Free Flights? Best Time to Use Southwest or JetBlue Points

One of the hot topics in the travel universe is holiday airfares: Will ticket prices increase or decrease as we get closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas?

For members of most airline loyalty programs planning to burn miles for holiday travel, the question is moot. An award trip to New York or San Francisco will cost 25,000 miles, whether it's booked today, next week, or next month.

Unlike the prices of paid tickets, which rise and fall according to supply and demand, award prices are typically fixed.

To fly for fewer miles, members of traditional mileage-based programs must wait for award sales. But sales such as American's discount on award flights to Japan are few, far between, and limited in scope.

That's only part of the picture, however, and shouldn't deflect attention away from the operations of another group of airline programs that feature a wholly different system for awarding points and pricing awards.

With revenue-based programs—like those of Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America—award ticket prices are directly linked to the prices of comparable paid tickets. In other words, when paid tickets are on sale, so are award tickets.

Southwest's latest online booking app makes it easy to see the relationship between paid tickets and award tickets, allowing travelers to toggle back and forth between the price in dollars and the price in points for any given flight. And the Low Fare Calendar feature provides a month-at-a-glance view of price changes, day by day, flight by flight.

During November, for example, the price of a Wanna Get Away ticket between Los Angeles and Phoenix ranged from $59 and $180, or 3,540 to 10,800 points, depending on the day of the week and the time of day.

For better or for worse, then, members of the programs of Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America stand to gain (or lose) as ticket prices rise and fall.

So to get the best value for your points in the programs of Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America, book award trips when those airlines are having airfare sales. When paying customers save, you do too.

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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