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After Miles to Memories talked about tricks and strategies for traveling longer-term for a family, we turned the room over to Jason Steele from The Points Guy, who talked about how to book multiple award flights.

Let’s face it, especially if you’re doing more aspirational travel, trying to find award space can be a challenge.  Many airlines only release 1 or 2 seats in first and business class on awards.  Heck, when you’re talking about 8 seats like I am, it can be challenging even to find them in ECONOMY! (gasp!)

How you spend your miles is at least as important as how you earn them

We’ve talked about this before but there are actually tons of different redemptions available, which is why it’s important to have a stable of different miles currencies.  Just this morning on my flight out here, (after not paying $15 for the seat right next to me) I was sitting next to an off-duty pilot, and I was talking about how I booked the US Airways flight we were on with only 9000 British Airways avios, but if I had used US Airways miles to book the SAME flight, it would have cost me 25,000 miles (nearly 3 times as much!)

Another good subject was talking about the difference between traditional award programs (United, American, etc.) and revenue-based ones (Southwest, Virgin America, or Jet Blue).  He is a big fan of Southwest.

Hidden Award space

british airways

Try searching on British Airways if you are looking for availability on American

Many of the main US carriers don’t show all of their partners award space.  For example, United doesn’t show LOT Polish, Singapore, South African, Jet Airways.  So if you search ANA instead, you can see all of the different partners that United WILL let you redeem miles on.  Once you find the flights, then you do have to call in and feed the agent the flights, but it can make the difference between getting the award ticket and not.

The airline sites he likes for availability are: ANA for United, British Airways, Iberia and Qantas for American, or Air France to search Delta availability.

What you can’t see is generally the most available, since nobody else can see them!  Another good tip was looking for newly announced flights.  If an airline starts a new route, 11 months out, they’ve got a wide-open cabin!

He has coined “Jason’s Rule” which says tht Award Availability increases with distance from the US.  After talking with some of the airline award executives, the idea is that many of the domestic airlines think that they are losing money on each award seat, so the availability is lower.

So a flight from JFK-FRA might not have a ton of availability, but going from Frankfurt to Rome or Kenya or Tokyo or wherever often has a ton more availability.  So then you just have to figure out how to get out of the country 😀

Some more “creative” ways to make family travel happen.

  • “Split the team” – he suggested that this can actually be less sstressful than group travel, though I think my wife might have something to say about that.  Plus, if you split up, then you have to argue about who gets the “good” kids.
  • Another idea is to book more of an “imperfect” award, and hope for a schedule change, where you can take advantage of that to then change your flight to one that works better for you
  • Double mileage awards.  Not as great as an option, but in a “make or “break” situation, you can pay for the non-“low” award space.
  • Look for awards on the day of holidays.  Flying on Christmas or July 4th often has a lot of award space out there.
  • Ask to see if the “revenue management” department can open space – this can work only when the carrier issuing the award is the one flying the plane.  Sometimes carriers will do this when families are split up initially or if you’re missing one segment (you have the flight booked from ORD-FRA, but you can’t get from CVG-ORD)

Other tips

Then there was “Jason’s 2nd rule” – Kids love trains!

Amtrak is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood as well.  Bedrooms with bunk beds and private bathrooms, no TSA searches and a great adventure.  Some of the trains even have things like wine and cheese tastings, or even a movie theater onboard!

He also spent some time talking about rental cars – National and Hertz have very reasonable rates for minivans.  The minivan is tough for us since there are 8 of us and many minivans only seat 7.  We would probably just rent 2 cars but that could help for some people.

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