My Severe Case of Points Procrastination

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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.

Downside
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!

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