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Though it’s becoming increasingly rare for U.S.-based airlines, many airlines still publish flight award charts. These charts serve as guidelines for frequent fliers to redeem their points for flights near and far. Even the airlines that do not publish award charts anymore still have, more or less, a general pricing structure for their award flights.
However, sometimes the published mileage costs do not align with the actual costs in practice. That can be a bonus for travelers who are positioned to take advantage of awards that cost fewer miles than they should.
Here's how you can save miles by using unpublished award sweet spots.
- Types of Unpublished Award Sweet Spots
- Manipulating Published Award Charts
- Awards That Price Lower Than Published
- Our Take
Types of Unpublished Award Sweet Spots
When it comes to these unpublished award sweet spots, two types come to mind:
- Manipulating published award charts to lower overall costs.
- Awards pricing is lower than what is found in published award charts.
The first kind might be more broadly applicable, but the second kind opens the door to realizing greater point savings. The examples below highlight just a handful of possible awards that fit these categories.
Manipulating Published Award Charts
Awards such as these sound far more complex than they are in practice. The “manipulation” referenced involves using published award charts and rules in “creative” ways to lower award costs.
For instance, take a trip from North America to Europe that requires a connection that's only available in economy class. Different frequent flier programs will treat such an itinerary differently. Many programs will charge the full business class cost. However, some airline loyalty programs will price the flights on a more individual basis. Thankfully, you can push the boundaries of this concept to potentially save big.
One could even argue that this goes against the notion of these awards being unpublished, but I disagree. Even if they abide by award charts, these kinds of flight awards are neither advertised nor customary.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Avianca LifeMiles are examples of two frequent flier programs that make these kinds of awards possible. I find the LifeMiles website is the easier of the two for award searches, so I’ll use that for the examples below.
Example 1 – Flying Transatlantic with a Connection
Austrian Airlines offers transatlantic flights between Vienna and Chicago (among many other destinations). Business class flights between the two cities cost 63,000 Avianca LifeMiles. However, travelers willing to fly in economy for the intra-Europe leg have the chance to lower that mileage cost.
On an itinerary with a connection, flying the intra-Europe segment in economy class rather than business class lowers the overall award cost by roughly 2,000 miles. That's because the LifeMiles program prices the total award proportionally based on miles flown in each cabin.
In this example, the savings are not extensive, but most travelers won’t miss much swapping intra-Europe business class for economy class. This is especially true on such a short flight.
Example 2 – Stretching the Savings
In the first example, only about 8% of the total flight distance was in economy. Increasing the percentage of the total trip in a lesser cabin helps you stretch your miles further. In the next example, economy class travel makes up 38% of the journey!
The transatlantic portion of the trip is still in business class, but now the second leg in economy is over five times as long! As a result, the total mileage savings becomes over 13,000 miles instead of less than 2,000. Daring travelers based out of the Toronto area might even think about booking this kind of itinerary and conveniently “miss” the second leg of the trip.
Awards That Price Lower Than Published
As favorable as it can be to manipulate published award charts, it’s even better when discounted awards require no manipulation. In addition to published Flying Blue Promo Rewards monthly promotions, unpublished discounts exist as well.
Generally, these unpublished discounts pertain to very specific routes. But, if those routes align with travel plans, the savings can be staggering.
Example 1 – Economy Class Discount to Europe
Just as Avianca LifeMiles provided examples for award chart manipulation, this program provides examples of unpublished award discounts.
For instance, consider a one-way economy class flight between New York and Munich. According to the LifeMiles award chart, such a flight should cost 30,000 miles. However, in practice, such an itinerary prices at just 26,000 miles.
A 4,000-mile savings might not seem monumental. However, this is a savings of 13.3%, putting it nearly in line with some of the 15% transfer bonuses that pop up from time to time.
Be aware that the routing does not appear to influence award pricing for this example. The screenshot above shows a New York Kennedy (JFK) to Munich (MUC) through Zurich (ZRH) routing entirely on Lufthansa. But, you can pay the same exact mileage price to fly from New York Kennedy (JFK) to Munich (MUC) through Frankfurt (FRA) with the transatlantic leg on Singapore Airlines.
Example 2 – Discounted Business Class
A discount of 4,000 miles (again, that's 13.3%) on an economy class flight might not be enough to raise eyebrows. But, perhaps a 7,000-mile discount on business class would do the trick. On flights between New York (JFK) and Zurich (ZRH), business class awards should cost 63,000 points. Yet, in practice, these awards clock in at just 56,000. That's around 11% less than the published cost.
In this specific case, awards do not need to be direct flights nor confined to SWISS metal. This also creates the bizarre situation where selecting economy class for the intra-Europe leg on an itinerary with a connection would marginally increase the price of the award.
Example 3 – Serious Savings in Business Class
Saving thousands of points on award costs should sound great (and it does), but more discerning travelers likely have their eyes on steeper discounts. Luckily, the LifeMiles program delivers there as well. Once again, New York's JFK airport is involved in an example — this time to Lisbon.
Instead of the published cost of 63,000 LifeMiles, a business class award from New York JFK to Lisbon (LIS) only costs 35,000! That translates to a savings of 28,000 miles one-way, or around 44%.
Just like for the second example, you do not need to book a direct flight in order for this discount to apply. Check out an itinerary routing through Brussels on the exact same day, pricing at the exact same Lifemiles cost as what was shown above:
Example 4 – Discounted Business Class Through British Airways
This incredibly niche sweet spot was uncovered recently by Greg at FrequentMiler during his culinary trip around the world. The 2,000-mile flight between Doha and Sofia, Bulgaria should cost 22,000 Avios. But, it ends up pricing at just 6,000 Avios.
How frequently will travelers find themselves flying between the two cities? Perhaps more often at this award price! The 16,000 Avios discount is a whopping 72.7% lower than the expected award cost.
As award cost increases become more prevalent, any opportunity to stretch points and miles further will stand out. Some programs, like Flying Blue, advertise the opportunity to save on awards. As welcome as these published promotions are, you knowing the secret to scoring unpublished discounts can be even more rewarding.
If you know which programs to explore or which routes to take, then that will help present opportunities to save in ways that an award chart won't say.
Sure, there are limitations to these unpublished award sweet spots, but award travel is inherently limited by award availability in the first place. With enough patience (and luck) in searching award space, there’s the chance to uncover even more unpublished gems.
Do you have another favorite unpublished award chart sweet spot that we didn't list?
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