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New Flights Are Good for Frequent Flyer Awards

Travelers packing up convertible
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 10, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, frequent flyer, mileage earning, mileage redemption, offbeat travel, Tim Winship.

Having trouble cashing in those hard-earned frequent flyer miles?

There are a handful of proven strategies for snagging one of the elusive few seats that airlines make available for award travelers. But they're hardly cure-alls for the persistent (and infuriating) problem of scarce award availability.

So let's add to the list a less-familiar redemption strategy that is as reliable as it is simple. But it does require flexibility on the traveler's part.

We'll call it the start-up gambit. And stipulate that it calls for a zen-like attitude toward choosing one's travel destinations.

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Airlines are forever tinkering with their flight networks. When they add new routes, or expand an existing route with increased flights or larger aircraft, it creates a temporary oversupply situation: In the start-up phase, airlines have more seats than they can sell. That's why airlines offer aggressively discounted "introductory rates" and uncommonly generous bonus miles—to prime the sales pump.

While those relatively empty planes are a problem for the airlines, they represent a welcome opportunity for frequent flyer program members with miles to burn. Because seats are going unsold, airlines are happy to make them available for booking as awards.

It's a win-win. Frequent flyers get a chance to use their miles. And the airlines maintain their customers' loyalty without incurring the cost of displacing a revenue passenger with an award traveler.

As alluded to earlier, playing the start-up card requires an opportunistic approach to traveling. Just because your favorite airline has launched new flights to Ulaanbaatar, Outer Mongolia, doesn't mean you want to go there, no matter how readily available award seats may be.

But it's always worth remembering that every destination has its particular virtues. And sometimes, the most enduring travel memories are from trips taken off the beaten path.

Also worth remembering, is my monthly Top Five Award Destinations story, where I suggest destinations, both popular and offbeat, that are particularly good prospects for award travel.

Have you used the start-up gambit? Where did you go? Was it a good use of your frequent flyer miles? Let us know in the Reader Comments section below.

 
 
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