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Holiday travel is always tricky, especially if you’re trying to book award flights. As TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explains, using credit card benefits, such as those on the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, can help when it comes to searching for and booking travel.

My time in Japan is quickly winding down, with our impending move scheduled for January. Moving over the holidays is a tough task, and it definitely requires quite a bit of logistics. I want to cover one specific situation where my wife’s new United MileagePlus Explorer Card really made a huge difference in our award-travel plans.

When we moved overseas, my wife and I committed to doing everything we could to spend Christmas with our families regardless of where we were stationed. Because of this, we’re headed from Japan to the States for Christmas even though we’re scheduled to depart Japan in January. To avoid putting my 1-year-old through multiple Transpacific journeys in short order, we decided that my wife and son would head back to the States for good in December and I’d return alone to Japan to finish out the last few weeks of my tour.

This means that the government will pay for my wife and son to fly back to the US in December but not me, as it will cover my ticket in January. Due to government rules, my options for my wife and son’s flights were limited, and they ended up on a United nonstop from Tokyo to Washington Dulles. Since I wanted to fly with my family, my job was now to check availability every day to try and place myself on the same flights in economy using United miles.

During the first few weeks, my chances of getting on the same flight were looking pretty grim. Not surprisingly, given how close we are to Christmas, the only option available for the past month was a standard economy award for 75,000 miles or a first-class award for 190,000 miles one-way. That was not going to happen.

Yikes, my chances of getting on the flight a few weeks ago was going to cost 190k miles.
Yikes — getting on the flight a few weeks ago was going to cost 75,000 or 190,000 miles!

Flash back to October, which was officially 25 months after the first time my wife received the sign-up bonus for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. In conjunction with Chase terms and conditions, you’re not eligible for a sign-up bonus if you’ve received the bonus (not open or closed the card) within the past 24 months. Since she was once again eligible for the bonus, she applied and was quickly approved for the card with a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

Last week when I was searching for availability on the flight, I noticed a difference between results when logged in to my account versus hers. I quickly recognized this was due to United credit card holders having access to additional award availability in the XN fare class. Thankfully, several days ago a Saver economy seat on the flight showed as available under my wife’s account. I could see it was in the XN fare class using Expert Mode, and I quickly booked my ticket. Not only did I get a saver seat on the long-haul NRT-IAD flight, but the connecting regional flight I needed also had an XN seat available.

With this example, only United co-branded credit card holders and Premier elites could book Saver economy seats.

What a wonderful surprise to be able to fly home for the holidays with my wife and son for just 35,000 miles, courtesy of XN fare availability from the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. I’m sure glad she got the card last month!

Has XN fare availability ever saved the day for you? Share your story in the comments below!

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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