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Top five award destinations for May

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 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 May 2008:

1. Chicago, IL

The Windy City in winter? Too cold. And during the summer months, Chicago is too hot. But springtime in Chicago is just right.

Both American and United have award seats available for Chicago flights.

2. Cleveland, OH

Thanks to Continental, flights to and from Cleveland are good prospects for award travel this spring.

Continental recently expanded its presence at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and has put a slew of double-mile promotions in effect to help spur sales.

General rule: If airlines are offering bonus miles to fill flights to a particular destination, there are very likely to be seats available for frequent flyer awards. And if one carrier is having trouble filling seats to that destination, other carriers are almost certain to be similarly challenged.

3. London, England

It will be tough to book a flight to London this summer. But for now, there’s more supply than demand, making it a buyers’ market. Northwest is offering bonus miles to fill some of its London flights, as is American. And United shows award availability to Heathrow from its Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., hubs

So take advantage of the current weak demand to use miles for a free trip to one of the world’s great cities. The window of opportunity closes soon.

4. San Jose, Costa Rica

For something a little different, consider redeeming miles for a visit to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, the country known as the Switzerland of Latin America for its peaceful ways and high standard of living.

A third of the country’s population resides in the greater Costa Rica metro area, one of the most cultured and cosmopolitan in the region. And outside the city, ecotourism flourishes.

American is featuring San Jose on its hot list for May.

5. Papeete, Tahiti

And finally, for something truly exotic, we re-recommend a discounted award to the South Pacific.

Through May 31, members of American’s AAdvantage program can redeem 30,000 miles (rather than the 75,000 normally required) for a round-trip coach flight between New York and Papeete, Tahiti, on Air Tahiti Nui. That’s exceptional value.

There’s one drawback to this offer: The 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 flight at New York’s Kennedy Airport, this would be a deal worth serious consideration.

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