11 Tips for Successfully Booking Free Holiday Travel (Even Last Minute!)

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.

Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.

The holidays are fast approaching, and with them one of the most busy travel times of the year.  So planning ahead is key!

Booking award travel over peak travel dates can be tricky, even if you have a nice stash of miles and points earned from the best credit cards for travel.  And it can be particularly challenging if you’ve left planning until the last minute.

But all is not lost!  There are still ways to travel nearly free with miles and points, without blackout dates, during peak times.  I’ll share some tips and tricks to help you book last-minute holiday travel.

The Lotte New York Palace Hotel in New York City off Madison Avenue Decorates Elaborately for Holiday Travelers.
Book Last-Minute Holiday Travel to Spots Like The Lotte New York Palace Hotel in New York City off Madison Avenue, Which Decorates Elaborately for the Season

I’ll share some tips and tricks to help you find the award flights and hotels you’re looking for, even if you haven’t booked in advance.

11 Tips for Last-Minute Holiday Travel

Don’t be discouraged when it comes to traveling this holiday season.  While it’s true that availability becomes more limited during November and December, if you know which programs to use, you can still travel for next to free during the holidays.

How to Book Free Airline Travel During the Holidays

Here are our top tips for booking award flights during this busy travel season.  Remember, you can earn miles and points for free flights quickly by opening one of the best airline credit cards.

Southwest & JetBlue Have No Blackout Dates

Southwest has no blackout dates on award travel.  If there is a seat available, you can book it with Southwest points.  This level of flexibility is why many folks enjoy flying on Southwest.  And because there’s no reserved seating, you can still find a good seat, even if you are booking a last minute flight.

JetBlue also has no blackout dates for award travel.  You can book any class of service using JetBlue points, including Mint Business Class seats, even on popular travel dates like the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve.

etBlue Extends Their No Blackouts Promise to Their Lie-Flat JetBlue Mint Seats

Don’t forget that both JetBlue and Southwest are Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners!  This allows you to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to either airline at a 1:1 ratio if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.

Keep in mind, the cost of an award seat on either airline is based on the cash price of a ticket.  So booking early will ensure that seats are still available at lower prices.  If there aren’t any seats left for sale, you’re out of luck.

Use a United Airlines Credit Card for Last Seat Availability

One of the best perks of certain United Airlines credit cards is access to more available award seats on United Airlines.  This increases your chance of getting an award seat on popular travel dates.

The cards that offer access to additional award seats include:

  • United℠ Explorer Card
  • United Club℠ Infinite Card
  • United Club Business Card

This perk can be a huge life-saver!  Many folks keep a United Airlines credit card in their wallet just for access to more award seats!

The information for the United Club Business Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets.  The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Delta Cardholders Can Use “Pay With Miles” to Avoid Blackout Dates

While Delta restricts available award flights on many popular holiday travel dates, certain AMEX Delta cardholders can book using Pay With Miles with NO blackout dates!

Pay With Miles allows you to redeem miles towards paid Delta tickets at the value of 1 cent per mile (so a $200 ticket would cost 20,000 Delta miles).  As long as a ticket is available, you can purchase it with miles.

Fly on Delta With No Worries of Blackout Dates as Long as You Hold a Certain Delta Cards and Use the Pay With Miles Perk

To use Pay With Miles, you’ll need a Delta card like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card,Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card, and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card

Fly United Airlines by Booking Flights With Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of our favorite travel rewards programs.  If you’re new to Chase Ultimate Rewards, we recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred, our favorite card for beginners!

While many airlines still have blackout dates for popular travel dates like Christmas and Thanksgiving, redeeming your points through the Chase Travel Portal will allow you to book these same airlines without blackout dates or restrictions.

This is the best way to ensure that you can get a United Airlines flight over the holidays if you don’t have a United Airlines credit card.  But you can also use Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal to book on most major airlines.

No Blackout Dates With Citi ThankYou Points

You can book flights through the Citi ThankYou Travel Portal with no blackout dates.  This is another great way to get a last-minute ticket for free especially during popular travel times.

Erase Any Travel Purchase With the Capital One Venture Card

Many folks prefer the simplicity of the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.  You can use your card to book any flight, at any time just as if you were paying cash for the ticket.

