Although many leisure travels (especially international travels) come to a halt, due to COVID-19 pandemic, prior to pandemic, growing number of people traveled for leisure to either relax or explore the world. In order to go places, it is very likely that you are taking airplane and airfare is significant part of the budget (According to ValuePenguin, for average cost of vacation, transportation takes up from 38.5% (for 4-night domestic trip) to 54.0 % (for 12-night international trip).). You may have wondered whether there is a way to spend less on airfare so that either you can save some money that goes into travel or spend more on other activities during your trip. If this is you, then flight awards can help you to drastically cut money that goes into airfare. In this article, we will explore pros and cons for planning your next vacation with flight awards using your frequent flier miles.
Pro 1. Reduce spending on airfare
If you book your flights with flight awards, you can save tons on airfare. When you use frequent flier miles to book your flights, you don’t need to pay anything for ‘airfare’ portion, because airfare is covered by frequent flyer miles (you still need to pay for taxes and fees). If you booked the right ticket, you can be spending less than $100 for round trip from United States to Asia on business class (which can cost from $2,500, if you booked revenue flights). This saved money can be used to reduce your travel budget or spend on other activities that you would like to do at your destination.
Pro 2. Flexible routing
If you are booking revenue flight, chances are you are booking round-trip ticket with one airlines. This means you are locked with that airline’s (or alliance’s) offering and you may need to take a flight with unfavorable schedule, even there are other flights by different airlines with more ideal schedule. You may decide to book two one-way flights, but since many cheap airfares require round-trip itinerary, you would need to spend significantly a lot for expensive one-way airfares. In contrast, if you utilize flight awards, you can book two separate one-way awards with different airlines and you can spend same amount of frequent miles as round-trip itineraries. This can be a big advantage for some people who are planning to visit multiple destinations, as they can group multiple flights into one itinerary by taking advantage of stopover (only applicable to certain programs).
Pro 3. Lower cancellation fees
If you have to cancel your ticket, chances are your airfare is non-refundable. You can use that balance (minus cancellation fee, if applicable) for later flights but you are not getting your money back as a cash and that fund may expire after ticket’s validity. If you cancel your flight awards, you may need to pay for redeposit fee to get your miles back to your account, but since you didn’t spend much money on the ticket, even with redeposit fee, financial impact is significantly less than cancelling revenue ticket.
Con 1. Complicated rules
In order to spend your frequent flyer miles intelligently, you need to learn about complex rules for different programs. For beginners, this can be a steep learning curve, as you need to understand where each airline flies to and how to find availability for your award. In addition, if you want to book the best possible product, you also need to be knowledgeable on airline’s offerings (seats, in-flight services etc.) and aircrafts. This is one of the reasons why many people actually give up on using, or even collecting, frequent flyer miles because there are lots of things to learn, before you actually book your flight awards.
Con 2. Finding availabilities
Since flight awards don’t generate any revenue for the flight, airlines are also reluctant to release award seats for popular or flagship routes. This means you may not find the ideal flight schedule when you try to book it. Many people find this extremely frustrating, because you may need to wait until new seats are released or you may need to travel to another airport for alternative flight. For some people, it might not be the hassle that they want to go through.
Con 3. Managing frequent flyer accounts
For some frequent flyer programs, miles expire after certain period of time or inactivity. Keeping track of all of those rules and keeping those miles alive can be extremely challenging. There are tools like AwardWallet to keep track of expiration, but it can be a big task for some people.
While there are some challenges for utilizing flight awards, savings on airfare offsets all of those. Thanks to flight awards, I was able to travel to amazing destinations on premium cabins using fraction of what I would’ve paid, if I were to book revenue tickets. So if you are interested in learning more about flight awards and award booking, stay tuned for the next lesson!