Wondering where to go with all those frequent flyer miles? If you know where to look, the airlines will help you choose flights with plenty of seats available 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 that are good prospects for would-be award travelers. They do this both by listing destinations with plenty of empty seats (hot spots) and by discounting award flights to lower-demand destinations.
Some of these flights are running just half-full for good reason: they're dogs. Winnipeg in February? 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.
(While not all airlines currently offer hot-spot lists, the suggestions of those that do should be a fairly good proxy for award availability on other airlines.)
The top five picks for April 2008:
1. San Diego, CA
Consistently one of America's favorite cities, San Diego boasts sun and surf in equal measure. Mexico is a stone's throw away. And there's desert within easy driving distance as well.
American has award seats available for mileage redeemers.
2. Washington, D.C.
The springtime weather is ideal for getting out and seeing the museums and monuments of the nation's capital. The annual cherry blossom festival is in full bloom. And you'll avoid the crush of summertime crowds.
Washington, D.C., is on the hot lists of both American and United.
3. Wichita, KS
In addition to predictably popular destinations, I try to feature at least one less-obvious city for award travel. This month's recommendation: Wichita, Kansas.
According to its Wikipedia profile, Wichita is the country's 50th largest city, with a population of approximately 360,000. It's the self-described Air Capital of the World, on the strength of hosting manufacturing facilities for six major aircraft companies.
In its early, turbulent years, it took no less a lawman than Wyatt Earp to keep the peace in wild Wichita. And more recently it was the birthplace of both the Pizza Hut and White Castle restaurant chains.
The city has a vibrant center with restaurants, galleries, and museums. And the sports-minded can catch a baseball game featuring the city's new team, the Wichita Wingnuts.
You won't have any trouble finding award seats on United, which reports availability through its Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles hubs.
4. London, England
London remains one of the top choices for award travel, and for good reason. Whether your taste is for the historical or the cutting edge in culture, London has you covered.
United has available award seats from multiple U.S. hub airports, including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
5. Papeete, Tahiti
Got American AAdvantage miles? Through May 31, you can redeem 30,000 miles (rather than the 75,000 normally required) for a round-trip coach flight between New York (JFK) and Papeete, Tahiti, on Air Tahiti Nui.
Note that the discounted 30,000-mile award does not include a connecting flight to New York. But even if you had to purchase a cheap ticket from your hometown airport to connect with an Air Tahiti Nui flight at New York's Kennedy Airport, this would be a deal worth serious consideration.