I wrote this article pre-COVID, when traveling around the world was relatively easy. That’s not the case right now but with the possibility of an effective vaccine coming soon, I’m thinking about making longer-range plans. With all of the current uncertainty about travel, it also means I’m really going to need to work on this problem if I’m going to be able to make any award bookings.
If you take a good look at yourself, you probably have a weakness when it comes to making travel reservations. It’s different for everyone. For example, some people feel anxious when they’re going to spend points and miles. To those of you with this problem, here’s why you should spend your points already! Others are never happy with their reservations, particularly hotel reservations, and continually change plans right up until the final cancellation date. We used to joke with a friend of ours when she’d tell us her plans because deep down we both knew there was no way the reservation would hold until the trip.
Some of the more advanced members of the travel community have their own set of weaknesses. Some can’t give up their loyalty status or pass up a good mileage/mattress run opportunity. Then there are those who’ll book a crazy mistake fare even if they previously had no intent to travel where the flight goes to or even where it departs from. I’d bet that these people would argue these aren’t weaknesses but strengths, and to that I say, whatever makes you happy.
For me, it’s a different weakness and unfortunately, it affects a significant part of booking award travel.
I lack patience. I’m not saying that I need immediate satisfaction; it’s more that I like to have things in order (except my desk and garage and we’re not talking about that right now). It’s why I was so happy when I got all of my travel plans set for a trip that was still months away.
This is the biggest part of booking award travel that always tests my lack of patience.
Airline Award Space
The fickle problem of airline award space. Since I lack flexibility in my travel dates and usually the travel locations, I’m subject to the airlines’ whims and their formulas of when and if they’re going to release award space on flights.
While I know precisely the flight I want to take, it may not be available with points. There may be other flights available with longer connection times, or I could always pay the exorbitant price for non-saver space, but that’s not what I want to do. Even worse is when there’s only ONE award seat available on the flight because, of course, there are almost always 2 of us.
A few years ago, I booked a business class flight on Aer Lingus and there was only one award ticket available. I read online that if you booked an award seat that sometimes another seat would come available in a day or so. I had to take a deep breath and booked a single seat. After 2 days, another single award seat popped up and I grabbed it as well. I don’t know if this trick still works but it’s an example of the things you may need to try to get the trip you want. I’ll tell you, that was a tense few days with a lot of refreshing webpages but it was worth it.
Since I’m usually looking for flights that are months away, I have time on my side. I also have some tools that can help me try and snag those award tickets. My favorite one to use is ExpertFlyer.
ExpertFlyer is a powerful tool that searches many different airlines for award and upgrade availability. I’m admittedly an amateur user, but I’ve still managed to find us award tickets on many flights by utilizing the filters available. It’s how I found the flights on Delta in business class to get us from Frankfurt to Orlando. I’ve also used it to find flights for my dad’s trip to Bali and to check if there was upgrade space on an Alaska red-eye from Seattle to Orlando.
One of the other great features of the site is setting alerts for a specific flight. Here’s an older example looking for a flight from New York to London on Virgin Atlantic. A search will show you the list of award availability for all flights.
In this case, there was availability in all three classes of service on multiple flights. But what if you really wanted to fly the daytime flight from 8:05 AM in Upper Class? That’s where the ability to set alerts comes in handy. Just input the information for the flight you want and the class of service and ExpertFlyer will do the rest.
If space opens up, you’ll get an email. I have a special alert set up on my phone when I get an ExpertFlyer email because once award space shows up, you need to act fast.
To set alerts, you need to purchase a monthly subscription for $9.99 but I think that’s a reasonable price to pay for the tools you get. You can cancel with just one click at any time and if you need to use the service again, it’s just as easy to re-activate. If you’re interested, I suggest checking out some of the wonderful websites that have already gone in-depth to show how to work the different features.
I’m terribly impatient when it comes to booking award travel. I’m never going to be one of the people who can say “Award space will open up around 10 days before the flight so I’ll wait to book until then.” I need to have a flight on the books since the risk of not finding any way to get to our destination or delaying travel is too great. Even though I trust myself to put a trip together last minute, it’s not a skill I like to voluntarily put into practice.
I also don’t want to take a substandard flight or horrible routing just because the one I really want isn’t currently available. Using a tool like ExpertFlyer gives me the feeling that I’m still in some control of my travel destiny. If at any time what I really want becomes available, I will get an email. I can set a date in my head that if award space still hasn’t shown up, I’ll start looking at other options.
This is how I’ve learned to overcome, or at least compensate for, my biggest travel weakness. What’s yours and what do you do to try and overcome it?
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary