My Severe Case of Points Procrastination

by on June 21, 2012 · 10 comments

in Air Canada, American, Delta, Points Guy Pointers

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I’ve recently been dealing with a rough bout of a condition I bet many of you are familiar with: points procrastination, the bad habit of putting off a booking until the last minute in the hopes of creating the perfect award itinerary with the least amount of miles possible.

My Situation
I am supposed to fly to Europe next week with my best friend Lori,  who currently lives there and has a couple weeks off work. I am flying her to the States from Madrid to JFK on a Flying Blue 25,000 mile one-way business class Promo award on Air Europa. We are going to hang out in the US for a week and then fly back to Madrid, where I’m going to then go off and travel on my own a little since I’ve only been to Europe once this year – for one short day in London on the Oneworld Megado in January. I’m craving me some Europe!

There have been a couple of okay routings that became available, but they all required double connecting – once in the US and once in Europe and I personally prefer landing at my destination when traveling long-haul. I could also use double the points needed for a Standard award, but what would the fun and challenge be in that? I’m generally an all Saver award type of guy - I just like knowing I got a great deal.

But, no big deal.. something has to open up, right?

That’s what the world of points has done to me. I’m a big procrastinator by nature – much to the chagrin of my teachers and parents growing up – but all my experience with points and miles in the past few years has only exacerbated my natural tendency to wait until the last moment because I know I’ll be able to make it happen.

If not, this video will summarize my reaction if I can’t get to Europe on the day I want to go…

Diversification Is the Key
I’ve been lulled into a sense of calm knowing that I’ve always gotten where I needed to go because I widely diversify my points on all three major alliances and credit card programs. By having so many options and partners of partners, I just assume I can get on any flight – even if it’s during a peak travel period and I’m looking for business/first class awards. Here’s how you can build up your balances in each of the major alliances/programs:

Oneworld: 100,000 American miles for 2 Citi cards; 100,000 British Airways Avios for the Chase Visa, taking advantage of the 50% Amex-> British Airways transfer bonuses when they happen. Transfer Starwood to American Airlines, Amex to British Airways or Chase to British Airways.

Skyteam: Suntrust debit cards, Delta 100% transfer bonus if that runs again, transfer Amex to Delta or Chase to Korean Air.

Star Alliance: US Airways 100% Buy Miles Promos, transfer Chase points to United or transfer Amex points to Aeroplan or Singapore.

American Express Membership Rewards: 75,000-point Business Gold card, 50,000-point Mercedes-Benz Platinum.

Chase Ultimate Rewards: 50,000 points for the Ink Bold, 40,000 for Sapphire Preferred

Starwood Preferred Guest: 25,000 points for both the Personal and Business SPG Amex cards, sign up for the Nice Choice promotion.

My Ideal Award
To further complicate things, I’m not trying to fly on a route with lots of capacity, like New York to Frankfurt or London. I need to fly from Miami to Madrid and there aren’t a lot of options, especially because my schedule has become a lot more rigid than usual. I need to fly out on an exact day and I’d ideally like to fly in the evening to maximize my time in Miami. There are non-stop flights on American and Iberia, but there’s no saver award availability on either airline. I am looking into other cities, but everything is pretty tight right now, and simply paying for a ticket isn’t an option since  airfares to Europe for next week are in the thousands of dollars – for coach. No gracias.

My Strategy
Historically, ExpertFlyer has always alerted me to award seats opening up – often just days before a flight I want to take, so I’ve set seat alerts for both American and Iberia for awards and AA upgrades in multiple classes from Miami, JFK and DFW to Madrid – as well as options on Air France, Air Europa and Alitalia. At just a week out from my hoped-for flight, I haven’t gotten any alerts, and I’m starting to realize that, as much as I think last-minute tickets are doable with points, I might have a big problem on my hands. I’ll just have to wait and see.

I won’t pretend a part of me isn’t excited by the challenge – this is kind of like testing myself to see just what I can do in a pinch and how last-minute I can book awards.

Besides the stress, the main downside of booking last minute awards are last minute award booking fees. For all you other points procrastinators out there, I thought I’d just put in some handy information on what fees you can expect to pay with which airlines if you’re a last-minute booker like me.

