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Travel on Point(s) is an independent, advertising-supported website. This site is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites like Cardratings.com. This compensation does not impact how or where products appear on this site. Travel on Point(s) has not reviewed all available credit card offers on this site. Reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any partner entities.

Positioning Flight

“Positioning” is a foreign concept to most regular travelers but extremely useful for award travelers. A positioning flight is a flight you book out of your home airport for the sole purpose of getting you to the airport from where you will take an award flight. Have no fear, that positioning flight can be an award flight too. These flights are helpful because it lets you find availability beyond your home airport. Booking positioning flights can help two sets of people. People that are based in smaller cities without much non-stop service to foreign destinations, and those in major airports who aren't finding award availability out of those airports. In this post we'll answer the question, what are positioning flights? We will also dive into how booking them can be the key to accessing lots of award availability.

What Is A Positioning Flight

A positioning flight is a flight that you book for the sole purpose of getting you to the airport from where your main flight departs. For example, if you find award availability from Atlanta to Paris, but live in Memphis, you can book a positioning flight from Memphis to Atlanta.

Often, the positioning is a completely separate booking from your long-haul flight (the Atlanta to Paris flight in the above example).

Note: Positioning can have one other meaning–in aviation more generally, a positioning flight is when an airline flies an aircraft to a different airport for its scheduled flight without any passengers onboard.

Why Positioning Flights Are Necessary

The vast majority of international flights out of the US depart from major airports such as New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), Atlanta (ATL), Miami (MIA), San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), etc. So if you don't live in a city with non-stop service to your destination, you will need to relocate to a city that does.

And even if you do live in a city with non-stop service, awards might not be available for your desired dates. A positioning flight thus enables you to take advantage of award availability out of different airports.

positioning flight
This award space would not show up if your search started from a smaller airport

Typically, it's much harder to find award availability with a connecting flight out of a smaller airport. There are two main reasons for this. First, the airline flying out of your home airport might not have a partnership with the airline operating the main long-haul flight you're trying to take. This means you can't book those two flights in a single itinerary.

The second reason is that award seats might not be available for the flight from your home airport to the major airport from which your main flight departs. In this case, you would have to book those two flights separately. That first flight would be your positioning flight.

This is why we always recommend starting your award searches by searching the long-haul portion of your award flight first.

How Positioning Flights Work

Before you book any positioning flights, you should confirm that you found award availability for the long-haul flight you want. There is no point in looking to position if there is no award flight to position yourself to.

Once you find your long-haul award flight, there are a couple of different options for booking your positioning flight.

Making A Separate Booking For Your Positioning Flight

Booking a positioning flight as a separate reservation is the exact same as booking any other domestic flight. Look up which airlines fly to your positioning airport and which programs you can use to book those flights.

But remember that often cash fares can be so cheap that you're better off paying cash instead of redeeming points. To decide between redeeming points or pay cash, you can calculate the cents per point value for your redemption.

positioning flight
Positioning flights can be very cheap

Add The Positioning Flight To Your Long-Haul Award Booking

Sometimes, you can include your positioning flight in the same booking as your long-haul award. This won't always work because there are a lot of variables at play. But when it does work, doing so adds a lot of convenience to your trip.

To include your positioning flight with your main award booking, you need to find award availability for both your positioning flight and your long-haul flight with the same program. For example, say you found availability on Lufthansa via Air Canada Aeroplan from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Munich (MUC). To add a positioning flight to this booking, you would need to find saver availability through Aeroplan from your home airport to Dulles. Even if you do find that, Aeroplan's website might still not let you book both those flights as one itinerary. But if it does, then you're good to go.

Keep in mind that some programs aren't able to include a connection as part of the award. Other programs won't let you have more than one airline in your itinerary. This all varies widely depending on the airline program.

Also remember that if you are using a distance-based award chart, adding the additional flight might increase the cost of that award substantially. In the Aeroplan example above, adding a positioning flight could increase the cost of your redemption from 70,000 points to 90,000 points. Make sure to crunch the numbers to determine whether you would be better off booking the positioning flight as a separate reservation.

positioning flights

Positioning Flights FAQs

Positioning for an award flight can bring up a lot of questions. We assembled these frequently asked questions to help you out.

How much time should I give myself between my positioning flight and my long-haul award flight?

This is a highly personal question. Ask 30 people and you will get 30 different answers. Ultimately, it all depends on how you're traveling. Are you flying solo, bringing small kids, or traveling with mobility-impaired individuals? Do you like to arrive at the airport hours early? Are you checking bags?

My usual approach is to make sure there is at least one other positioning flight on the same airline to my gateway airport. That way, if my first flight gets canceled, I at least have a chance of hopping on the next flight and make it to my long-haul flight.

Some folks like to fly into the gateway airport the night before and check into a hotel near the airport. Depending on the city, you can even make a side-trip out of it and spend a night in a fun town!

Can I check my bags all the way through?

If your positioning flight is part of the same itinerary as your long-haul award flight, then yes, you can check your bags all the way through. If the flights are on the same airline but on different tickets, you should still be good to go. But if it is a separate booking, then it depends.

If the flights are on different airlines (and separate tickets), then check whether the airlines have an interline agreement with each other. Interline agreements enable airlines to check bags for each other's passengers. (Expert Flyer is a great resource for looking this up).

ToP tip: When checking bags all the way through, always tell the check-in agent your final destination and ask to see the bag tag before they toss your bag in the conveyor belt. Make sure the bag tag lists all your connecting airports and your final destination.

positioning flight
Will I have to clear security when arriving from my positioning flight?

This varies widely by airport. The safest bet is to always assume you will have to clear security when taking a positioning flight. Switching terminals at an airport often requires clearing security. Not every airport lets you move between terminals airside. So unless you are well familiar with the airport to which you're positioning, it's best to assume that you will have to clear security.

What happens if my positioning flight is delayed and I miss my main flight?

Unless your positioning flight is on the same ticket as your long-haul flight, you'll be out of luck pretty much, unfortunately. The airline operating your positioning flight has only agreed to get you to the destination in that ticket. The fact that you had a separate connection is irrelevant to them. That positioning airline will have no obligation to rebook you for your main flight.

Award Travel Tips: ToP Thoughts

Positioning flights increase are key to access a ton of award availability. It's common to underestimate just how useful positioning can be. Searching for award availability one segment at a time, beginning with the long-haul flight, helps you spot award space more easily and efficiently. From there, you can build out your itinerary with a positioning flight as necessary.

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