Award Travel Booking | Creativity Required

Last week, I shared that I’ve redeemed over $26,000 worth of travel for 2012.

While I usually focus on the earning portion of the frequent flyer mileage game, today I want to share a few tips I’ve learned about booking award travel.

Of course, if I’ve learned something, that’s good for you and me because I do offer assistance with reward travel booking.

Award Travel Booking Tips

1.  Verify Everything

I would never talk to a phone customer service agent without first looking for myself to see what is and is not available.  I’ve had occasions where a phone agent says something is not available, but because I’ve done some research, I can point then to a flight number, and lo and behold, there is availability.

Remember, the people who are answering your calls at the airline spend an entire day answering phones.  You’re just another number to them.  They don’t care if this is your dream vacation.  They’re not going to put in too much research or sweat to help find your seats that will help you get a free flight.  I should note that there are some agents who do truly go out of their way to assist you, but that is typically the exception.

2.  Learn Something

Look, you don’t need a PhD in award booking, but a basic knowledge would be good.  I’d start by Googling “redeeming miles with …” or “Star Alliance award redemption”.

Just try and find out the airlines you can book with, and if possible, where you can find the best award search engine.

For One World, I suggest Qantas.com.  For Star Alliance, I suggest Continental.com.

3.  Call it a Game and Consider all Options

On our flights from Bariloche to Cheyenne, we couldn’t find flights from Bariloche because AA.com doesn’t find partner award availability.  However, on the phone, they said they couldn’t book the flights because we’d be arriving in Cheyenne after the 1st of June (not off-peak), so they would need to book our tickets at 30,000 per ticket instead of 20,000.  Eventually, I found an agent who suggested I hold from Buenos Aires to Cheyenne online.  This is a route that is technically not allowed (because it is more than 24 hours in Dallas), but if I could hold it online, the agent could work around the requirement.  I held the Buenos Aires to Cheyenne segment online, and then called and they added on the Bariloche segment for the 20,000 miles.  However, then we decided we wanted to spend some time in Dallas.  We called and they extended our stay in Dallas by a week.  A pretty cool arrangement, considering you technically can’t get a stop over on a one way flight.

4.  Get Help

One reason I’m offering reward booking assistance is first to say thank you to my loyal audience who use Help Me Travel Cheap as part of their mileage planning strategy.  But also because so often people are under-utilizing and not maximizing the value of their miles.

If you get stuck with a booking and you need assistance, just let me know.  I have slow internet, so I can’t do all the bookings, but I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.

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