The Top Five Award Destinations for September

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.

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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 September, 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 its fees for award tickets booked within 21 days.

The top five picks for September:

1. Albuquerque

Travelers can approach Albuquerque in either of two ways: as a destination in its own right, or as a base for excursions to other New Mexico destinations like Taos, Santa Fe, Roswell, or Las Cruces.

The city itself reflects the state's deep and diverse cultural influences, ranging from Spanish to Mexican to Native American. The downtown dress code embraces cowboy boots and Stetsons alongside Brooks Brothers suits. Jewelry tends toward silver and turquoise designs tracing their roots back to Zuni and Navajo craftsmen. And whether the restaurant is Italian, Japanese, or Mexican, the locals find sly ways to incorporate chiles into almost every dish. Yes, dessert included.

Both American and United feature award seats to Albuquerque during September.

2. Denver

Denver's elevation is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, so the Mile-High City moniker is both appropriate and technically correct. (The city, incidentally, has at least two other unofficial nicknames: Queen City of the Plains, and Wall Street of the West.)

And fall is a great time to visit—not too hot and not too cold.

Fun fact: Denver's airport, usually referred to as DIA (for Denver International Airport), covers 53 square miles, making it the country's largest airport, area-wise.

Award seats to Denver? Both American and United have them.

3. Canada

Next up: our neighbor to the north, Canada.

For September, United is featuring Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ontario, Ottawa, Regina, Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg.

With award travel readily available to so many Canadian cities, travelers should be singing "O Canada!"

4. Mexico

As I 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 September, American lists Cancun among its recommended award destinations, and United is featuring Cabo, Cancun, Mexico City, and Puerto Vallarta.

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, through the end of October.

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.

5. London

Underscoring the severity of the travel slump, London—historically among the most popular award destinations—is still featured as an award destination by both American and United, making this a jolly good time for a London pub crawl.

Along with award seats, fall showers are in the forecast, so don't forget to pack the mac and the brolly.

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