2 reasons you should book your post-pandemic award flights right now
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The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the travel industry, but there are some silver linings for those looking to get back in the air once travel becomes safer. There are two reasons why now is a great time to book a post-pandemic award flight: incredible award availability and flexible cancellation policies.
The biggest pain in the rear when it comes to booking free flights is finding available award seats. This isn’t usually that big of an issue, but collecting miles often takes some level of flexibility. Award seats may not be open for the exact dates you want to travel (though some travel credit cards help you avoid this problem).
If you want to travel during peak seasons, like summer break or during the holidays and don’t want the hassle of dodging blackout dates and barren award availability, you should book your flights soon. Most airlines have released their schedules into mid-July, and they’ve got availability coming out their ears to the best destinations in the world.
Add the fact that airlines currently have very generous change and cancellation policies when it comes to award flights, especially with their modified policies due to COVID-19, and you can book speculatively without worry — just cross your fingers that the world is back to normal by 2021.
U.S. airline award availability is wide open
Not a lot of people are booking travel right now, and that’s great. Great for them, as they try to take precautions to keep themselves and others safe — and great for us, who are forward-thinking miles and points enthusiasts. Award flights are more plenteous than they’ve been since maybe EVER, both domestically and internationally.
Let’s examine some random routes with legacy U.S. airlines. I’m choosing random dates, origins, and destinations, and I’ll post my first search results — just to show you how many dates are available.
Sample route: One-way business class flight between Cincinnati and Bangkok
At the time of writing, business class seats to Bangkok are available for 70,000 American miles (a reasonable price) at least 18 days out of every month in 2021. I searched for flights from my moderately sized home airport of Cincinnati. It’s pretty unheard of to find that many dates with saver award availability throughout the calendar. Flying from more prominent hubs will only net you better results.
American Airlines change policy: To cancel an award flight and receive your miles back, American usually charges a fee of $150 for the first passenger, and $25 for each additional passenger on the same reservation. But when you book an award flight by September 8, 2020, for any future travel, American Airlines will waive the fee of redepositing your miles if you choose to cancel your trip. Your miles will return to your account within 48 hours of cancellation. You can check to see if your trip is eligible for the waived fee by clicking here.
Also note that if you book after September 8, 2020, American Airlines still gives you a bit of flexibility for free. They offer free date changes, as long as your origin and destination remain the same. If you want to change either of those, you’ll pay $150.
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Sample route: One-way coach flight between Indianapolis and Honolulu
Flights to Honolulu aren’t too far removed from home. Hawaii is utterly fall-to-your-knees beautiful, anyway. I’ve speculatively reserved flights to Maui later this year.
You may feel more comfortable booking a speculative “domestic” vacation to Hawaii than an international destination with the myriad of rules and regulations surrounding the coronavirus. Of course, if you’re booking travel right now you’re banking on the restrictions being lifted by next year, anyway.
I searched coach fares from Indianapolis to Honolulu for the below booking, and availability was even better than I anticipated for the price of 22,500 United miles one-way. Again, Indianapolis is not a big airport. If you’re flying from gateways like San Francisco or Houston, you’ll have even more seats to choose from.
United Airlines change policy: United waives its award redeposit fees for all members for the rest of 2020 — but you must cancel at least 30 days before your scheduled departure date. You can book and cancel as often as you want with no penalty.
United usually charges:
- $75 for changes made 61+ days in advance
- $125 for changes made within 60 days
- $125 for no-shows
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Sample route: One-way business class flight between Atlanta and Zurich
Admittedly, Delta is a bit stingier. They do have a lot of available flights, but I’m finding that you’ll only have a huge selection of dates when sticking with their hubs. Scrolling through 2021, I see most months have plenty of Delta One (business class) availability between Atlanta and Zurich for a reasonable price of 75,000 Delta SkyMiles miles one-way.
Considering Delta’s variable award pricing, it’s pretty unheard of to see these many flights at these prices.
Delta change policy: Delta is waiving award redeposit fees for those scheduled to travel through December 31, 2020. Tickets purchased between March 1 and September 30, 2020, can be changed without a change fee or award redeposit fee for a year from the purchase date.
Delta’s normal change/redeposit fee is $150, and changes must be made 72+ hours before departure.
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The above random bookings portend a larger trend, both worrisome and exciting: Very few people are booking travel right now. To anywhere. If the travel industry holds up, this is a fantastic time for you to burn airline miles you’ve been holding for a lie-flat seat to your dream destination. Availability is wide open. Best of all, you can cancel your trip and your miles will be redeposited for no fee.
Other airline partner programs may have better pricing than what we listed above (i.e. book a United flight with Turkish miles since they’re Star Alliance partners), but you’ll want to make sure they also have flexible cancellation policies before you transfer over any points and make a booking.
It’s also worth noting that Southwest also has great availability, but their award prices directly correlate with the cash prices of the flights. There are some super cheap flights available to select destinations, so now’s a good time to use points for Southwest flights, too! And you can change or cancel your flight for free up to 10 minutes before takeoff.
Let me know if you’ve booked any speculative trips! And check out our full guide on how much it costs to change and cancel flights.
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