Choosing a Bad Flight Intentionally
If you've ever searched for award flights, you probably have realized not every flight has saver availability. It can be quite frustrating when you locate a perfect flight and it’s just not available to book with points. Perhaps you’ve checked several times over a few weeks. Saver awards are just not opening up! If you’ve read our ToP tips for booking award flights, you know that last minute awards can be one solution. But what if you can’t quite leave this trip up to chance? In this post, we break down why booking a less than ideal flight could yield the perfect solution.
Award Availability can be Limiting
When choosing flights, some of the biggest constraints are the limits we place on ourselves. After all, being flexible is paramount to having success in award bookings. I am a bit guilty of this, but I hate booking award flights at non-saver rates. I’m probably being overly frugal, but I am sure some of you can relate. We work really hard to earn all of these points and miles. Knowing that there is a better deal out there can be very mentally limiting when choosing flights! Sure, we could suck it up and book a non-saver award but where’s the fun in that? Let’s talk about a way we can unlock ourselves from those limits.
Break Those Chains: Book a Bad Flight
Say what? You are probably wondering why you would want to choose a bad flight. When you're searching for award flights, several options may be available. Some of those options may include multiple layovers, less than ideal connection times, or a departure time that just does not work for you. What if this bad flight has saver award space, though? Is there an opportunity here to make your own saver award? The answer is yes, there might just be.
When a Schedule Change is a Blessing
Now, let's say that the flight you have booked has a schedule change, and that schedule change results in a substantial deviation of the original departure or arrival time. If this happens, you may be eligible for a complimentary one-time flight change. Let's be honest, airlines change the schedules all of the time. Especially if you are booking a flight a long ways out, there is a good chance that the operating airline will have a schedule change. It's just statistics! The opportunity here is the schedule change. If there is a schedule change on the original flight you booked, you may be able to switch to the actual flight you wanted all along. You are essentially gambling on the bad flight facing a schedule change.
When Will This Work
This strategy will only really work when booking an award where the operating airline is the same as the one you are booking with. In other words, partner awards would not work in this case. Further, this only works in cases where the airline you have booked on has a robust schedule change policy. Take United Airlines for example, they have a schedule change policy that is extremely flexible. Their policy is to rebook you on any other United or United Express flight that leaves from the same airport when your flight schedule is changed by at least 30 minutes.
Delta has a similar policy with a change of at least two hours qualifying for a free change. Regardless, it can always be worth asking. You may just get a rep who is willing to accommodate your request, even if you don't meet the minimum time change.
How to Hedge Against Risk
Like I said, this is essentially gambling with flights. How can you hedge against that risk? Understanding the cancellation policy of the flight you are booking can be key. For example, United's cancellation policy on award flights is about as flexible as they come. Heck, you can cancel an award flight right up until departure!
I recently cancelled an award flight on United four hours before departure simply because I wanted to sleep in. I digress, but what I'm getting at is that there can be very little risk in the case of a cancelable flight. In my example of a United Airlines award booking, you can essentially create a back up option by booking a bad flight time if saver awards exist, and hoping for a schedule change. During that time you can explore other options or monitor for other awards to become available.
A Real-Life Example
Let's break this down to a real-life example. I was recently planning my trip to attend our next amazing meetup: ToP Milwaukee 2024. For the life of me, I could not find any saver awards coming into my home airport of Burlington, VT. After checking for several days and getting a bit frustrated, I decided to get a bit crafty. I looked into alternative flights, and found a saver award on United coming into Montreal, Canada. Now Montreal is only a 90-minute drive from Burlington, but the last thing I want to do is fly into another country just to get home. That said, I decided to book it and put my plan into motion that hopefully a schedule change would occur and entitle me to a free change. Sure enough, less than two weeks after booking my gamble paid off and the schedule had indeed changed.
Striking Gold: The Change I Wanted
The second leg of my flight home, from Chicago to Montreal, was rescheduled to about 5 hours later! Because of this significant change in the screenshot above, I was able to select a one-time free change. That's just where the good news starts.
Because of this schedule change I was also able to change my destination airport to a location within 300 miles of my original itinerary. Say what?! So not only was I able to change my flight to a more ideal time, but I was also able to switch it so I land at a more ideal airport for me, of Burlington, VT. I made the change by texting with United and feeding them the flight numbers I wanted, and within minutes my new flight was confirmed. I was able to essentially create my own saver award on the flight that I wanted.
Book a Bad Flight! ToP Thoughts
We hear all the time over in the ToP Facebook group that our members have a hard time locating saver award availability. Often times, patience is key and awards may open up later. But by thinking outside of the box, it's possible to get those saver awards another way. By booking a bad flight, you might just be in for a schedule change that entitles you to that ToP flight you were hoping for. In an ever changing and expanding hobby, this is just one more way to make award travel work for you.