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Last-Minute Holiday Award Flights – Still Time To Book!

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 Haven’t made any holiday plans yet? Even if you dream of flying somewhere far-flung, there is still time to book some last-minute awards this holiday season, so we asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to do a quick search of the options. Here is what he found.

Intercontinental Bora Bora
You might still be able to get to Tahiti this Christmas is you play your miles right!

The holidays are the busiest travel time of the year, with nearly 99 million Americans expected to journey 50 miles or farther from home this holiday season according to AAA. While many folks have probably had their travel plans in place for months, according to Kayak, the best time to book Christmas and New Year’s Eve travel is just a few weeks out. Those facts are for paid travel, but when it comes to award travel, last-minute bookings can be a great way to put your miles to use as airlines put unsold seats into their award inventory.

So if you are getting cabin fever and itching to hit the road for the holidays, or you just got some last-minute vacation time handed to you by a boss who didn’t think ahead, don’t worry. There is still time to use your miles if you can be a little flexible and you have a sense of adventure.

There is still time to book a trip for NYE!
There is still time to book a trip for NYE!

There are a few caveats before you get started. First, there is going to be some rough weather in the Midwest and Northeast, so pay attention to what is going on there and check prospective flight statuses.

Second, many airlines have award blackout dates that start on New Year’s day and last through January 7 this year. If you only book a one-way outbound flight, you might get stuck somewhere until then or the days following it, so be sure you have some flexibility in your travel plans.

Third, if you really want to get somewhere and you have the miles, you can always consider paying higher-level or peak mileage for an award. Sure, it’s not the best deal and you might be used to sniffing out the best saver-level awards. But if you have the miles and you want to get out of town, it’s always something to consider.

Finally, remember that certain airlines charge you for booking last-minute awards, and some (like Delta) will not let you change awards within a certain timeframe, so just pay attention to the rules before booking.

Check out this post for tips on finding and last-minute awards, and then keep these airline fees in mind:

  • Air Canada: $0 (Transfer partner of Amex, SPG)
  • Alaska: $0 (Transfer partner of SPG)
  • American:$75 for tickets booked within 21 days of departure: waived for all AA elites (Transfer partner of SPG)
  • ANA:$0 (Transfer partner of Amex and SPG)
  • British Airways:$0, BA is partners with American, so it may make sense to use Avios for last minute AAdvantage awards- especially for short and mid-haul flights, which may require fewer miles (Transfer partner of Amex, Chase, and SPG)
  • Delta:$0 (Transfer partner of Amex and SPG)
  • Hawaiian Airlines:$0 (Transfer partner of Amex and SPG)
  • JetBlue: $0 (Transfer partner of Amex)
  • Singapore Airlines:$0 (Transfer partner of Amex, Chase, SPG, and Citi)
  • Southwest: $0 (Transfer partner of Chase)
  • United: $75 for non-elites booking within 21 days, $50 for Silver, $25 for Gold, $0 for 1k, Global Services, Platinum (Transfer partner of Chase at 1:1 and SPG at 2:1)
  • US Airways: $75, waived for Gold, Platinum and Chairman’s Preferred members (Transfer partner of SPG)
  • Virgin America: $0 (Transfer partner of Amex and SPG)

THE AWARDS

There are still a lot of award seats out there, especially in premium cabins and at peak levels, so if you have the extra mileage, you could be in luck. Other than that, I would just advise you with the following tips:

-Be flexible on timing – the sooner you can leave and the more dates you can play around with, the likelier you are to be able to book a ticket you can use. Most of my searches were from December 22 (today!)-December 25 departing, returning by December 31 to avoid blackout dates.

-Be flexible on destination – you might have your heart set on Cancun, but there could be more award tickets available to Cabo. Or you might want to hit Istanbul, but Athens is where the awards are. Try to have a little leeway in your plans, and remember, there are usually cheap ways to get from destination to destination in a region so you can book open-jaws and one-ways too if that helps.

-Consider using more miles – if you really want to get somewhere, it might be worth paying a peak price in miles, or for a premium cabin, to do so. After all, your miles are only as valuable as the places you are able to use them to travel.

-Keep alliances and partners in mind –  I also looked at booking through the three major US legacy mileage programs: American, Delta and United. Though you will see that even so there are options – such as using US Airways miles or British Airways Avios instead of American miles, or Alaska miles instead of Delta miles.

Last minute travel is always a challenge. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)
Last minute travel can be a challenge, or an opportunity. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Where I looked and why?

These awards are just some ideas I had about places it might be fun to spend Christmas or New Year’s where there is likely to be award availability, like Vienna or Tokyo. As you will see, it was a mix of major hubs and routes where there are more award seats in general, as well as more out-of-the-way destinations that might not be top of everyone’s travel bucket list.

I also searched from US hubs where you need to catch the international portion of an itinerary rather than from specific US cities with connections. After all, it is those longer-hauls that are the key component in an award itinerary, and you can play around with the domestic portion a bit.

I do not include examples from JetBlue, Southwest or Virgin America because the way their mileage/points programs work is that, if there is an available seat, you can use points/miles to book it instead of cash. However, airfares are running very high at the moment, so you could be looking at spending a lot of your points if you want to use these options. That said, you could always book a one-way with them and another one-way using other miles to spread the cost around.

