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With some award flight redemption rates costing hundreds of thousands of miles one-way lately, it’s easy to get frustrated by the lack of options available to those with smaller points and miles balances. Even for those whose balances are flush, it may seem like award rates are well beyond what seems reasonable to spend after smartly saving up points and miles.
Luckily, there’s a bit of good news: All it takes is a little know-how to stretch your points and miles farther — both literally and figuratively.
Here are several tips that can help you save in the long run — both on their own and when combined — so you don’t have to shell out a half-million miles on economy flights or spend more points than necessary when staying at hotels.
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Some loyalty programs offer peak and off-peak award pricing, meaning the pricing varies based on expected demand for certain dates. If you have the flexibility to schedule your travel for dates with off-peak rates, you can save considerably when it comes time to cash in points and miles for your trip.
An example of this comes from American Airlines, which offers off-peak award rates for Main Cabin flights between the U.S. and a variety of international destinations. These off-peak dates of travel remain the same each year, so you can plan ahead knowing what the off-peak period will be. If you’re looking to visit Europe, for instance, you can time your visit during an off-peak time (like Jan. 10 to March 14 or between Nov. 1 and Dec. 14) to save some miles.
Know, though, that American also has dynamic pricing, which can result in some flights and dates costing fewer miles than the rates showing during off-peak periods. As a result, you’ll want to compare pricing on various dates to see which offer the best deal.
Want to fly in business class without spending more than necessary? Iberia publishes a calendar of peak and off-peak pricing, which includes economy, premium economy and business-class cabins. The award chart is distance-based, meaning the shorter the distance flown, the fewer Avios are required, making it easy to determine what you need to redeem for a seat.
One sweet spot on Iberia is business class from the East Coast to Spain, which can be booked for 34,000 Avios each way, plus taxes and fees. That same award using American Airlines AAdvantage miles would be 57,500 miles each way. Iberia Avios can be easily obtained thanks to the program being a transfer partner of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. You can also transfer British Airways Avios to Iberia, giving you a number of options for accruing enough Avios for a flight redemption.
When it comes to hotels, there’s one program in particular that stands out for its availability of off-peak rates: World of Hyatt. In 2021, Hyatt updated its program to include peak, standard and off-peak award rates. Through this system, a Category 1 Hyatt hotel can be booked for as few as 3,500 points per night.
Before making a booking, you can browse Hyatt’s points calendar to see award pricing month by month. This can help you plan your trip for dates with off-peak rates. Unfortunately, the calendar doesn’t show actual award availability, so you’ll need to select dates from the calendar, then check to see if those nights are available for points bookings.
Related: Fly to Hawaii for 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way
Taking advantage of limited-time award promotions that let you book flights for a reduced number of miles is another great way to save on your travels. Sometimes these promotions are for specific dates or certain destinations, but it’s wise to keep an eye out in case a location you’ve been looking at pops up on sale.
Some examples of these promotions include Singapore KrisFlyer Spontaneous Escapes and Air France-KLM Flying Blue Promo Rewards. Delta Air Lines also frequently runs Delta SkyMiles award sales, such as this deal to the Bahamas and this deal to Australia.
Dynamic pricing can be a way to book travel for fewer miles than the program’s award chart may show, too. American Airlines’ version of dynamic pricing is seen with its Web Special awards, which offer discounts on award rates. The discount varies by route and when you book, so it can be hard to pinpoint specific destinations or dates where these awards may be available. However, awards are discounted below the cost of a MileSAAver ticket, so savings can really add up, especially on multiple tickets.
Related: 6 Delta SkyMiles sweet spots worth saving up for
Various airline credit cards offer a companion certificate as a perk, but these certificates almost always require you to book a paid fare to bring a companion along.
The Southwest Companion Pass is the exception to this rule. By signing up for one or more Southwest credit cards, you can use your credit card spending to help you accrue 125,000 points, the minimum number of points you’ll need to collect in a calendar year to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.
Once you’ve earned the pass (which is valid through the end of the next calendar year, meaning timing is everything), you can use it an unlimited number of times during its validity to cover a companion on award flights. Doing so will help you maximize your Southwest redemptions, as you won’t need to redeem as many Southwest Rapid Rewards points to travel with a friend or member of your family.
Related: 13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes
It’s smart to book flights and hotels that you can change or cancel without fees. Having this flexibility will not only help you recoup your money should you need to alter your plans due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it will also give you the ability to rebook if the price drops.
