Quick points: Save miles or money and unlock better availability with positioning flights

Apr 29, 2022

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If you’re looking to fly to a particular destination, it’s natural to search for flights from your nearest airport to your destination. But you may be paying more than you should by doing so.

Savvy travelers often save points and cash by booking positioning flights. I very frequently book positioning flights for my own travel. For example, last week I flew from Los Angeles to Banglore, India, on a $950 round-trip British Airways premium economy fare that will earn me over 46,000 American Airlines Loyalty Point-eligible miles.

But I didn’t have plans to be in Los Angeles. So, I booked a positioning flight to Los Angeles before this inexpensive premium economy fare. And I plan to start another trip from Los Angeles once I return from India.

The fare — and its American Airlines elite earnings — was just too good to pass up. And my positioning flight — an 8,000-mile and $6 American Airlines flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles — carried minimal cost, especially compared to the earnings from my British Airways fare.

Here’s a quick look at how and why you may want to use positioning flights when planning a future trip.

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Using positioning flights to unlock better award pricing and availability

American Airlines plane
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Of course, positioning flights aren’t only useful for paid fares. They can also let you unlock better award pricing and availability.

For example, let’s assume you want to fly to Hawaii from 13,000 Avios each way or to Ireland from 13,000 Avios each way. These Avios sweet spots require you to depart from select airports (on the West Coast for Hawaii and on the East Coast for Ireland) to get the best pricing. If you don’t live near eligible airports, you can still take advantage of these sweet spots by booking positioning flights to East or West coast gateways.

Related: Strategies for booking great award tickets from non-hub airports

Or, perhaps you want to book a discounted Flying Blue Promo Reward, but your home airport in the U.S. isn’t on the list. You may want to book a positioning flight before or after your Flying Blue award to utilize the Promo Reward pricing.

Likewise, you may discover better award availability when searching for other arrival or destination airports. For example, if you’re looking to snag Qatar Qsuite award availability, you’ll want to search for awards from all Qatar’s U.S. gateways, not just the one closest to your home airport. Even though you could theoretically connect domestically to one of Qatar’s U.S. gateways via a Oneworld partner, availability might not appear for your domestic leg. So, you may need to book a positioning flight on a separate ticket.

Related: What I value most when picking award flights

Notes about booking positioning flights

Delta connection planes
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

I often redeem miles for positioning flights, especially when I can redeem a modest amount of American miles, Southwest points or Delta miles for a trip. But it’s also worth checking cash rates.

You should also consider whether the complexity you add by booking multiple tickets is worth the gain. After all, canceling or changing multiple tickets can be more time-consuming and expensive.

Finally, consider that there’s some risk in booking separate positioning tickets. If your positioning flight is late and you miss your onward flight, the carrier may not be sympathetic since you missed the first flight of the itinerary in its eyes.

Likewise, if one carrier changes your flight schedule and now your connection is too short, you may not get relief unless the change was more than a few hours. I usually leave myself an overnight of at least 12 hours (and ideally more than 24 hours) between tickets to minimize the chances of missing my flight.

Related: Here’s how to book the flight you want when award space is limited

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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