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I’m a top-tier elite: here’s why I’m booking award tickets right now

March 31, 2020
4 min read
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This month, I had planned to book a number of trips I'm hoping to take later in 2020 and early next year, assuming we're able to travel again soon. Since fares are low, I originally intended to pay cash, making use of United's flexible booking policy for March — and then I read the terms and conditions.

Since I'd forfeit the remaining value if I change any of my paid bookings to a lower-cost flight, that option is essentially off the table. I've since shifted my strategy, focusing on award bookings, instead.

As I'll explain here, there are two reasons award bookings can be especially sensible at the moment, especially if you're a frequent flyer like me.

Award availability is off the charts

Figuratively and literally — last year, United joined Delta in removing its award charts, making it impossible to know if you're seeing the lowest rate. But, at the same time, current rates really are some of the lowest we've seen — in the case of United, premium-cabin saver availability has even jumped nearly 1,400%!

I've noticed more and more seats pop up over the past couple of weeks, too. In fact, I was able to lock in business-class United awards that I wouldn't have even bothered searching for before, including saver awards from Newark (EWR) to Dublin (DUB) for 60,000 miles each just before the Fourth of July, and Auckland, New Zealand (AKL), to San Francisco (SFO) for 80,000 miles in mid-January.

I was able to book multiple saver awards in United's Polaris business-class cabin. Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

There are plenty more premium awards available to book, too, regardless of where you're headed or which cabin you're hoping to fly. For the sake of comparison, I searched for round-trip saver awards on a route served by all three major U.S. airlines — New York City-London — over the busy holiday season. All three had lie-flat saver awards.

First, here's American Airlines, for 137,000 miles round-trip, plus taxes and fees:

And here's Delta One for 160,000 SkyMiles — often even more challenging to find:

And, finally, United had nonstop Polaris seats on the same dates, for 120,000 miles round-trip:

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Given that customers around the world have cut back on future travel bookings, it's not a surprise that we've seen award availability jump through the roof — for economy, business and even first class. And, while you should stay at home as long as authorities recommend, it could be worth taking advantage of some of this availability for late 2020 and early 2021 — especially if, as I'll explain below, you're able to cancel and redeposit awards without a fee.

Top elites can redeposit miles for free

Getting a cash booking refunded can be a tremendous pain at the moment, even if the airline canceled your flight. In some cases, you may ultimately manage to get a refund to your original form of payment, but you may have to put up a fight.

The same does not apply to awards — frequent flyer programs will redeposit your miles, and, if you're a top-tier elite, you'll even be able to get all your miles and taxes refunded without a fee. That applies to customers with the following elite tiers:

  • American AAdvantage: Executive Platinum
  • Delta SkyMiles: Platinum and Diamond
  • United MileagePlus: Premier 1K

Note that Delta awards must be canceled or changed at least 72 hours before departure. Additionally, all United MileagePlus members must pay a $150 fee when canceling an award after departure.

As for lower tiers, redeposit fees break down as follows:

SilverGoldPlatinumPlatinum Pro
AmericanN/A$150$150$150
Delta$150$150WaivedN/A
United*$100$75$50N/A

*Fees may be lower more than 60 days before departure

Bottom line

As we've explained time and again over the past couple of weeks, now is not the time for unnecessary travel. But should you book flights for later in 2020 and early next year? Especially if you're able to cancel without penalty, by all means!

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
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.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • 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.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023