For example, Southwest offers the opportunity to re-price a flight when the fare decreases. Similarly, Marriott’s dynamic pricing makes it possible at times to reclaim Marriott Bonvoy points when award rates go down. You can also save points by rebooking Hilton and IHG award stays.
In short, you can save big by catching hotel and airline price drops. We recommend periodically checking your award flights and nights to see if you can rebook at a lower rate. After all, every point or mile counts when traveling on a budget.
Related: Airlines that offer you a credit if the price of airfare drops
Some of the most useful promotions for savings on award redemptions involve bonuses or points rebated for nights stayed, such as World of Hyatt’s all-inclusive promotion, which gives members 5,000 bonus points for every qualifying stay lasting three or more nights.
With Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott, award stays typically count as qualifying nights, so you can book with points and still receive bonus points back as part of a promo. Receiving bonus points or a points rebate after your stay lowers your total out-of-pocket award cost, though you may need to have the full amount of points available to initially book your stay.
Transfer bonuses, such as the ones offered by flexible credit card currencies to airline and hotel programs, are another type of promo that can provide additional savings on your award travel bookings. All the major flexible currency programs — Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points and Capital One miles — regularly offer limited-time transfer bonuses, sometimes as high as 50%.
One transfer bonus we’ve seen on multiple occasions is between Amex or Chase and British Airways. A major sweet spot with British Airwaysaward chart is the ability to book a flight from the West Coast to Hawaii for 13,000 Avios each way on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines. By taking advantage of the 40% transfer bonus from Amex or Chase to British Airways Avios, you can score a seat for just 10,000 points each way.
For even more savings, look for opportunities to combine airline and hotel promotions and credit card transfer bonuses with off-peak pricing and discount award opportunities.
Related: Get more from your points with these transfer bonuses
An obvious way to save points is to avoid having to spend any in the first place. Some hotel credit cards come with an annual free night. Meanwhile, programs like Hotels.com Rewards make it possible to earn a free night after staying 10 nights at participating properties.
Not every program is as generous with its free nights, though. To get a free night with Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and IHG One Rewards, you’ll need to redeem points for a stay. Here’s how it works for each of these programs:
To maximize this program benefit and consequently get the most out of your points, be sure to stay at least four or five nights when redeeming points with these programs to gain access to the fourth- or fifth-night-free perk.
Related: Can I mix hotel points and free night certificates to get a 4th or 5th night free?
If you have a credit card with an annual travel credit as a benefit, consider using that credit to cover flights to or hotels in more affordable destinations and saving your points and miles for premium awards or aspirational travel. The following three cards offer travel credits that you may want to use in this way:
Enrollment is required.
Related: The top 10 credit cards with annual travel statement credits
When booking an award sweet spot or flight deal, you may not be able to depart from your home airport or may find that departing from that airport costs a lot more miles. Luckily, there’s a solution to this predicament: Book a cheap positioning flight.
For example, if you want to redeem Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to fly on a partner airline, you can only fly the partner airline and Alaska Airlines on your award. This means that if your home airport isn’t served by the partner airline or Alaska, you’ll need to book a separate positioning flight to get to the airport where your award begins.
Taking positioning flights may sound complicated, but you can unlock some truly exceptional awards and flight deals if you don’t limit your starting point to your home airport. Plus, you may find that you only need to redeem a small number of miles for your positioning flight. Just be sure to allow plenty of time between your tickets, especially nowadays with the number of delays and cancellations occurring.
Related: Strategies for booking great award tickets from non-hub airports
One of the best ways budget travelers can get the most out of their points and miles is to be flexible. In particular, try to be as flexible as possible with your dates and even your destination.
For example, if you’re willing to fly to Hawaii during the offseason, you may be able to book an off-peak American Airlines award. Likewise, it’s much easier to snag one of Delta’s many award sales if you are not already set on a particular destination.
Flexibility also helps when it comes to redeeming fewer hotel points. For instance, if you’re willing to stay at a Hyatt property on off-peak dates or in a destination with low-category hotels, odds are you’ll be able to save points in the long run. This is especially helpful when going on a road trip. Simply use the map search feature with your favorite hotel loyalty program to find the least-expensive award night along your route.
Related: Why are airfare and hotel rooms so expensive right now?
As you can see, there are many opportunities to get the most out of your points and miles — even if you’re sticking to a tight budget. From seeking out lower-than-average rates to being strategic about how you book your trip, there are a variety of ways you can stretch your savings when you travel.
Try out some of these tips the next time you plan a trip. You may find that your award nights and flights cost you a lot less than you may expect.
Featured photo by Matteo Colombo/Getty Images.
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