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Top Five Award Destinations for January

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 notes on January’s picks

The annual falloff in travel during the fall and winter months is being exacerbated by the slumping economy, resulting in a welcome increase in award availability generally. So over and above the following specific recommendations, this is an especially good time to cash in miles.

The top five picks for January 2009:

1. Austin

Austin is more than the capital of Texas.

Austin was among Money magazine’s “Best Places to Live” in 2006, and MSN’s choice as the “Greenest City in America.” It’s home to the University of Texas. And it lives up to its own slogan as “The Live Music Capital of the World.”

Jazz, rock, folk, blues, country—Austin’s got ’em all. And United has award seats to Austin.

2. Hawaii

As one of the world’s most heralded travel destinations, Hawaii needs no introduction. But in these tough economic times, even flights to Hawaii are flying light.

So light, in fact, that through February 8, Northwest is offering 3,000 bonus miles for flights between Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle and Honolulu, Kona, Maui, or Lihue.

If Northwest’s flights are languishing, other airlines’ are, too. So award seats should be readily available. Aloha!

3. Los Angeles Area

With several airports within driving distance of downtown Los Angeles, there are multiple gateways to the area. And frequent flyer program members will have a relatively easy time finding award seats to most of them.

A good indicator of that availability is Alaska Airlines’ winter award sale, which discounts flights between the airline’s Seattle hub and Los Angeles or Long Beach. (Between January 6 and 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.)

American is promoting Burbank as an award hot spot, and United includes Orange County, Burbank, and Los Angeles on its list.

4. Europe

So available are award seats to many European destinations 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.

5. London

And lastly, another perennial award favorite: London.

American and United both show award availability to London.

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.

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