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TPG reader Darcy sent me a message on Facebook to ask about putting airline awards on hold:
“I often run into a problem when transferring points to book travel overseas. It seems like airlines (other than American) won’t hold my reservation, so I run the risk of losing the seat by the time the transfer goes through. How do you manage this?”
Finding award availability isn’t always easy, so when the space you’re looking for opens up, it’s important to book it quickly. However, that can be tricky if you don’t already have the miles in your frequent flyer account. Availability might disappear in the time it takes to transfer rewards from another program. If that happens, you could end up with no ticket and a bunch of miles that you can’t use (since the transfer can’t be undone). Fortunately, there are a few solutions.
For starters, American Airlines has a particularly favorable policy that allows you to hold most awards for up to five days when booking more than 15 days out, or up to one day otherwise. The AAdvantage program isn’t the only game in town though, as several other carriers also offer award holds. Korean Air SkyPass allows you to hold awards even if your account balance is zero, and it has been known to apply lengthy holds (up to several months) for awards on its own metal.
United Airlines briefly adopted an award hold option on its website, but rescinded it soon after. However, United does offer the Farelock option, which allows you to effectively hold an award for a fee (roughly $10-$30, depending on the flight). Farelock is only available on United and United Express flights at least 18 days out, and it can be held for either three or seven days — plenty of time to send points from Chase Ultimate Rewards, since those transfers are instantaneous.
Lufthansa Miles & More and Alitalia Millemiglia also offer award holds of varying duration. If you’re redeeming miles with either of these programs, you should be able to get miles into your account quickly enough. Holds used to be more common — Alaska, Delta and US Airways all eliminated hold options in recent years. The fact that American Airlines still offers them is one reason why the AAdvantage program remains one of my favorites, though the dreaded redemption devaluation is coming next month.
If you’re not using one of these programs, your best bet is to minimize transfer times as much as possible. Both Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards offer instantaneous transfers to a number of major airlines, and transfer times are less than 24 hours to most others. Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest lag significantly in this respect, with some transfers taking as long as a week to complete.
If you can’t transfer immediately, try to gauge how urgently you need to book your award. Generally, I think award availability tends to be more plentiful and less dynamic when you search further in advance. It also helps to be familiar with patterns of award availability on the flights you want. For example, if you know seats tend to open up from time to time, then you can transfer miles preemptively and use ExpertFlyer to alert you when it’s time to book. On the other hand, I’d be reluctant to do that for an award with notoriously low availability.
Know before you go.
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