I usually have pretty good success when it comes to getting people award tickets but I’ve had a lot of difficulty on the last three requests.
Two were for trips to Africa and one was for a trip to China. There were a few constraining issues with these trips that made using miles difficult.
I guess the main thing travelers need to know is to be somewhat flexible when it comes to using their miles/points. If you can’t go on a Tuesday and can only leave on the weekend it’s more than likely you will not be able to get the award. In my many years of experience there are almost never any awards offered over the weekend. You will most likely be able to get your award if you leave Monday through Thursday. Most successful awards I’ve booked have all been on those days.
Be willing to change your dates by a couple of days on either side of the original dates you wanted. Also be willing to stay a day or two longer or shorten the trip a day or two. The airlines only offer so many awards and not always on the days you want. If you have some flexibility you will get the award you want. The airlines are offering less and less award availability as the years pass and they’re charging more and more miles. It’s best to try and use your miles as you get them.
Be willing to go with some unusual routing. Getting to South Africa direct can be quiet difficult. But, if you’re willing to travel through Europe or South America you will be surprised at what can open up. This can lengthen the trip but when you’re doing it in first class or business class it really becomes part of the vacation and not just the trip to get to your vacation spot.
Also, try to plan this out as far out as possible. For the China trip I got the request about a month out for dates that were not firmed up, the dates kept changing and in the end the travelers were forced to buy tickets because of their situation. I really wanted to help them because of why they were going but it was just not happening.
As for the Africa trips I was able to piece together the trip but for one day off on departure and two days later coming back. They, unfortunately, where not able to take that because of schedule constraints. Also be willing to try a new airline. I was able to find two business class direct tickets on South African airlines. This airline has a perfectly good lay-flat business class seat which is great for the night time flight so you can get some sleep. The service, catering and amenities can be a little hit or miss but you will be fed and wined and will get there refreshed. I’ve used this product and was perfectly happy with it. One customer was reluctant to try it because of things friends had said. I guess it all depends on your perspective but my aim is to get you where you’re going in comfort on reputable carriers. For example, there is plenty of business class award space on Egyptair going through Cairo but because of the ongoing unrest in Egypt and because of the product offered by that airline I prefer not to book this for my customers. There are a few cases like this. So if I recommend a route and an airlines be assured that it’s going to be a good experience.
Also, where you live can really affect your choices. If you’re on the west coast and want to go to Africa, first we will need to either get you to the east coast or to Europe before we can get you to Africa. This can be especially difficult if you’re using Delta miles. Many times you can get the international award at the low award price with Delta miles but as soon as you try to get to the east coast on a domestic flight it will change the whole award to the high award price which can be more than twice the low price. In cases like this it’s usually better to buy a cheap cross-continent flight outright and then pick up your international flight on the east coast. This can also be the case for trips to Europe. From the west coast there are non-stop flights but it’s much more difficult to book these with miles then it is to do it from the west coast.
This also affects awards from the East coast to Asia or Australia. It’s the same thing with Delta, most of the time it’s best to purchase your ticket to the west coast and then pick up your international award once there. Lots of times with United miles I’m able to get something from San Francisco to Asia but am unable to get to San Francisco using an award. Another strategy is to get to the west coast a day before and stay the night, this is good when the flight times just don’t line up, plus you get the added benefit of a west coast city for a night.
To end the best rule of thumb is to be flexible, flexible, flexible. If you can do that you will get that premium business class award that you’ve been saving those miles for.