I often hear complaints from people that after saving years to collect points they try to book a flight and find it impossible to to find award space for the places they want to travel on the dates they want to travel. This is a totally legitimate complaint.
Maybe you finally saved enough Aeroplan points to take that big trip from Vancouver to Madrid in business class comfort. You have 2 weeks of vacation pre-booked and you head to the Aeroplan website and punch in your dates only to have your search results show that there are no flights available at the fixed mileage awards price of 110,000 points but, instead, there are market fare flight awards available at 180,400 points. Totally frustrating.
So, what’s the solution? The reality is that when you are flying on points and miles, flexibility and planning are your keys to success. First, it might be that you will need to alter your dates by a day or two in order to find some flight availability.
It’s important to understand that, particularly with Aeroplan, their search engine does not show all the flights available. It might be that you can take a more circuitous route to get to Madrid from Vancouver on the actual dates that you want. Perhaps you can fly Vancouver to Boston to Lisbon to Madrid. Will it take longer? Most certainly. However, if you are flying business class, the travel can be a very enjoyable part of your journey, with excellent service, lie-flat beds, gourmet meals and business class lounge access along the way. In addition, it also opens up the opportunity to have a layover (less than 24 hours) along the way to explore Boston or Lisbon on your way to Madrid. In addition, if you are booking a round-trip on Aeroplan you could even make Boston or Lisbon a free stopover and spend a few days in one of those cities before or after you visit Madrid. So, be flexible and you might find yourself taking a more adventurous trip.
I should note that, as of the date of writing this post, there is some uncertainty with respect to booking Aeroplan awards with connections that do not show up on an online search on the Aeroplan website. In the past it has been possible to call the Aeroplan call centre and feed them flights to book a a complex itinerary that did not show up as options on the Aeroplan website. However, currently Air Canada is switching its reservation system over to Amadeus (a system used by many other airlines around the world). As a result of switching over reservation systems, the bespoke itineraries that were previously possible no longer appear to be an option as Aeroplan call centre staff can only see the flights that the website shows. There are reports that some people have had success after hanging up and calling again to get a more experienced call centre representative or speaking with a Manager that can access the old reservation system to book the complex itinerary. These success stories, however, seem to be few and far between. Time will tell whether we are about to permanently be living in a less flexible Aeroplan award booking world.
The importance of being flexible when booking award flights cannot be understated. If you are they type of person who will only fly direct non-stop flights on the specific days you desire then it is going to be even more challenging, though not impossible, to book your flights. In that case, you will likely have to put in more effort and be prepared to look for flights way in advance as soon as seats are released or be prepared to wait until last minute in order to try to get the flights that you prefer. You will also need to constantly monitor award space and be prepared to book immediately the moment award space becomes available on your desired flight. A lack of flexibility doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find the flight you are looking for, just that it becomes much more challenging and time consuming to obtain that flight.
Being flexible allows you to make greater use of your points. There is award space out there and if you are flexible and put in the extra effort in searching for various flight routings, you stand a very good chance of finding award flights to your desired destination around the dates you are looking to travel.
In our next post, we will discuss another criticism that is often raised about collecting points, that being that the taxes and fees are so high in booking awards that airline points are relatively useless.