Whether you’re faced with unexpected travel plans or prefer the flexibility of booking closer to departure, booking last-minute flights can be challenging, especially when coping with high flight prices and limited availability.
However, you can maximize your points and miles with the right strategy and perhaps even dodge over-inflated prices. Here’s what you need to know.
If you are stressed, keep it simple
You may be stressed and in a hurry if you’re booking last-minute award flights due to an emergency or other urgent need. In this case, you may want to redeem miles from one of your go-to airline loyalty programs, even if doing so won’t provide the best redemption rate.
Alternatively, Capital One miles can be a great option if prices for paid flights are affordable and you’re looking for a simple redemption. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees) and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees) let you redeem miles for eligible travel purchases at a fixed 1 cent per mile. Just use your Venture or Venture X when booking through your airline and then request a statement credit from Capital One within 90 days to offset the travel expense.
You can also use Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points to book a flight without transferring points. However, you’d need to book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or Citi travel portal to use these currencies. This might not be appealing if you’re already stressed out and would prefer simplicity.
The power of transferable points
Six major transferable point programs offer great flexibility when redeeming rewards. This is why we recommend travelers earn transferable points. Here are the most popular transferable point programs:
Among these six programs, you have more than 40 programs to choose from when transferring your points. This means you won’t be restricted to a single airline’s points or miles, allowing you to transfer points to a program with available flights and reasonable award rates.
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However, it’s important to note that each program has different transfer times for transferring credit card points. Some transfers, like from Ultimate Rewards to United, are instantaneous; others, like Membership Rewards ANA Mileage Club, may take a few days. We’ve compiled guides with the estimated transfer times for each program. To find out when your transfer will likely be completed, refer to the following posts:
Additionally, some airlines tack on added fees for last-minute bookings, making them less attractive when redeeming award tickets in the days or hours before a flight.
Check out our guide to apps and websites that make award redemptions easier, including point.me and seats.aero, if you’re booking a last-minute international award. If you’re booking a last-minute domestic award, here are some of our favorite loyalty programs for last-minute award flights within the U.S.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Air Canada Aeroplan can be an excellent choice if you want to redeem for a United-operated flight.
Aeroplan provides good value, particularly for last-minute bookings and does not impose close-in booking fees on award tickets. Transfers from American Express, Bilt, Capital One and Chase to Aeroplan are generally processed instantly.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways is a top choice for redeeming awards thanks to its distance-based award chart. This often leads to lower rates for flights operated by American and Alaska when booking through British Airways Executive Club than when booking directly with American or Alaska.
British Airways is especially appealing for last-minute redemptions because point transfers from American Express, Bilt, Capital One and Chase generally process instantly.
Delta SkyMiles is a reliable option for booking last-minute award tickets. It’s easy to earn Delta miles by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta. You must pay an excise tax to transfer Membership Rewards points to Delta, but the transfer usually occurs instantly. This means you don’t have to worry about award availability disappearing as you wait for miles to arrive in your account.
Another significant advantage of booking award tickets with Delta is the absence of last-minute ticketing fees. Even if you redeem Delta SkyMiles for a flight on the day of departure, you only need to pay the regular taxes and fees associated with award tickets. However, Delta often increases award rates closer to departure, which can be like a de facto close-in fee.
Southwest and JetBlue
Southwest and JetBlue don’t impose close-in fees for award bookings. However, both airlines have redemption rates linked to ticket prices at a somewhat fixed rate. In some cases, booking a paid fare with a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card might be more beneficial, as you can redeem Capital One miles to offset recent travel expenses.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred instantly to Southwest and JetBlue at a 1:1 ratio if you prefer to pay with points. JetBlue is also an instant transfer partner of American Express and Citi.
Booking last-minute award tickets can be more expensive than planning, especially if you choose the wrong program. However, maximizing your rewards for these types of tickets with fixed-value and transferable-point currencies is still possible.
Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.