My trip over the end of January and beginning of February marked the eighth I’ve taken since the pandemic started back in March 2020. From solo hiking in Tucson, to several days in sunny Florida, to a trip to Turkey, I’ve tried to make the most of this time. One thing I’ve realized I’m getting far too used to: the abundant availability of flight award space. Aside from my most recent trip, every single trip I’ve planned has included 100% award flights. Four out of five tickets that I have booked for later this year are awards as well. While I cannot wait until travel opens up more across the globe and things begin to “normalize” (at times I feel they never will), this is one aspect of the global pandemic that I will miss.
Pandemic Travel: Abundant Award Seats and Added Flexibility
Prior to 2020, I had well-calibrated expectations for when I could find specific award seats. Transcontinental United business class awards? Rare, except for last-minute trips. Holiday travel? Difficult to book without paying through the nose in miles. General awards to domestic destinations were always hit-and-miss, dependent on timing of booking, the destination, and the presence or absence of holidays. There were many factors.
Things have changed dramatically. While finding awards has never been especially difficult if your dates are flexible, calendars like this were rare. Awards every day for five people for months at a time at saver rates? Get out.
Even more beautifully, I can book this without a care in the world, even if I’m not sure the trip will happen. With waived change fees, I can move the dates indefinitely. A single schedule change typically allows you to cancel for free, too. Miles redeposit fees are waived for trips more than 30 days out, anyway.
There’s never been a time where miles have been so easy to use. I’m gonna miss it. Or maybe this will become a new normal?
Booking Flights for Friends
In January I booked a trip for friends using miles. Nailing down the dates was the first order of business. When asked how much notice I needed to book the trip, I was pretty confident with my reply of “48 hours should be enough time.” Normally, I wouldn’t make any promises for anything this close in. But right now, I can almost always make domestic award travel happen at the last minute.
While we didn’t end up booking the trip that close in, there were plenty of options for them to choose from. The outbound and return dates both had multiple saver awards available. Deciding on what time to fly was more of a problem that figuring out which day!
The second trip I booked for a friend included total communication meltdown. He provided the desired dates in February. Given that the outbound left in less than 2 days, I was a bit surprised, but it really wasn’t an issue finding an award. I nailed down dates and times, he confirmed, and then I booked the tickets.
It turned out he thought I was joking about booking the February trip. He’d meant March (he’d mentioned both months, which was a hair confusing), and thought I was just messing with him by saying I was moving forward booking the ticket for the following evening. There was no way he could get off work.
Sending him a confirmation code for February induced total panic. Panic for him, not for me. I had a good laugh. The only cost was another 10 minutes or so spent canceling the original ticket and rebooking for next month.
With travel recovery still lagging, I’m not surprised that awards are easy to find and book. The flexibility that airlines are offering in terms of award changes and cancellations is something I hope sticks post-pandemic. I am going to miss the glut of award space. I’ve been able to book pretty much every award I’ve searched for on the exact days I’ve wanted over the past several months. I’m hopeful this will last at least several more months, if not over a year, and I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.
How have your award travel experiences been? Have things been as easy for you?