One of the worst feelings (when it comes to award travel booking) is to wake up one morning and realize that the last day to book certain awards at a lower rate was yesterday. Yes, I have had that happen to me before and it is not a good feeling at all! In fact, there have been sometimes that I have fallen asleep on the couch with every intent to finish a booking I was eyeing – only to wake long after midnight not having completed my planned booking. That is one good thing about currently living 6/7 hours ahead of EST – I can actually wake up in the morning now and still get the bookings in before midnight in the US!
But, we have two of those days coming up and they will be here before you know it! Make sure you are ready and have your bookings done before they come! The good news is that one of these days will actually bring some pretty enjoyable awards.
Two Big Days Coming For Award Travel
The first notable day is March 30th. This day is important for two different airlines, one facing devaluation the other losing many of its partners for its best awards.
March 30th marks the last day that Southwest’s Rapid Reward awards can be booked at the current award level. Currently, you need 60 points per dollar for award tickets. After March 30th, you will need 70 points per dollar. While these are fixed rates for redemption, they are actually worth a bit more than the Southwest awards would dictate (which is 1.67 cents per point now and will be 1.4 cents per point later). That is because that the award rate is based on the base fare, but the taxes are included in what is covered by the points (with the exception of the $2.50 segment charge). So, at present, the current 50,000 point bonus for the Southwest credit card will give you between $833 – $950 in award redemptions. After March 31, that number will be in the $700s.
One of the great things about the Southwest award program is that you can cancel awards at anytime (up to 10 minutes before take-off) and get the points put back in your account – with no fee! (This also works for paid tickets, but the money goes into your Southwest account as credit towards a future flight.) This means that you are better off using your points now for any anticipated travel you may have on Southwest through their current schedule (which is currently bookable through October 31). If you change your mind later, you can always cancel at no penalty and have your points to use for other travel. However, if you book after March 30, you will be forced to redeem your points the higher level (which will then be the current level). If you do not have enough points for that award, remember that you can transfer Ultimate Reward points over and they transfer instantly. This way, you are ready to go and can book right away. Remember – flights must be booked by March 31st to get the lower, current award rate but you do not have to fly those flights before that date.
March 30th also marks the last day that US Airways will be in the Star Alliance. This means that if you want to book any award tickets with your US Airway miles on most Star Alliance carriers (some carriers will remain as partners with US Airways for a while), it needs to be done no later than March 30th. After that, any awards already booked on Star Alliance carriers will be honored and able to be flown as ticketed. But, if you make any changes, the new flights will have to be on Oneworld airlines (or US Airways partners).
Get those tickets going now! US Airways allows you to hold tickets for 72 hours before actually ticketing them, so you can call tomorrow to put together an itinerary (you must call to book partner flights) and not have to actually ticket it until Monday! I would not wait until the last minute to do this as I have had some situations where I had wait, call back, wait, call back and you do not want to slip into the 31st without having booked your ticket!
Some of the tickets you may want to book on or before March 30th are flights to Europe (as there are far more options with Star Alliance partners and fewer taxes and fees), flights to South Africa (awards are 10,000 fewer miles in both economy and business than the lowest awards by other carriers) so you do not have to book on British Airways, and awards like the 90,000 business class to North Asia through Europe. Another reason to begin the booking process now is that US Airways is still blocking award space for Lufthansa on most days and you may have to check multiple flights/dates for travel before you find a date that actually has availability with US Airways (for example, you can check on United and book almost anything you see there with US Airways – except Lufthansa). Remember – flights on Star Alliance airlines must be booked on or before March 30th but you do not have to fly them before that date.
March 31st is another important award date but is not necessarily a bad one. This is the day that US Airways will officially join the Oneworld Alliance. This means that you will have access to all Oneworld airlines to book with your US Airways miles. This can be huge for things like travel to North Asia in business on airlines like Cathay Pacific. If US Airways retains their current award chart for a while (which it is being reported that they will), you will still be able to book those North Asia business class tickets at 90,000 – which is 10,000 fewer miles than American Airlines requires.
You will not need to book your flights right away on March 31st for travel on Oneworld airlines, but it is a good time to start searching for award availability as many people will be snapping up awards in the US Airways sweet spots. One of the best things that will happen is that short-haul US Airways flights can be booked with British Airways Avios for only 4,500 Avios one-way (in contrast to US Airways requiring 25,000 for round-trip on those same routes). I am really looking forward to this as it opens up airports like Philadelphia and Reagan National for only 9,000 Avios from my home airport. The only problem is that I have found that US Airways does not release as many award seats to their hub airports as American Airlines does. So, you may need to get booking on any planned short-haul flights after they become bookable on British Airways. For more information, see this post.
So, what are your award travel plans for the March 30/31 days? I have some that I will be ready to jump on (and hoping that I will not need to make any changes to my current US Airways 90,000 mile business ticket).