Getting Creative When Award Space Isn’t Available

Filed Under: Advice, Awards

If you haven’t had a chance to read Tiffany’s post about booking award flights to Hawaii, stop reading this and click the link.

It’s not only an excellent compilation of award options to Hawaii, it’s also an important lesson that is often overlooked when it comes to collecting miles and points.

Your points are only worth something if you’re able to redeem them. And being creative and flexible will help maximize the value you receive.

As Tiffany’s post shows, fixed dates, multiple tickets and traveling to a high demand destination all make life a lot harder when looking for award space.

The truth is, sometimes the answer to your travel wish is, “it’s just not going to be practical to get this all on a single award, unfortunately.”

Similar issue looking for award space

I recently had a similar experience looking for space to Hawaii.

My wife asked that our next trip be a beach vacation. So, I started poking around for flights from Phoenix to Maui, which is our favorite beach destination.


Unfortunately, we had many of the same restrictions as the reader in Tiffany’s post:

  • We needed tickets for a group (of 4)
  • We were looking for award tickets to a high demand destination
  • We had a limited window for when the trip would fit into our schedule

What’s worse, we were taking the kids and planning on booking with British Airways Avios, so I limited our options to direct flights. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Maui. The space just wasn’t there and it was clear this wasn’t going to be practical.



So, we won’t get to go driving in the clouds at Haleakala. What do we do now?

Consider a new destination

With Maui off the table, I started thinking about other beach options and Cabo seemed like a good idea.

Leaving from Phoenix, there are several non-stop flights per day. And with the little ones coming along, it’s definitely a positive that the flight is shorter than Maui.

And many of the resorts are finally open again after Hurricane Odile shut them down.

I started to look into availability.

Consider breaking up the band

The problem I immediately found is we couldn’t get 4 seats together on the same flight no matter what combination of days I used (I had a window of roughly a month).

Then I started searching for fewer seats. As soon as I changed the seats requested to 2 instead of 4, there was availability on most flights.

My wife was fine with taking a later flight if it meant spending a week on the beach. So, we went ahead and booked our flights and started making decisions about hotels.

We aren’t headed to Maui, but our flights will be shorter; the redemption used fewer miles; and Cabo allowed us to find something that fit into our travel window.

Sometimes schedule changes are great

Another twist in our booking was just a few weeks ago when I received a note from British Airways apologizing about a schedule change that forced my wife and daughter to be rebooked on a different flight home.

It turned out we got lucky. They rebooked the two of them onto my flight and now all four of us were together on the same flight home – an option that wasn’t available in the first place.

Yet another twist

I was happy all of us would be flying home together. But, I still kept my eye on award space for the flight to Cabo where we were booked separately. Just recently, more award space opened up on my flight.

I wasn’t thrilled about paying change fees for Avios award tickets but my wife said it was worth it to fly together. Since I was scheduled to be the one fending off timeshare sales agents at the airport waiting for our second pair to arrive, it sounded like an acceptable idea.

Before calling, however, I realized my wife’s schedule change could save us some money. Even though the change worked in our favor, British Airways didn’t know that. I told them the 2 hour change didn’t work for our travel plans and that was enough to cancel my wife and daughter’s entire itinerary with a full refund.

As soon as British Airways confirmed the cancellation, I immediately rebooked my wife and daughter on our flights and we were finally all traveling together in both directions.

Bottom line

While it would be great if award inventory to the best destinations was always readily available, that just isn’t the case. When you’re working on the redemption side of the equation, investigate all of your options and keep an open mind about destinations, partner availability, splitting up the group, etc. And even after you’ve booked your trip, keep an eye out for new space or other options.

  1. For your flight to Cabo, could you have cancelled the tix with BA, received Avios back, and only lost the taxes originally paid?

    I’ve done similar with BA tix and only lost taxes paid instead of paying for a change fee.

  2. @Mike: the end of your post is the key to this whole hobby (do you use the word “hobby”? I’m not sure it’s right. A whole separate post on that subject, please, by each of you, T, B). You said “And even after you’ve booked your trip, keep an eye out for new space or other options.”

    My favourite trips are BR YYZ-BKK in J. BR releases J seats to/from Canada 10-14 days out. Sometimes they add more seats at T-24h. Wait until the very last minute? That’s hard.

    But it gets worse: with all its faults, Aeroplan offers two free stopovers on a roundtrip. That’s a big benefit but there’s a big catch. One must book homebound flights at the outset to qualify for a stopover. My tactic is to book placeholder UA seats in Y, then change to BR J when seats appear during my journey.

    It’s funny how different our psychology is about credit cards and flight bookings. By being very promiscuous about cards and very flexible (and confident) about flight availability, we get the goodies. Those who require stability and certainty pay more and/or ride in the back.

  3. @Jason – you are exactly correct and I’ve done that many times for domestic trips where the taxes were only $6. In this case, taxes for the two of them came to $170, so it was definitely not something I wanted to pay if I could avoid it.

  4. You’re going to have a great time in Cabo. My family reports that it’s a wonderful place.

    But all your beautiful photos for this post are all of Maui. There are some great Haleakala shots. That’s a great place, too. Don’t let your thwarted Maui love deprive you of the Cabo magic. Maui will be there for you when someday award space opens up.

    I recommend spending some time outside the touristy zones at a real Mexican market and eating street food. And my Cabo contacts love renting a vehicle to spend some time at a remote undeveloped beach. But the regular tourist routine is great in itself when the natural environment is so crazy excellent.

  5. could you explain more how you were able to use avios points to fly from phoenix to Cabo? Did you book through ba? aa?

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