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Life is unpredictable and you may sometimes find yourself in a situation where you urgently need to travel and be on a flight within a few hours’ notice – whether that’s for personal or business reasons, miles and points can help you book last minute tickets for just the taxes/fees where otherwise the revenue ticket cost could be insanely expensive. Unplanned, urgent travel can create a ton of chaos in our lives, but if we are armed with the correct miles and points, it could be one less thing to worry about during a critical situation.

Last Minute Award Flight Travel Booking

Last minute tickets are often fairly expensive on flights – most revenue tickets purchased shortly before departure will cost you more than normal. There are cases where flights are still decently priced up until departure, but I find this is a smaller occurrence – especially since the whole world is traveling now.

Last minute is the best time to redeem miles and points for a flight – that’s because the airlines open up their unsold revenue seats as awards close to departure if they think they won’t be able to sell that seat with cash – this is especially true in First Class and Business Class. For example, Lufthansa First Class award seats become available to partner airlines usually really close to departure if there are still a good number of seats left in the cabin.

Airlines would obviously rather get cash for a flight and therefore they often wait until close to departure to open up flight for awards – even if the flight may not be that full to begin with. Some airlines are better than others at opening up award seats as the schedule progresses throughout the year, while others release seats either last minute or perhaps super randomly. The general rule is that last minute is often the best time to book award tickets as that’s when a ton of new flights open up.

miles and points can help if you need to book last minute travel

miles and points can help if you need to book last minute travel

Collect Flexible and Transferable Bank Points

You should always be collecting flexible and transferable bank points that you can then transfer to an airline or hotel last minute – most transfers are instant though some might take a few days, be sure to check the terms and conditions. If you have a good points balance with a major transferable bank points program, you should be easily able to book a last minute award flight with one of the airline transfer partners – do a search with every available airline and then make the booking with the program offering you the best rate and redemption.

Remember that if you transfer points from one of these bank programs to an airline, points cannot be transferred back – always have a back-up plan if the award seats disappear while you are making the transfer. Booking award flights last minute can be a competition and whoever is faster is going to win – especially when redeeming for premium cabin tickets.

Using Hotel Points for Unplanned Travel

Hotels work a little bit differently in terms of last minute award bookings – in most hotel frequent guest programs, the “base” room must be made available on points if it is available for a standard cash booking. Hotels might sell out the base rooms weeks prior to check-in and only the premium rooms might be left – which means either they won’t be available to book using hotel points or they will cost more hotel points.

Hotels can’t release a standard room last minute for award bookings if all of them are already sold out. That being said, you can still use your hotel points for last minute, urgent situations where you need to stay somewhere for the night. Unless the area you are trying to stay in is hosting a big event or some other similar circumstance, chances are you can generally find some hotel using points last minute for a decent price.

For example, let’s say your flight was just cancelled because of weather-related issues and there are only a handful of hotels near the airport that are bookable on points, you’ll want to make a booking ahead of all of the other passengers who might be looking for hotel rooms – because once the base rooms sell out, you will be stuck with paying more points for a premium room (which is probably not worth it) or you will have to pay with cash.

All in All

When last minute, urgent travel comes up remember that you will be the most successful if you have miles with more than one airline or are collecting them with a transferable bank points program – remember to run through all available airlines and make a decision which redemption rate will be of the best value. Miles and points can really save you last minute when flights cost a ton yet there is award availability. Airlines open up unsold seats for awards close to departure so chances are if the flight you are eyeing in a premium cabin isn’t full, it might just open up as an award.

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.