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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
The moments between finding that elusive award space and actually booking the flight are some of the most harrowing in this hobby, almost as bad as waiting anxiously to see the results of a new credit card application. TPG reader Pauline wants to know if there’s anything she can do to combat the uncertainty…
Can I call AA and confirm that the flight I want has award availability, then buy the miles I need while on the phone with them? I just want to make sure I’m getting the flight I want before purchasing the miles.TPG READER PAULINE
If you’re purchasing miles for an award ticket, Pauline has the perfect strategy. She can call American Airlines, confirm that the flight she wants has award availability, and then pull the trigger on purchasing miles. I use the same strategy when I’m trying to redeem my Business Extra upgrades on AA, just to make sure there’s no discrepancy between the upgrade inventory I see on ExpertFlyer and what AA has in its own system. And this strategy works for other airlines as well.
Even if you’re not purchasing miles, there’s a great strategy you can use to lock in your award space with select airlines: award holds. The exact policy varies by airline, but we’ll take a look at a few examples here.
Korean Air, and its incredibly generous SkyPass loyalty program, allows you to place awards on hold for up to 60 days even if you don’t have the miles in your account. I’ve always wanted to fly first class on Korean Air’s 747-8, and while I’ll finally get the chance to do so later this month, when I was originally booking I had two trips in mind. Korean flies the 747-8 from Seoul (ICN) to both London (LHR) and Atlanta (ATL), two cities I was planning to visit already. I ended up putting both awards on hold for 60 days while I pieced together the rest of my trips, before ultimately transferring 195,000 Marriott points to book a first-class award from Atlanta to Shanghai (PVG) via Seoul.
In Pauline’s case, American Airlines actually allows you to put awards on hold, and you should see this option when you go to book online or on the app. In this case, I’m looking at a one-way “AAnytime” business-class award from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) that costs 195,000 AA miles. Since I don’t have that many miles in my account, the only option AA gives me to purchase this ticket is to place it on a five-day hold while I buy, transfer or earn the miles I’m missing.
Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program, a popular choice for booking many Star Alliance awards, also allows you to place award tickets on hold. This can be a great option if you’re looking to try the airline’s top-notch suites class but don’t want to transfer any miles until you find that hard-to-get award space. Note that this is different from “wait-listing” an award with Singapore, which does require that you have all the miles in your account.
A friend of mine recently booked a trip in suites and was allowed to place his itinerary on hold for just shy of three weeks before he had to book it. Note that there are recent reports that Singapore doesn’t allow award holds, but he was able to place the award on hold in this example from late November.
Most airlines don’t offer award holds, but knowing which ones do can help you look into some of the most elusive award tickets and give you days, or even weeks, to transfer points over to complete the booking. There’s no worse feeling than waiting on points to transfer, only to find out the award space you wanted disappeared, and this is a great way to avoid that.
Know before you go.
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