Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 12, 2010

Top Ten Tips for Snagging a Frequent Flyer Seat

Where in the world do you want your frequent flyer miles to take you?

Want to cash in that ever-increasing pile of miles in your frequent flyer account, but never seem to be able to find an award seat to your dream destination? Here are ten tips for finding that elusive seat and bagging it.

1. Book way ahead. An airline agent told me, “If you want to go anyplace with a palm tree, start thinking two years out.” Generally speaking, however, airlines start making award seats available about 11 months ahead of dates of travel.

2. Book something and hold it, even if you are iffy about it. Better to have it, and change it, than not to get it at all. The change fees, if any, may be cheaper than the scandalous fees airlines try to charge if you want to “expedite” a booking within a month or less of a departure date.

3. Try booking at odd hours – late at night, early in the morning. The rumor is that airlines release seats after midnight, and around 6 or 8 in the morning.

4. Link trips together. Many frequent flyer award tickets allow one stopover. Make it work for you. Let’s say you live in California and want to go to London next fall, and you have a business trip ahead in New York about the same time. Book an L.A. to London itinerary with a layover for your business meeting in New York. I may be easier to find seats, in and out of New York, since you can use any of the three area airports. You may also have more choices in and out of London from New York than L.A.

5. Consider first class and business class tickets. These can sometimes cost just a little more, in terms of miles (say, 60,000-70,000 miles), than an unrestricted coach award might (50,000 miles and more). Besides, the nicer service up front should be considered part of how you reward yourself.

6. Travel off-season. That doesn’t necessarily mean Alaska in January. It might merely mean visiting a place like Florida in the fall (the best time of year there) instead of at Easter.

7. Be creative. Be willing to fly into or out of

Be creative about destinations

neighboring airports (for example, LGB instead of LAX), make connections instead taking nonstops, take layovers in mid-itinerary or do open jaws. (Open jaws are when you fly into one airport, like Heathrow, and back home from another, like Paris-CDG. Take a Chunnel train between the two.) Some airlines now even permit one-way ticket awards. See the possibilities!

8. Can’t find what you want on the airline’s website? Call them. Agents always seem able to find more availability than the website shows. Also, if you are lucky enough to find a smart agent, he/she can come up with some pretty creative itineraries. Beware: Having an agent book you, instead of doing it yourself online, may result in booking fees.

9. Check alliance web sites. For instance, United is a member of Star Alliance, which has a website of its own. There are also umbrella websites for Skyteam and OneWorld. These can show you what the partner airlines also have available.

10. Sign up for an award tracking service like ExpertFlyer or MileageManager, which for a fee, will alert you when seats are available to your preferred destination. ExpertFlyer works with 22 airlines; MileageManager is hooked into 10. ExpertFlyer claims a success rate of more than 50 percent, and usually can score you a seat within a month.

That’s better than my track record with United – utter frustration at finding an award, at a level that I’d consider booking, to a destination that I want, going on three years now.

Jerry Garrett

February 12, 2010


  1. Great post. United is also my airline of preference and it is increasingly disappointing to try to overcome the hurdles imposed on using frequent flyer miles.

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