Travelling can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. With some flexibility and insider knowledge, you can snag a great deal on a last-minute flight with points. Indeed, while the mantra has always been to buy as early as possible when you want to use points, you may have an unexpected trip coming up or be starting the game just now.
Here are some tips to help you find a cheap last-minute flight with points, even if you’re booking at the eleventh hour.
Cheap Last-Minute Flights with Points - Powerful transferable points
Transferable points are the most valuable currency you can—and should—earn. These versatile points give incredible options when it comes to booking cheap last-minute flights with points (and/or accommodation):
With those four programs, you can access over 40 different airlines, including the major players in Canada, such as Aeroplan, Avios, Flying Blue, etc. With American Express Membership Rewards, you can transfer to Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors in addition to using them as Travel Rewards, giving you a choice for redemption for accommodation whether you are a big chain loyalist or an Airbnb type of traveller.
If you are looking for cheap last-minute flights with points, they are also very simple to earn in Canada with credit card sign-up bonuses or with organic spending. For example, you accumulate 5X per dollar with the American Express Cobalt® Card for groceries and dining; when you combine that with a gift card strategy, you can easily get 5X on many categories. As for filling up your balance quickly, The Platinum Card® and the American Express® Gold Rewards Card can do the job.
Before we dig into examples and strategies, last-minute means within two weeks. When you are between a month and 6 months before departure, the points approach will be different and vary depending on your destination and dates. As per my experience, when booking in that window, you should mostly rely on Travel Rewards since valuations will not always be reasonable in economy and availability in business class might be scarce.
Cheap Last-Minute Flights With Points - Flexibility Is Key
The more flexible you are with your travel plans, the more likely you are to catch a great deal. Consider departing at odd hours or taking a layover if it means saving points, as direct daytime flights might be more coveted. You could also fly to an airport farther from your destination if it’s significantly cheaper. By exploring all your options, you give yourself the highest chance of finding an affordable flight.
Indeed, if you are looking to find reasonable points fare to Europe, try to play on your dates and on your entry point. While you may want to eat your way through Italy, the best gateway for cheap last-minute flights with points might be London with Avios on off-peak dates. Therefore, you must employ some creativity in your routing by pairing that with a low-cost carrier to Rome by checking surrounding airports.
Similarly, you may desire to explore Europe, but there is nothing affordable; in that case, be open to looking at South America! The world is a big place, and if you can’t travel to Italy this year, there will be other occasions to go. Doing so allows you to redeem your points at their best value later instead of emptying your points bank on an expensive flight just because you don’t want to budge from your destination. If you are set on a place and don’t want to change, you either have to start planning early to get a reasonable price or be ready to use a lot of points.
Cheap Last-Minute Flights With Points - Aeroplan
I’ve noticed that there are always options with Aeroplan when looking at cheap last-minute flights with points. Air Canada has a dynamic point structure; therefore, their system will evaluate the plane loads closer to the date and bring the price down accordingly.
Indeed, when you search a year out for fares to Japan from Montreal, you will see that they are way more expensive than the usual 45K for that itinerary. That is because the Air Canada algorithm prices it as is since it is a popular route for that time (sakura season), and they are confident it will sell even if the aircraft is entirely empty since we are very much in advance.
But when you look for cheap last-minute flights with points to Tokyo for the same season, you can find prices closer to the 45K mark.
With Aeroplan, partner airlines will also work similarly: they release a limited number of award seats far in advance, but closer to the date, they will open more of them depending on their loads. United Airlines usually releases more seats within a month, while Swiss and Lufthansa seem to have a T-14 pattern, to name a few partner airlines.
Swiss and Lufthansa are also great airlines for cheap last-minute flights with points in business class! As for the first class with Lufthansa, while I’ve seen some within 2 weeks, it is sometimes on the day of departure!
The trick to get those flights without having to wait at the last minute to book and plan your trip is to book another acceptable flight and consider a change fee to either upgrade or land on a partner airline that was initially unavailable; if the new flight is cheaper, which is usually the case with partner airlines, you will be refunded the points difference.
So, paying a change fee can be worth it, depending on what is available closer to your date. Also, schedule changes are a blessing! You can wait until this window and obtain better or more affordable flights without paying a fee!
Cheap Last-Minute Flights With Points - Avios
Because of its distance-based award chart, British Airways Executive Club is great for cheap last-minute flights with points. This chart frequently provides better rates for partner flights than booking directly with said partners. Furthermore, booking at the last minute is even more advantageous because the program does not charge any fees for these awards.
For example, here is the result of a flight between Tokyo and Osaka for a mere 7500 Avios while taking the train costs over $150, and Aeroplan is also more expensive in terms of points and taxes.
British Airways Executive Club has partnered with four major transferable programs in Canada, namely Membership Rewards, RBC Avion Rewards, HSBC Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy, to increase its appeal for last-minute bookings. There are also recurrent bonus promotions transfers going on, so look out for them.
To find cheap last-minute flights with points to Europe is also possible with them at 50,000 Avios and $200 in taxes, but you need to locate availability on their off-peak dates. Whether or not they can be found so close to your travel date is a gamble if you are travelling when demand is higher such as in summer and during the holidays.
Cheap Last-Minute Flights With Points - Other tips
One of the easiest ways to save on a flight is to travel on days when demand is lower, especially when looking for a cheap last-minute flight with points as award space could be long gone. This means avoiding weekends and holidays when everyone else is trying to escape. Extending your trip by a day or two can often find significant savings. For example, flying back from Spring Break on the Tuesday after instead of Sunday could save you a lot of points.
If you’re booking a last-minute flight with points, you may not have the luxury of choosing the most convenient departure time. However, some companies allow you to change your flight for a fee if space is available on a plane on the same day as a standby passenger on an earlier flight.
Also, many airlines offer bereavement fares. If that applies to your situation, call customer service to inquire and book. Afterwards, you can apply Travel Rewards on that flight.
Finally, even if you are travelling with others, it is a good idea to search for one because there may only be one ticket left at that price when you are at the last minute (for example, only one seat open on the partner airline). If the inventory cannot cover the entire party, the result will not appear if you enter more people in your search. If there is only one seat available at that price and you are going with a companion, you may need to split reservations and flights.
Travelling separately (with dates and airlines via mix-and-match programmes) may be the solution to finding cheap last-minute flights on points.
Finding cheap last-minute flights with points takes some effort, but it’s worth it. By being flexible and exploring all your options, you can save significant money on your next trip. Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, a little bit of extra cash and points in your pocket is always good.