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5 Tips for Scoring Holiday Flights with Credit Card or Airline Miles

Nov. 5, 2013
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
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Somewhere a consumer emits a groan while trying to redeem flight points in late November and late December. It’s not going their way. Yes, booking holiday airline travel can be a pain, especially if you haven’t booked ahead of time. Don’t worry, though, there are solutions. We’re here to help you redeem your airline miles for holiday travel.

Let’s get started:

1. Do your research

Not all cards and not allow miles programs allow holiday travel, unfortunately. That’s largely because airlines are flooded with customers during high-traffic seasons.

The days when you can’t use your credit card points for travel are usually called “blackout dates.” These dates change from year to year, but usually revolve around the days people fly for the holidays (For example, Dec. 26, Dec. 30, Jan. 2). Some airlines do allow elite members to book flights with points on those days, but not all.

2. Pick the right seat

This may sound counterintuitive, but business class seats are far better for holiday travel than cheaper coach seats. According to Conde Nast Traveler’s Gary Leff, that’s mainly because all the booked seats are in coach, leaving the pricier, but points-awardable, seats available for you.

3. Call an agent to book your tickets

During busy travel seasons, calling an airline reservation agent is a quicker and easier way to book frequent-flier points than going online – just be careful about phone reservation fees (ahem, American Airlines).

According to The Wall Street Journal, the reason is simple: Agents have the most up-to-date, comprehensive information on flights and available seats. They can also help you book flights on partner airlines using your points. Speaking of which…

4. See if your points can be redeemed on partner airlines

Not all air travel points are created equal. Some points can be worth a lot more, if they come from the right program. Air Canada’s Aeroplan program can link fliers with Air Canada partners like Lufthansa and United, for example.

Such programs aren’t limited to international airlines. There are plenty of domestic alliances you can use to book flight on your terms, provided you know where to look — desktop applications like ExpertFlyer can help. You can also speed up the booking process by looking for available flights on airline partners and referring your agent to those flight details.

» MORE: 7 Ways your credit card could save you money on holiday travel

5. Consider an international holiday

You might want to consider celebrating the holidays overseas. International flights from the U.S. tend to have seats available as many passengers wind up flying domestically.

International tourist destinations tend to see a lull during the holidays. Imagine celebrating Thanksgiving by enjoying some haggis in Scotland or poutine in Montreal.

Booking flights on your earned miles doesn’t have to be a pain. Knowing what you want ahead of time, and what you can do with your points during high-traffic seasons, can help you to have a happy holiday season.