After the transaction shows up on your credit card statement, you can use your Capital One Venture miles to “erase” the purchase using miles within 90 days.  You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases, with no caps on the amount you can earn.  Each Capital One Venture is worth 1 cent towards travel.

This can be especially great for getting free flights on budget airlines or other airlines you don’t have points with.

How to Book Free Hotel Award Stays During the Holiday Season

Many hotels restrict award nights during popular travel times.  I have even seen hotels that black out all award travel between mid December and early January!

But knowing which chains to book and points to use can help you get the perfect place to stay.  Here’s our list of the best hotel credit cards.

No Blackout Dates at Hyatt Hotels

Hyatt’s rewards program promises “no blackout dates on standard rooms or at participating M life Rewards destinations.”  This means that you should be able to stay at a Hyatt hotel no matter the date, as long as a standard room is still available.

Team Member Jason saved ~$2,133 by using Hyatt points to book a holiday trip to New York City.  Even though this was over the peak season, he was able to use Hyatt points to redeem a premium hotel room.  His family also enjoyed the benefits of his Elite Globalist status towards room upgrades and free breakfast.

How I Saved 2133 On A Family Trip To The Statue Of Liberty
Hyatt Hotels, Like the Hyatt Centric Times Square, Don’t Have Blackout Dates for Award Nights. This Makes it a Great Option for Booking Premium Hotel Stays Over Popular Travel Dates When Other Hotels Have Restrictions

This also extends to participating M Life Rewards destinations in Las Vegas, allowing you several “blackout-free” options for using Hyatt points if you are staying there.

Hilton Has No Blackout Dates

Hilton is another hotel to offer no blackout dates.  This applies to standard rooms on any travel date as long as there is space available.

Hilton says:

If there’s a standard room available at any Hilton Family hotel or resort worldwide, you can redeem points for it.  No exceptions, no fine print.  It’s that simple.

The timing is perfect if you’re looking to earn more Hilton points, because the AMEX Hilton cards are currently offering welcome bonuses.  This includes the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Card, The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. The information for the Hilton Surpass card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Book Nearly Any Hotel Room With Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

If you collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you won’t need to worry about blackout dates during the holidays!  Hotel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal are not subject to restrictions or blackout dates.

You will find almost all hotel chains in the portal, including many boutique and independent hotels.

And right now with the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you can earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.  That’s worth $1,000 in hotel stays booked through the Chase Travel Portal!

Use Citi ThankYou Points to Book Award Hotel Stays

The Citi ThankYou Travel Portal is another great resource when looking for a hotel room over the holidays.  Citi promises no blackout dates when you redeem through their portal.  The portal lets you redeem Citi ThankYou points for nearly any hotel room.

If you have been considering a Citi ThankYou card, now is the time to get one.  With the Citi Premier Card , you’ll earn 60,000 Citi ThankYou points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

This welcome offer is worth $750 of travel through the Citi Travel Portal.

Stay at an AirBnb With Capital One Venture

If you’re traveling as a larger group, there’s a lot of incentive to consider AirBnb.  You can often rent a whole house or apartment instead of worrying about booking multiple hotel rooms.

One of the great things about the Capital One Venture card is how simple it is to redeem miles for travel, which includes Airbnbs.

AirBnb Can Be an Amazing Option for Families Over the Holidays Because You Can All Stay Together And Feel At Home.  Redeeming Capital One Venture Miles for an AirBnb Stay Will Save You a Ton!

Just use your Capital One Venture card to pay for your booking.  Then, within 90 days of making the charge, log into your Capital One Venture card account and select the option to use miles to “erase” the purchase.  Again, each mile is worth 1 cent towards travel purchases.

Of course, you can use the Capital One Venture miles to erase almost any travel purchase, not just AirBnbs.  So if you prefer, you can redeem miles for stays at popular hotel chains that have blackout dates, or any hotel for that matter.

Bottom Line

With the holiday season coming up, booking award travel on popular travel dates can be challenging.  Some airlines and hotels have blackout dates around Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years.  And if you’re booking a last-minute trip, award flights and hotels can be hard to find.

Here are 6 tips to book award flights during the holidays:

Another 5 ways to book award hotel stays during the holidays:

Check out our list of the best travel credit cards to start earning rewards to help you plan your holiday trip!

Do you have any other tips to share for booking last-minute travel over the holidays?

Alex Curtis is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

Join the Discussion!

Comments are closed.