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2 tricks I used to avoid inflated award prices on a trip to Florida

July 7 2022
5 min read
Castle in Walt Disney World
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Earlier this year, my family began contemplating a trip to Florida. Since I’ve got an obscene amount of airline miles from earning all these giant credit card welcome offers recently, I told them I’d cover their flights.

Unfortunately, the dates they chose to visit were really expensive — both in cash and in miles. Instead of what I thought might be a drop in the horse trough that is my travel rewards stash, I was now staring at a big depletion.

But with some creative booking strategies, I was able to reduce the points cost of my trip without changing my dates. I just had to get creative in how I booked. Let's take a closer look.

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Being flexible on departure and arrival airports

Being flexible with your airports can help you find hidden gems. (Photo by Chris Minerva/Getty Images)

When faced with fixed dates and high points costs, there are two big things you can do to increase your likelihood of finding a cheap award:

  • Keep your origin and destination flexible.
  • Remember that many large cities are serviced by multiple airports.

When you search for flights (especially if your travel dates are inflexible), you can save a small fortune if you’re willing to inconvenience yourself slightly by flying to or from airports that are near your destination — instead of at your destination.

For example, I live in Dayton, Ohio. To visit Universal Studios in Florida, my most convenient route is between Dayton International Airport (DAY) and Orlando International Airport (MCO). If tickets are pricey, many would-be travelers simply abandon their plans. However, there are plenty of other route permutations to try.

I’m willing to fly from the following airports:

  • Dayton International Airport (DAY).
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).
  • John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH).

And I’m willing to fly to the following airports, which have a reasonable drive to Orlando's theme parks:

  • Orlando International Airport (MCO).
  • Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB).
  • Melbourne Orlando International Airport (MLB).
  • Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB).
  • Tampa International Airport (TPA).
  • St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE).
  • Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ).

That leaves me to search the following routes for cheap fares.

(Screenshot from gcmap.com)

Note: In this case, SFB and PIE are airports that service low-cost airlines — in other words, I wouldn’t be able to use airline miles to book flights.

Of course, you can also fly home from a different airport than where you arrived. For example, I could fly into TPA and return home from MCO.

When you’re searching for flights, be it for award seats or cash rates, this is a crucial trick. An airport an hour away from your destination may cost half the price. If you’re traveling with a large family, you could quite easily save 100,000-plus miles with this technique.

Related: How to use Google Flights to maximize your next travel booking

Leveraging a diversified stash of points and miles

Keeping a diversified stash of miles can help you avoid high award prices. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)

Going hand in hand with a flexible flight route is the importance of a diverse stash of points and miles.

While it can be time-consuming, it’s worth checking each potential route with multiple airlines, as the prices are almost guaranteed to be different.

Let’s look at an example. A one-way flight in November from Columbus to Tampa costs 26,500 miles in economy through United MileagePlus.

(Screenshot from united.com)

Through American AAdvantage, you’ll pay 11,500 miles one-way in economy.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

And booking with Delta SkyMiles, you’ll pay as little as 7,000 miles one-way in basic economy.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

If you’ve only got United miles, you may decide against planning the trip — 26,500 miles is a lot for a quick hop to a destination just a couple of states away. But if you’ve got Delta miles, you could potentially book two round trips for roughly the price of a one-way with United miles.

Remember, one of the best ways to diversify your miles is by earning transferable points. For example, if you have American Express Membership Rewards points, you can transfer to Delta, British Airways (to book American award tickets) or a handful of other airlines.

Related: How (and why) you should earn transferable points

Bottom line

Summer travel prices are through the roof. Whether that’s because of rising gas prices or blatant extortion by the airlines is up for debate; but if you’re flexible with your travel routes and have a healthy mix of airline currencies at your disposal, you can almost certainly find a great award seat that meets your needs.

To easily diversify your airline miles without opening lots of different airline credit cards, consider collecting transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These points transfer to a handful of different airlines, giving you numerous options. Then you can transfer your points to whichever airline best suits your needs.

Featured photo by (Photo by Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees