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 that 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. 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.
A special note on February's picks
The annual falloff in travel during the winter months is being exacerbated by the slumping economy, resulting in a welcome increase in award availability. So over and above the following specific recommendations, this is an especially good time to cash in miles.
The top five picks for February 2009:
1. New York
With hotel rates driven down by the recession, New York City is uncommonly affordable this winter.
2. Los Angeles Area
With several airports within driving distance of downtown Los Angeles, there are multiple gateways to the area. And this month, frequent flyer program members will have a relatively easy time finding award seats to most of them.
A good indicator of availability is Alaska Airlines' winter award sale, which discounts flights between the airline's Seattle hub and Los Angeles or Long Beach. (Through March 19, members of Alaska's Mileage Plan can redeem 10,000 fewer miles for a coach award or 20,000 fewer miles for a first-class award on those routes.)
In addition, American is promoting Los Angeles as an award hot spot, and United includes Orange County, Burbank, and Los Angeles on its list.
Here's a sun and fun option: Cancun. Known as the Mexican Caribbean, Cancun features 150 hotels, in all price ranges.
United has award seats to Cancun from its Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., hubs.
As was the case last month, award availability is strong to many European destinations, so much that US Airways is discounting Europe coach awards from 50,000 to 35,000 miles, and first- or business-class awards from 80,000 to 60,000 miles. The award discounts are available for travel between January 15 and February 28.
And Virgin Atlantic is discounting award flights to London from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas. Through February 28, coach awards are available for 22,500 miles, half the normal price. And Premium Economy awards are discounted 20 percent.
And lastly, another perennial award favorite: Paris.
American and United both show award availability on flights to Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG).
The City of Light. Bonjour!