I know a lot of you are Delta haters, but one great feature of SkyMiles is that the airline doesn’t charge any last-minute booking fees and neither do Air Canada’s Aeroplan program or British Airways Executive Club.

American: $75 for award tickets booked within 21 days of a flight except for Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold members using their own miles.

United: $75 fee for award bookings within 21 days of travel. Premier Silvers pay $50 and Golds pay $25 while Platinums and 1Ks can book for free.

US Airways: $75 for close-in bookings within 21 days of departure though it waives this fee for Gold, Platinum and Chairman’s Preferred members.

One way you can get around fees is to transfer your credit card points (not miles from your own mileage account since airlines levy huge transaction and per-mile fees on transfers) to a person you trust who has elite status and have them book the ticket for you since the close-in fees will be waived for them. Just make sure you know them well and they can do the booking for you, or you’ll be out those points!

So am I the only one out there suffering from points procrastination? I’ll be sure to report back on how this all plays out!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • dhammer53

    Raises hand. Also guilty of this.

  • Jlaveck

    And I get more confused… :-)

  • Rebecca D.

    How about MIA-BOS-MAD on AA/Iberia? I’ll be flying LH F on an award I booked last year on 6/28 from BOS-MUC-AMS. I’ll be in AMS solo June 29-July 1 if you happen to be there! Good luck!

  • Asdf

    Waited a long time before the world cup. Just before the T minus 3-week mark I was able to find availability with a stopover in ZUR and a long layover in CAI, and a direct flight back to IAD. Worked perfectly, but definitely couldn’t have risked < 1 week without status and changing my expectations.

  • Michael

    I’m in the same boat.

    I want to go to either Dublin/Madrid/Berlin or Hamburg from June 29/30/July 1 to July 4/5/6/7 — basically about 96 hours on the ground, and am lurking with 300AA and 360USAIR miles and 67,500 United miles at my disposal, but nothing great has opened up. I’m willing to wait til the day before departure if necessary — as I’ve found AA has great last minute award availability (BA business for example) within 24 hours.

    Right now I’m holding LAX-LAS-LHR on BA First 62,500 +$350 taxes. Strategy is then to use 4500 Avios points to fly to Dublin and then return Dublin-IAD-LAX at some point on crappy USAIR 757 in business — although I’m hoping for a Dublin — Europe-LAX routing on Lufthansa or even Dublin-Toronto-LAX on AC but nothing has opened up. Of course, USAIR does not let you fly one way, but I could do last minute United. I want to avoid leaving out of LHR as the departure taxes for premium award seats are ridiculously high.

    Best strategy is to book something on the return with AA as I can cancel at last minute being Exec Plat and then hope something better opens up on the outbound, but so far AA only has Dublin-Madrid (stop for 15 hours), – New York (stop for 15 hours) – LAX in business and that might be an option as I can enjoy both those cities (although not the large hotel bills) on my journey.

  • jimL

    while I do last minute tickets I usually have a backup of a refundable, when possible or another route with another carrier. I am not so good with the stress. Being elite in OW and Star takes the close in booking fees out of the picture for me. At least with two options, I know I will get there and it will either be a mileage run ( sort of cause I want to get to the destination) it just may be a somewhat circuitous route, or a cheap award ticket. My definition of fun doing this, is a little different, due to my stress avoidance methodology

  • DealsSeeker

    Procrastinators Annonymous R’ us!

    Thought the 100,000 Avios not available anymore?

  • Liz

    For those of us without an Expert Flier account is there any way to create alerts for saver award availability? Flying EDI-EWR in December, and paying the UK fees AND a standard award is just too painful.

  • Tddrs

    Totally identify.
    I was able to complete my Euro itinerary just under the wire including a last min change.
    Ticket 1. AA 40k miles – pdx – las – ord – lga red eye – First class
    Ticket 2. Aer Lingus JFK – DUB- ORD business – 80k Avios from the 100k Chase BA offer.
    Ticket 3. DUB – LHR – DUB rev ticket on Aer Lingus $120
    Ticket 4. ORD – PDX Alaska – 20k mls coach
    Took a lot of work (and hold time with BA)
    Non elite
    Hotels are now proving tough (Olympic time)

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