Using Points & Miles to Book Award Travel
One of the best ways to maximize the value of credit card points and frequent flyer miles is booking award travel. Award tickets allow you to fly or stay in hotels for free or at heavily discounted prices.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to book award flights and hotel stays with major airline and hotel loyalty programs. We’ll also look at tips for finding award availability and getting the most value from points redemptions.
How Award Travel Works
Airlines and hotels make a certain amount of seats and rooms available at reduced award prices:
- Booked with frequent flyer miles or hotel loyalty points
- Inventory is limited – only a certain amount of award space exists
- Pricing based on itinerary, demand, seasonality
- Very discounted compared to paying cash fares
- Additional fees, taxes, and surcharges may apply
Booking award travel takes some research and flexibility, but can save a ton compared to standard rates.
Airline Award Travel Programs
Here are some of the major US airline rewards programs for booking award flights:
American AAdvantage – Redeem miles for flights on American and partners
Delta SkyMiles -Book Delta-operated flights with SkyMiles
United MileagePlus – Miles can book United and Star Alliance partners
Southwest Rapid Rewards – Southwest points book revenue fares (no awards chart)
Alaska Mileage Plan – Book Alaska and partner flights with Alaska miles
JetBlue TrueBlue – Points redeem for any unsold seat as long as available
Award chart prices vary by:
- Number of miles required
- Trip distance – short, medium, long haul
- Airline regions – domestic, international, regions
- Cabin class – economy, business, first class
Hotel Award Travel Programs
Major hotel chains also give options to book free night stays with points:
Marriott Bonvoy – Wide range of properties from budget to luxury
Hilton Honors – 14 brands including Hampton Inn, Waldorf Astoria and more
World of Hyatt – Award nights start at only 5,000 points
IHG Rewards – Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental and 5,000+ properties
Wyndham Rewards – Thousands of hotels under brands like Days Inn, Ramada, and Wyndham Hotels
Best Western Rewards – Award nights available across 4,700+ Best Western hotels worldwide
Hotel awards are categorized differently at each chain based on brand, peak vs off-peak dates, room type and more.
Transferable Rewards Programs
Some points transfer to various airline and hotel partners:
Chase Ultimate Rewards® – Transfer to 13 airline and hotel programs
American Express Membership Rewards – Transfer to 17 airline and hotel partners
Citi ThankYou Points – Transfer to airline partners including JetBlue, Emirates, and more
Capital One Miles – Transfer to 14 airline and hotel programs
Check transfer ratios as some programs award 1:1 while others scale lower. Transferring points expands award booking opportunities.
Benefits of Booking Award Travel
Compared to paying cash fares, award travel offers many advantages:
- Very discounted pricing – Fees and taxes are just a fraction of paid tickets
- Use points earned on credit card spending – Convert purchases into free travel
- Fly in premium cabins – Big savings booking business or first class flights
- Stay at high-end hotels – Use points at luxury properties for a fraction of the price
- Bring family and friends – Many airlines allow booking multiple passengers on one award
- Unlock more value from points – The best redemption options compared to cash-back or gift cards
Award travel turns everyday spending into dream vacation trips at an amazing value.
Finding Award Seat Availability
Here are tips for finding award seats and hotel rooms at the lowest redemption rates:
- Book early – Inventory at lowest mile prices is limited and grabbed quickly after release
- Search segment-by-segment for multi-city awards – More options than booking complete itineraries
- Consider less popular destinations and times – Lower demand results in better award availability
- Use flexible dates in 1-2 day ranges – Mid-week and off-peak dates open more options
- Call the airline or hotel loyalty program for help booking complex awards – Agents can access more inventory
- Watch for last minute flight deals – Airlines release unsold award seats close to departure
- Have back-up itineraries planned in case your ideal flights or hotels aren’t available
The most desirable rewards book up fast. Flexible travelers have better odds of finding awards.
Maximizing Value from Award Redemptions
Follow these tips to maximize value when redeeming points and miles:
- Book premium cabin award flights when possible – Biggest savings over paid tickets
- Use hotel points for high-end properties – 5-star resorts provide outsized value
- Take advantage of transfer partners – Move points to loyalty programs as needed to book awards
- Understand award charts and dynamic pricing – Find and book at lowest redemption rates
- Add a free companion with points – Some airlines allow booking tickets for others at no charge
- Stretch points by adding cash to upgrade – Boost your experience by splitting payment
- Utilize online tools like AwardHacker – Research best programs for a given route
- Avoid excessive taxes and fees – Carriers and countries vary significantly in these costs
Is Award Travel Right For You?
Booking award flights and hotel stays makes the most sense for travelers who:
- Book high-end international flights in premium cabins
- Have flexible schedules to hunt for availability
- Stay frequently at the same hotel chains to earn loyalty
- Understand award charts and redemption strategies
- Can meet signup bonus minimum spends on credit cards
Infrequent leisure travelers may find better value in cash-back rewards that offer statement credits. Award travel requires planning and research. But the savings over paying with cash are immense.
Closing Thoughts on Booking Award Travel
While availability takes effort, booking award flights and hotel stays with points and miles unlocks huge value. You can spend points earned through credit cards to book premium travel you may not be able to afford otherwise.
Research award charts, utilize airline and hotel partners, and set mileage price alerts to grab deals. Avoid excessive fees, and consider business class, luxury hotels, and exotic destinations to maximize awards.
With the right card strategy to earn points coupled with smart redemptions, your next dream trip may end up costing almost nothing out of pocket. Award travel makes that possible.