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There are many ways to book award flights – either with the airline directly or with a partner airline, for example. What people often do not realize is that sometimes a partner airline may actually charge you less miles for the same flight than if you booked it with the operating airline’s frequent flyer program directly – this is because the airline who’s miles you are using sets the cost and not the actual airline you are flying.

When you book an award flight several months prior to departure, chances are you can improve on the routing and perhaps the cost of your itinerary if what you booked isn’t ideal or was meant only as a placeholder. There are several ways to improve your award flight itinerary – some methods are free while others involve subscription-based services, but regardless, everyone can generally find better flights if they are flexible and check for new availability often.

some airlines release more award availability prior to departure

some airlines release more award availability prior to departure

Run New Award Searches

Once you’ve booked your award flight, it isn’t the end. That is, unless you want to stick with what you have and chances are, you can always improve on some aspect of your itinerary because it is rare that you find exactly what you are looking for on the first go, especially in the premium cabin.

The most simple way you can begin to improve your itinerary and award flights you’ve booked is by simply running a new search every few days on your desired routing. For example, say you are flying from London to New York via Paris but you prefer the nonstop London to New York flight – chances are that it will open up at some point and have award space, but you have to just keep checking back. If you booked with a frequent flyer program that does not charge any change or cancelation fees, you can easily rebook to your preferred flight once it opens up – note that there may be a difference in miles and taxes/fees.

The easiest way to improve your award itinerary is by constantly checking and searching as award availability changes every second.

Check Partner/Other Airlines

If you have Chase points, for example, and you transferred them to United and then booked a flight from London to New York on United, remember that you can always redeem miles for travel on one of their many partner airlines if there is award availability – when flying to Europe, United’s European partner airlines usually have more availability than United does and chances are you will end up flying one of them.

Remember that not all partner airlines show up online for certain frequent flyer programs – for example, if you are using Delta miles to fly to Europe, one of their European partner airlines – Air Europa – does not show up on, even if there is award availability. You would need to find availability on Air Europa, for example, using another method and then call Delta to book. Finding “hidden” availability can be incredible.

Consider Booking Positioning Flights

If there are no award flights from your home airport, consider flying on a separate ticket to a bigger, hub airport. There may not be availability from Portland to London but there may be from Seattle to London, so you would just need to book a separate positioning flight. Just remember these would be separate tickets so be sure to leave enough time between flights incase you are delayed.

Domestic availability on US airlines can sometimes be hard to find and if an international airline does not fly to your home airport, you may never find anything at the saver-level by searching for award flights from your home airport. Be sure to check availability out of all of the major US cities to your destination and then check how you can fly to that hub city – sometimes you can even combine both flights on one ticket if the airlines are partners and there is saver-level availability.

Be Alerted When Award Availability Opens Up

There are a few paid services out there that will send you an email or text message when an award seat opens up on your desired flight – not all airlines are supported and each of these services works differently, but expect to pay for a subscription if you want to be notified.

The beauty of services like these is that they auto-track your desired flight and check for availability and will notify you when something opens up. Keep in mind that on popular flights, like finding a Lufthansa First Class award seat, there may be several people tracking the same flight – so you always want to drop everything and book when something you’ve been waiting for opens up.

Be Flexible

Finally, the number one thing you need to have when using miles and points for flights is flexibility. The more flexible you are, the better your chances will be at redeeming your miles for an aspirational and valuable flight. Being flexible does not only mean in terms of dates, but also on departure points, destinations, class of travel, splitting up on separate flights, etc. Always remember that more award availability could open up down the road – so even if there is only 1 seat available now and there’s two of you traveling, book the seat and keep checking back if another one opens up.

All in All

There are so many ways you can improve your award flights – from checking for hidden availability to setting alerts for flights, there is almost always a way to improve upon what you have already booked. Airlines release unsold seats as awards close to departure if they think they won’t be able to sell that seat using cash and therefore, often, last minute is the best time to book. While this may not work for everyone, consider booking placeholder flights and check back frequently if your desired flight has award availability – chances are that if it isn’t full prior to departure, it just might open up.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.