Using Points: Flight Bookings


Travel Hacking

Part I: Is it Right for You?




 Part II: Getting Started




Part III: Card Selection                                                       

Part IV: Using Points: Flight Bookings (This post!)

Part V: Using Points: Hotel Booking

Guide: Recommended Cards







The whole point of getting points is to use points. In this post I will share an example of a point booking I just made for my family for an upcoming trip to Japan. I ended up booking economy one-way tickets with American Airlines and Singapore Airlines using 280k points for 8 one-way flights between California and Japan. The cost for these flights would have been $9.2k (closer to $6k if booked as RT). Business Class for 4 people adds up pretty quickly and would have been at least 640k points. If you're new to travel hacking, please review the previous travel hacking series posts listed above to get started.

Where to Begin

  • Choose your destination. If you're at an impasse with your family or friends, read Where to Go.
  • Plan ahead. In general, you want to book award redemptions as far out as possible, particularly if you have limited flexibility. Making your Travel Resolutions helps with this.
  • Take note of how many points you have with airlines and credit card point programs. I used AA, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Starpoints (SPG) for this booking. It pays to have variety. Card details below.
  • Determine which airlines have flights from your home airport (and closest major airport) to your destination, I suggest using Google Flights
  • Log into the airline travel portals as well as the portals for your point currencies and start searching.

Here's the steps I took for my AA flight booking:

AA Flight Booking.png

It's much easier to book one-way flights when searching for award availability (and it doesn't cost more as with cash bookings). Select Redeem Miles to see points required. If your departure date is flexible pick a date in the month you intend and you will be able to see the full calendar availability in the next step. I viewed flights from my home airport SMF as well as the major airports near me SFO and LAX to find best flights with saver award availability.

AA Flight Booking 2.png

Even 6 months out, there weren't any Business or First Class Saver Awards. There were quite a few options for 35K (one person / one way) Saver availability but already many of the flights were double the length of flight time due to extra or inefficient stops / layovers. Flights I had found a couple days earlier were gone. Book early!

AA Points Needed.png

When I selected the flight it told me how many points were required (140k) and my deficiency (57,792). I was then able to put the flight on hold for 5 days to allow time for the point transfer. This is a great benefit of AA as it takes a couple days for your points transfer in which you could easily lose your award flight availability.  

Pro Tip: Understand airline hold policies and how long it takes to transfer points. While many points transfer instantly, it varies by point programs and the transfer partner. Some can take 7-10 days which is highly risky as it is unlikely you could hold a flight that long. Once you transfer points, they are not going back.

SPG Transfer Screen.png

SPG Point Transfer

I still needed 57,792 AA points to book my tickets. Chase points don't transfer to AA (and I needed them for my return ticket with Singapore Air) so SPG points it is! SPG gives you 5k bonus points for every 20k points transferred. I transferred 47,792, which gave me 10k bonus points, allowing me to hit my 57,792 needed points.

Pay attention to the details such as one transfer in a 24-hour period. If you calculated your points wrong you may not have enough to book and could risk a flight going off hold or not being available.

Points Transfer Confirmation Email.png

Impatiently Waiting

You really need to line things up to book flights with points, but it gets easier with repetition. It took 2 days for the points transfer and I wasn't notified when it completed. I didn't book a preferred JAL flight as it took 7-days to transfer points.

SingaporeAir Booking

I did a similar exercise for my return flight but opted to take SingaporeAir. They only had one reward flight that didn't have a waitlist. I only had 500 of the 140k KrisFlyer points needed to book and they didn't have an option to hold the flight while I waited 2 days to transfer Chase points. I Googled, "how to hold a SingaporeAir flight" and found mention that they may hold it if you call (and be nice) but typically only if you have half the points in your account. I gave it a try, got right through, and had a great agent who put the flight on hold for me. Once the points transferred I had to call back to complete booking, but had the same great experience. 

Singapore Point Transfer Complete.png

Cards Used

I used a variety of cards to accumulate the 280k points required for this booking. Even with planning, you often don't know which airline you will book your flights with, so accumulating a variety of point currencies allows you to keep your options open. 

Some of the card links below are referral links for which I may be provided points if you use. As you can see from this post, my point bucket is almost empty so please help me refill by using these referral links! I have all these cards and would not recommend just for a referral. I'm happy to provide more specific guidance on card selection if you need help.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Starwood Starpoints (SPG)

American Airlines (AA)

In Conclusion

While not exactly easy, using points is well worth the effort...and kinda fun to figure out the tricks of the trade. We now have an extra $6k-$9k to spend on sushi! I was actually also able to book the incredible Park Hyatt Tokyo with free nights...but more on that later.

Key Takeaway: If you don't book early, or can't be flexible, you will likely find yourself using double the points and/or getting terrible flights.

Please share your comments below so we can all learn from each other. If you liked this post, please join the Analytical Traveler community.

Read the next post in the Travel Hacking Series: Using Points: Hotel Bookings

Safe travels!