards and redemption, recommends six months in advance of your preferred departure time as a general time to start your search for a reduced mileage-based award.
And although there’s no secret “best day of the week” to book an award ticket, experts advise that mid-week booking gets you the best redemption rates. Within the U.S. and to Florida, it's Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday; to Hawaii, Asia and Europe, it's Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday; to the Caribbean, Mexico or South America, it's Tuesday or Wednesday.
Revenue-Based Airline Programs
The best time to redeem your frequent flyer points or miles varies by airline. Within the U.S., airlines like Southwest and JetBlue have “revenue-based” rewards programs: the number of points or miles needed to book an award ticket depends on the dollar amount spent on that ticket. Generally, when the price goes up, the number of points/miles goes up too. When the cash price drops, so too do the number of points/miles.
With these types of loyalty programs, experts say that the best time to book is when fare prices are lower, like during a sale. So if you’ve got points/miles to redeem with one of these carriers, sign up for their fare sale alerts, and follow their social media feeds. You could benefit big-time by booking your award travel when a sale comes around.
Award Chart Airline Programs
Other airlines, such as Alaska, American, and United, are “award chart” programs. This means they have fixed mileage rates per award ticket, based on the cabin class and the distance being traveled. With this type of program, award seat availability is usually governed by capacity. The lowest mileage redemption rate (or “Saver” rate) is the first to disappear as a flight fills up, and is often difficult to get during peak seasons.
On these airlines, start your award search 10 or 11 months in advance of your planned travel dates. And keep checking back, as more award seats may open up as other travelers cancel their bookings or change their plans. If you find a Saver level award seat that works for your travel plans, book it! There’s no benefit in waiting and the seat may be gone when you come back for it.
Collect, Dream, and Go
Smart travelers who set goals for collecting points and miles and stay on top of their loyalty program's offerings can almost always find a way to make their travel dreams a reality. Whether you plan months in advance or enjoy the freedom to fly tomorrow, your points and miles can give you so much more of the world to explore.