When to Book Awards at Levels Above Saver Levels

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Most airlines offer awards at different levels. Among these airlines, some, like United, keep things relatively simple by providing awards at two separate levels. Others, like Delta, which offers up to five different levels ( the exact number is officially unknown as Delta no longer publishes award charts), employ dynamic-style pricing to their awards.

The lowest award levels are commonly referred to as “saver” levels, while the highest levels are usually called “peak” level awards. Ideally, you would only book awards at the saver level, however, considering airlines impose capacity controls on saver level award availability, that may not always be possible.

We've identified four scenarios, other than what we'd consider obvious (emergency travel or no other option), where you should consider redeeming your miles at award awards at levels above “saver” which are:

  1. Attractive higher level rates
  2. Saver level awards are available for part of your group
  3. When additional miles help offset other charges/fees
  4. When valuable perks come with the higher level

Let's break down each one of these scenarios.

Attractive Mid-Level Rates

Some airlines offer award redemptions at rates which are slightly higher than saver level awards. These mid-level rates also tend to be competitive when compared to what other airlines offer.

A perfect example of an airline that offers attractive mid-level rates is Singapore Airlines. Singapore used to provide awards at three different levels: Saver, Standard, and Full. Standard award level rates were usually much closer to Saver level rates than to Full level rates. Earlier this year Singapore eliminated the “Full” category, and to our benefit, it does not appear that they have changed the value of Standard award rates.

To illustrate how standard Singapore award rates can be attractive here is what business class availability looks like for a future Singapore Airlines flight from San Francisco to Singapore:

Singapore Airlines Standard Awards Rate from SFO to SIN

As you can see, there is no Saver availability (you would need to Waitlist). However, there is availability at the Standard level on the flight. Having to book this award at the Standard level would require 102,000 miles, taking into account the 15% discount Singapore offers for online bookings for Singapore and SilkAir flights.

While it would certainly be ideal to be able to book it at the Saver level, which would require 68,000 miles with the aforementioned 15% discount, the Standard rate is by no means a waste of miles considering this is an almost eighteen-hour flight and that you would be flying with one of the world's best airlines.

There is Only Saver Level Availability for Part of your Group

Recently I needed to book a trans-continental first class Alaska Airlines award for three passengers. While my searches for saver level availability for three passengers came up empty, I did notice that there was availability for two on the desired flight. That meant we could book two awards at the saver level of 25,000 miles and one at the standard level of 60,000 miles.

When adding up the total number of miles redeemed for all three passengers (110,000) and divide that total by the three, in essence, each award came to 36,667 miles.

Again, not ideal, but for a family that valued being able to fly together in first class more than anything, this ended up being a great option.

When the Extra Miles can Help Offset Fuel Surcharges

You're likely auto programmed to choose saver level award options over higher level options, but that should not always be the case.

Let's say you need to book a one-way business class award to London. You have two choices: a saver level American Airlines AAdvantage award for a non-stop flight operated by British Airways that will require 57,500 miles $450 in fuel surcharges or a non-stop Delta award at 80,000 miles (formerly known as Level 2 award category for Europe) and no fuel surcharges.

Sure the Delta award could be booked for as little as 62,500 miles (if it was available at that level) and will require 22,500 miles more than the AAdvantage award, but it will also save you $450. Assuming you have access to enough miles/points for the Delta option, this seems like the best way to go. Remember, miles have value, but cash is king.

When There are Perks You Value for the Higher Level Award

With many airlines, booking an award at the peak level means that you can cancel or change your itinerary at any time before your travel date without penalty. Therefore, booking a peak level award can, for example, serve as a backup plan in case nothing else opens up.

Going back to Singapore Airlines, when you book a Standard award you can add a complimentary stopover to a one-way award (something that would require a $100 fee at the Saver level) and you can add a second complimentary stopover to a roundtrip award (something that would also require a $100 fee at the Saver level), among other benefits. These benefits might make redeeming the additional miles worth it to you.

Singapore Airlines Award Type Perks

Bottom Line

There are certainly various instances in which it can make sense to book awards at levels higher than the saver level. However, always make sure you have exhausted all other options before deciding to pull the trigger on any such award; no need to throw miles at the wind.

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