Svetlana is headed to Hawaii for Thanksgiving and has a non-stop flight booked from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The catch: She doesn’t have a ticket back!
Here’s how it happened. I knew she’s been wanting to visit her friend in Hawaii for a while. When Citi ThankYou points became transferable to Singapore Airlines, I really wanted to try out the whole booking process and happened to find a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu with low level award availability on United. This cost 17,500 Singapore Airlines miles + around $8 in taxes so I went ahead and booked… she’s quite easy going and doesn’t mind going on vacation with just a one-way ticket. So what about the ticket back?
The current options are not that good.
We checked availability on United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and there’s no low level award availability whatsoever. That’s really not surprising considering Sunday is a very popular travel day and the weekend after Thanksgiving is a popular travel time. At this point, the best option is to pay 45,000 United Airlines miles for a non-stop Sunday morning flight, which is definitely convenient, but that’s a lot of miles. It may may sense to lock in a “safety option” at this point. Something is better than nothing, right? Well, not necessarily…
Airlines will often open up award seats close to departure.
To be honest, I kind of feel like the best Saver award availability comes up 48 to 24 hours before the flight. At that point, the seats that are unsold are likely to be left empty and the airlines may as well give them away with miles. This is why I always check flight availability the night before I leave for vacation or the day before I am about to return. This year, I switched my parents to a non-stop flight back from Vienna on our second to last day of vacation and Svetlana switched to a non-stop flight back from London the same way. I honestly cannot remember a far-away vacation, in fact, when I didn’t change at least one of my flights while I was gone as the flights become so much better a day or two before. I certainly did last year in Milan as well as when I was in Hawaii last year awaiting my ongoing trip to Asia.
In all these situations, we already had our “safety options” locked in. Again, Svetlana has nothing.
What’s the plan, really?
Since Svetlana is flying to Hawaii on Wednesday night, she is hoping to return Sunday morning or Saturday night. So her strategy is going to be to wait until Friday in Hawaii or Saturday morning and look at her options. The downside is many airlines charge a close-in booking fee when booking so close to departure. American Airlines and United Airlines both charge $75 fees when you book an award with a departing flight is to occur within 21 days. Fortunately, these airlines both have partners that will allow her to circumvent these fees and get an even better deal with the miles.
Here’s what she’s hoping for:
British Airways miles can be redeemed on American Airlines flights provided American Airlines has low level SAAver award availability. Because British Airways uses a distance based award chart, it only costs 12,50o British Airways miles + $5.60 to fly from Honolulu to Los Angeles in Economy and no close-in booking fee. If award space opens up, she’ll transfer British Airways miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can read my tutorial: West Coast to Hawaii for 12,500 British Airways Avios Each Way!
Singapore Airlines miles can be redeemed on United Airlines flights provided United Airlines has low level Saver award space as well. This will cost 17,500 Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles + $8 from Honolulu to Los Angeles and Singapore Airlines also does not charge a close-in booking fee. If space on United Airlines opens up, she’ll transfer miles from Citi ThankYou points.
Worst case scenario:
Of course Svetlana is not going on vacation with no idea of a return plan whatsoever so we’ve already assessed a worst case scenario. It may not be great, but it’s there. In case there’s really no low level award space, holders of the United Explorer Card are actually able to book the last seat in Economy at the standard rate. This mean, she can always pay 45,000 United miles + $75 close in booking fee for a non-stop flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles and she can book it last minute. Of course, that’s not a very good price at all and hopefully it won’t come to that. However, if every once in a blue moon, you end up paying the standard award rate, it’s not the end of the world… after all, we have our miles so we can travel and enjoy life!
When taking chances, you really have to assess your worst option. And this is in terms of every cost, not just monetary. If you’re the type of person who will be stressed out on vacation without a ticket back, then it may be best to lock in a safety option ahead of time and just not worry about it. Svetlana, on the other hand, doesn’t get stressed out by such things and I’m sure she’ll have a great vacation regardless… so hopefully, she’ll get a good deal on her ticket too!