Finally, I searched and found these awards on the night of Sunday, December 21, and the morning of Monday, December 22, so these were available recently, though award inventory changes all the time. If you do not find these, search for others. That’s half the fun.

These are just some ideas, but feel free to add your own in the comments below!

TAHITI

One of the hardest awards to find (though there are lots of options to book it using miles) due to limited flights is from the US to Tahiti. So imagine my surprise when I found this near-perfect itinerary on Air France from LAX-Papeete from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve – and you get back just in time to ring in the new year.

Delta LAX PPT 100k AF

EUROPE

Why not spend the holidays in Europe this year? There are tons of options. Here are just a few.

EWR-Lisbon using United miles in business class.

United EWR LISJFK-Athens using Delta miles in business class.

Delta JFK ATH

Philadelphia to Paris in business class using US Airways miles.

USA PHL CDG 1223 1229Chicago to Vienna using United miles – availability on a variety of carriers including Lufthansa, Brussels and Swiss.

ORD VIE 1223

Availability on United itself ORD-VIE.

ORD VIE 2 UnitedYou could even fly Lufthansa first class!

ORD VIE Lufthansa firstAnd a sample return itinerary flying Turkish business class via Istanbul.

SOUTH AMERICA

Feel like going south of the equator? There are tons of options for you.

Atlanta to Buenos Aires on Delta.

DL ATL EZE 1224-1230Dallas to Buenos Aires on American in first class.

AA DFW EZE First

Miami to Buenos Aires in economy or first class on American.

BA AA MIA EZE 1224 Econ FirstMiami to Buenos Aires in business or first class on American.

BA AA MIA EZE 1223 Bus FirstCharlotte to Rio de Janeiro on US Airways in either economy or business class.

USA CLT GIG econ bus

MEXICO & CENTRAL AMERICA

Phoenix to Puerto Vallarta on US Airways. You could use US Airways or American miles, but booking this trip with BA Avios would only be 15,000 Avios roundtrip – a steal!

US Air PHX PVR 1223-1229 15k Avios

Houston to San Jose Costa Rica on United.

United IAH San Jose

HAWAII

Though one of the most popular holiday destinations, there is still a decent amount of award availability to Hawaii using miles from American, Alaska, Delta and United. If flying from the West Coast, you might want to consider using British Airways Avios for American, US Airways and Alaska flights (BA’s partners) since award flights are just 25,000 Avios roundtrip in economy from most West Coast departure points to the islands.

Availability using American or US Airways miles flying Philadelphia to Maui.

PHL OGG Avail AASeattle to Maui on Alaska.

SEA OGG 1225-1229ASIA

There is quite a bit of award availability to both Tokyo and Hong Kong this holiday season. Note that while some Cathay and JAL awards are shown from a British Airways search since AA.com does not display Cathay Pacific or JAL awards, you are better off booking these with American or US Airways miles.

LAX-HKG in Cathay first class from Christmas to New Year’s Eve.

BA Cathay First LAX HKGLAX-HKG in Cathay Pacific business class on the same dates.

BA Cathay Bus LAX HKGLAX-Tokyo NRT on JAL or American on December 24.

LAX TYO 1224And a return from either Haneda or Narita on December 30.

TYO LAX 1230Delta Seattle to Tokyo (arriving HND, departing NRT) from December 24-30 for 70,000 miles.

Delta SEA TYO 70k

Using United miles from SFO instead.

SFO TYO 1224-1231 United ANAOr flying in EVA Royal Laurel Business Class via Taipei instead.

SFO TPE TYO EVAReturn availability TYO-SFO using United miles.

TYO SFO 1230

AUSTRALIA

There is actually a decent amount of economy award availability, and even some business class space to Australia just before New Year’s as well.

LAX-SYD roundtrip economy using United miles from December 23-29.

United LAX SYD 1223-1229

You could even fly back from Melbourne on December 29 on United’s new 787-9 in business class if you wanted!

MEL LAX 787

Or flying out from LAX-SYD on the 29th if you can wait until after January 7 to come back.

LAX SYD United 1229Here’s a sample saver roundtrip economy itinerary using AA miles on Qantas from December 25-December 31 (you could have a really long NYE!).

AA LAX SYD RT 1225 1231

Delta is showing some mid-level awards from LAX-SYD if you can depart on Christmas Day.

Delta LAX SYD Economy 145k econ

And a sample booking flying Virgin Australia out and returning on Delta.

Delta LAX SYD 1225 12But why not spend a few more miles for mid-level business class instead?

Delta LAX SYD bus 175k

So those are just a few ideas of places I was thinking about heading myself, but depending where you want to go and how flexible you can be with dates and mileage amounts, there are still some fantastic awards to be had for the holidays!

For more on last-minute award travel, check out these posts:
Using Points and Miles For Last-Minute Travel and Emergencies
The Best Travel Insurance Policy: Miles and Elite Status
Why Transferable Points Are Best
The Ultimate Guide To Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Transfer Partners
The Ultimate Guide To American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
The Ultimate Guide to Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

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