5 tips for finding cheap award flights

Oct 29, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

How much does an award ticket to Australia cost?

Interestingly, 6,000 miles and 500,000 miles each way are both accurate answers. So, in this current era of less emphasis on traditional airline award charts and more award price variability with dynamic prices that can change minute to minute, how do you ensure you are the passenger paying the cheaper award prices?

If you find a magical way to always find the cheapest award prices, you could easily sell your services to others. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to always find the cheapest award prices, but there are tools you can use to increase the odds that you find cheap award flights.

Here are our tips for stretching your miles by looking for great award flight values.

Know your award charts

I know, I just said award charts were on their way out, but they aren’t gone — especially in international programs or when flying international partners.

Even if you don’t learn every single award chart out there, you should learn two things. First, familiarize yourself with award chart sweet spots, which is a fancy way of saying learn where the cheap awards lurk.

You can’t always tell what is a good award deal if you don’t know what is normal or possible, so pick the program, points currency or destination of your choice and brush up on what’s out there.

Related: Credit cards offering over 100,000 bonus points

Set ExpertFlyer alerts

Knowing how to look for and leverage award chart sweet spots and actually doing it are different skills. For example, you may know that you can fly United first class awards to Hawaii for just 12,500 Turkish Airlines miles, but finding that availability is … tough.

You can certainly search manually until you turn as blue as the ocean, but you can also outsource that task to ExpertFlyer (owned by the same parent company as TPG). ExpertFlyer can do a number of things, but one capability is for the service to alert you when awards you select become available.

So if you want a first class award from Houston to Honolulu on any date the first two weeks of June, you can have ExpertFlyer search for that and alert you if it finds gold in the form of a lie-flat seat.

Here’s a full guide to using ExpertFlyer.

Use the American Airlines award map

American Airlines has award prices that can vary dramatically thanks to Economy Web Specials that drop the prices of flights down to just 5,000 miles each way. The airline also has an award map that can help you find the cheapest award flights to or from where you want to go.

In this example, I selected February travel dates and Dallas (DFW) as a departure airport and some of the cheapest destinations in the U.S. that were returned were: Bend (Oregon), Boston, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle — all of which can be booked for 10,000 American miles per round-trip.

This took works internationally, as well as for types of destinations such as beach or ski. You can also put in how many miles you want to spend and it will find awards available at that price.

For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips please subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.

Jump on transfer bonuses

You want a cheap award? Watch for a transfer bonus. When your miles and points go 20–50% further simply by moving them at the right moment, it’s easier to get great value and book inexpensive awards.

In the recent past, we have seen transfer bonuses such as a 50% bonus when you move Amex Membership Rewards points to British Airways from cards such as the American Express® Gold Card or American Express® Green Card. That takes 50,000 Amex points and turns them into 75,000 British Airways Avios points with a few clicks of the mouse. You normally don’t want to speculatively transfer points, but when the stars align, bonuses can really help you out if you want to fly a lie-flat seat for around 12,000 points.

TPG keeps a running list of transfer bonuses you can reference at anytime.

Follow the right social media channels — and act quickly

Everything I’ve said so far only gets you part of the way to finding great award flights deals. The final 10 yards to the goal line is perhaps the most important. Your best weapon in finding great flight award deals is following the right accounts and people on social media.

Those 6,000 mile award flights to Australia and New Zealand? News of those spread like wildfire on social media faster than an article can be written. When dealing with extremely good award deals, minutes matter, so getting a jump on the deals before a fancy article is put up will help you book the deals of the century as they happen.

Follow: 

  • @TPG_Alerts: Deal alerts of all kinds … but only deal alerts, not other types of TPG Tweets or stories. For these alerts, you might want to enable push notifications from Twitter so you see them on your phone.
  • TPG Facebook Lounge: TPG readers sometimes find and share deals here before they can be found on the site.
  • TPG Facebook Page: More is more when it comes to finding deals, so follow the official TPG Facebook page.
  • @spencerformiles: Spencer is outstanding at spotting and sharing deals
  • Get TPG App updates: The TPG app will relaunch in 2020 and if you like to hunt down award flight deals, you’ll want to be one of the first to know.
  • Real people who like travel: Go to frequent flyer events, TPG meet-ups, etc. and meet others who love deals. Some deals never see the light of major social media accounts, so make real life friends with others who love this stuff, too.

Bottom line

Even if all you do is watch for deals by following the right social media accounts, you can snag some great award flight deals with a little luck and a quick trigger finger. Beyond getting lucky with seeing a deal in time, you can find your own with a little knowledge and the right tools and the desire to search-search-search.

Featured image courtesy of Artur Debat/Getty Images

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.

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.