Wondering where to go with all those frequent flyer miles? If you know where to look, the airlines will help you choose flights with seats readily accessible to mileage program members.
In response to the outcry from mileage collectors frustrated by the lack of available award seats, the airlines are attempting to steer program members in the direction of flights which are good prospects for would-be award travelers, both by listing destinations with plenty of empty seats (hot spots) and occasionally discounting award flights to lower-demand destinations.
Some of these flights are running just half-full for good reason: They're dogs. Nassau during hurricane season? Thanks, but no thanks.
But among the throwaways are some real gems. Following are five award destinations the airlines are promoting for the coming month that merit special attention and are well worth your miles.
Note - If you haven't already booked an award trip for August, there's no longer any reason to let the prospect of exorbitant fees deter you, at least if you're a Mileage Plus member. United has eliminated their fees for award tickets booked within 21 days.
The top five picks for August 2009:
1. Colorado Springs
Think of the city of Colorado Springs as a smaller, friendlier version of Denver, 60 miles to the north.
Situated at the eastern edge of the Rockies, the city features mountain vistas, including postcard views of iconic Pikes Peak. It's an outdoorsy sorta place, especially beloved by bikers and hikers. In the past few years, the Springs, as it's known locally, has been judged the best place to live by both Money and Outside magazines.
2. Corpus Christi
The Gulf Coast city of Corpus Christi is a singular mix: the military (army and navy bases, including the world's largest helicopter repair facility), a sprawling Hispanic community, Big Oil, cowboys, and surfers. It's what you get when you combine equal parts Texas and beach cultures.
Fun fact: Although it no longer does so, Corpus Christi was the first major U.S. city to offer WiFi Internet access city wide.
Award seats? American has them.
While Nashville is Tennessee's capital, it's better known as the address of the Grand Ole Opry, and, more generally, as the home of country music.
Music-related attractions include the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Belcourt Theatre, Ryman Auditorium, and the Grand Ole Opry House. Be sure to augment your music tour with visits to a few of the city's many bars and clubs, where tomorrow's country music stars are paying their dues.
If you have the miles, both American and United have the award seats.
As I've suggested in another blog entry, Mexico's continuing drug-related violence makes travel to the country a calculated risk. But that risk also makes it a terrific potential value.
While the airlines have cut back on their Mexico flights to compensate for the decrease in demand, they still have plenty of empty seats. For August, United shows award seats available to Cabo, Cancun, Mexico City, and Puerto Vallarta. And American has award seats to Cabo and Monterry.
And in yet another sign of the falloff in travel to Mexico, Alaska Airlines is offering a 10,000-mile discount on award flights between three California cities and seven Mexico destinations.
Great rates for hotel rooms are as plentiful as award seats, so there's never been a better time to enjoy Mexico for poquito pesos.
Underscoring the severity of the travel slump, London—historically among the most popular award destinations—remains a featured award destination.
These are bad times for the airlines, indubitably. But it's a jolly good time for a London pub crawl.
American lists London on its August hot list, which suggests that other airlines will have award seats as well.