The Delta SkyMiles program moved away from fixed award charts several years ago, and it appears most of the other major U.S. players are following suit. The United MileagePlus program announced it would move away from fixed awards earlier this year, for example, and so did Air France/Flying Blue in 2018. Some industry insiders are saying that the American AAdvantage program is next, although there’s no formal announcement quite yet.
This isn’t to say you can’t get a ton of value for your miles with dynamic award pricing. You absolutely can if you’re flexible with your travel dates and willing to consider different destinations. Unfortunately, the loss of fixed award charts means that, in many cases, you won’t know how many miles you’ll need for a specific award until you are ready to book.
This can be a big problem if you’re trying to earn miles for a specific trip and can’t really deviate from your plans — or if you’re earning miles over an extremely long timeline. Without a fixed award chart, it’s difficult to plan ahead or create a strategy to earn the miles you need.
How to beat dynamic award pricing
But what’s a frequent flyer to do? Like it or not, dynamic award pricing is here to stay. All any of us can do is look for ways to get the most out of our airline miles in some way, shape, or form. And really, there are plenty of workarounds that can help you get extreme value from your miles — regardless of whether there’s an award chart or not. Here are your best strategies to consider.
Earn a ton of airline miles
Whether your favorite airline offers fixed award charts or dynamic pricing, you’ll always be better off if you have more miles to burn. That’s why you should look for ways to earn more miles over time, via flying or through other means. Having more miles can be an insurance policy if you find that, at the last minute, a flight you wanted to book went up in miles overnight.
There are many ways to earn more airline miles, and most of them don’t even require you to board an airplane. For example, you could:
- Pick up an airline credit card that lets you earn miles for each dollar you spend.
- Look for ways to cover more bills and regular expenses with your airline credit card.
- Use airline shopping portals for all your online purchases.
- Join airline dining clubs so you’re rewarded with miles when you dine out at participating restaurants.
In addition to these strategies, there’s one tried and true method that can easily yield a lot of airline miles in a hurry. Consider signing up for new travel credit cards with the goal of scoring a big sign-up bonus. Many co-branded cards will give you 50,000 miles and sometimes more if you can spend a few thousand dollars on your card within months of applying. Just make sure to pay your balance in full each month so you’re never, ever paying interest on your purchases. (See also: How to Maximize Rewards Through Credit Card Shopping Portals)
Focus on award sales and deals
Next up, it always makes sense to look for ways to stretch your miles. Some airlines, like Southwest, have frequent and ongoing sales that can let you book flights for fewer miles than normal, for example. All you have to do is keep your eye out so you can strike while the iron is hot.
Other airlines like Delta Air Lines and Air France have their own “deals pages” that clue frequent flyers into their current list of specials. With Delta SkyMiles deals, for example, you can frequently find round-trip international flights from specific airports to faraway destinations for as little as 14,000 miles plus taxes and fees. The catch is, you have to be willing to book right away, because these deals rarely last more than a week.
Also, note that airfare “deals” are usually only from select airports and for a specific range of dates. With that in mind, you’ll be in the best position to take advantage if you have some flexibility in your travel plans.
Rack up flexible travel points
Finally, there are so many reasons it can make sense to focus on flexible travel points. Not only can you book travel directly through a portal with flexible points, but these programs let you transfer points to airlines and hotels.
Having a huge stash of flexible points can help you ward off the negative effects of dynamic award pricing in a few ways. First, you can shop around among frequent flyer programs to see how many miles you’ll need for the flight you want before you transfer them over. This lets you compare multiple airlines and go with the one charging the least number of miles.
Flexible currencies also let you book airfare direct with any airline, which can be a good last option if you’re not finding the award availability you want. Some cards even offer a discount if you go this route.
The bottom line
Don’t let dynamic award pricing ruin your travel dreams. There are plenty of ways to maximize your miles with or without an award chart, and you can always focus on earning more miles just in case.