How do I efficiently use frequent flier miles when the travel date is flexible?
July 4, 2007 7:44 AM   Subscribe

If you can be flexible on when you travel, how do you find future travel dates available for minimum frequent flier mile usage? I have lots of ff miles on NW Airlines. I'd like to take a trip or two. But it seems the only way to book them is to start with the dates and places you want to go, and see if something is available. Usually, all that's available requires double miles. What I'd like to do is provide departure and destination points and get back a calendar showing available dates of travel using x amount of miles. So, for example, I could put in travel from Chicago to Rome and back, and find future dates when this is currently doable for 50,000 miles, etc. Any ideas? Thank you.

I should note: In the past, having given up on line, I've called NW...and they seem to be doing the same thing, that is, "Let's try this date.... Let's try that date", instead of saying "You could do this on November 13, December 22,...: etc.
posted by rabbus to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:50 AM on July 4, 2007

What I'd like to do is provide departure and destination points and get back a calendar showing available dates of travel using x amount of miles.

Some airlines (such as Delta and American) provide exactly that. AA has a pretty snazzy new interface for this. Northwest chooses not to. This is something to consider when making future travel plans, if you have control over that.

You could also try paying for ExpertFlyer, which can search for Northwest coach award availability seven days at a time. It will probably return results much more quickly than Northwest does as well.
posted by grouse at 7:53 AM on July 4, 2007

On posting: I'm not sure how that helps answer the question, thinkingwoman.
posted by grouse at 7:55 AM on July 4, 2007

posted by mdonley at 8:00 AM on July 4, 2007

You want the search provided by ITA Software. (thanks to whatzit). Log in as guest, then go to the top and choose Weekend Search or Month-Long Search. The latter will show you all the prices for what you want within a 30-day period, while the former does the same thing but only looks at weekends. It includes several airlines, but NW is among them, and once you get your results you can just uncheck all the other carriers to see cheapest options on NW.
posted by Partial Law at 8:09 AM on July 4, 2007

Partial Law: That doesn't appear to have anything to do with frequent flier miles.
posted by grouse at 8:11 AM on July 4, 2007

(note: I'm making the assumption that cheaper flights are less likely to require double FF miles, but I have no basis for that belief other than that it seems reasonable, which often means nothing in the world of airline behavior.)
posted by Partial Law at 8:12 AM on July 4, 2007

Partial Law: That's not a good assumption. Airlines use different strategies to set fares, revenue availability, and award availability. For example, it's not uncommon to find that cheapie awards are available tomorrow for an international journey, but as you probably know, that's when revenue tickets cost the most. Similarly, the farther out you go into the future, the more likely award seats will be available, but it will also cost more for a cash ticket than some time in the middle.

I assure you their strategies are reasonable in maximizing profit through price discrimination, but that doesn't meant that it is always immediately understandable to you.
posted by grouse at 8:31 AM on July 4, 2007

Well, since Delta is a Skyteam partner, you could possibly use the search function on as grouse suggests. Per the NWA website you would then be able to book a Delta award flight directly on

To use the flexible search on, though, it seems to require a login (which I didn't have so I couldn't check it out for you).
posted by cabingirl at 10:39 AM on July 4, 2007

Oh, and playing around on NWA, if you are doing a US-only award flight, it will give you a calendar in your search results to show when the lowest-miles fares are available. All I had to do was search for one and the calendar popped up. Of course, you'd be limited to US flights then.
posted by cabingirl at 10:56 AM on July 4, 2007

I have no idea how NWA does it's inventory management, but is it possible to waitlist for an award? With United it's possible to call up and give dates and ask to waitlist; if something opens up, you'll be contacted to complete the booking.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:38 PM on July 4, 2007

This is something that Actually Calling the Airline might be very useful for. The call-in people seem to have some sort of magic that they don't offer on the computer, and so they may be more aware of what is available and cheap.
posted by that girl at 6:01 AM on July 5, 2007

I nth Actually Calling the Airline.

When trying to redeem my NWA miles, I got nothing online that didn't require 125k per ticket. I called and spent a bazillion years on the phone with an agent and ended up getting seats on the dates I wanted at only 25k per flight.

However, it took them FOREVER, and at no time on my trip did I fly on an NWA plane. Comair, Midwest Express and Continental.

The agent I talked to also told me that the availibility changes constantly, so if there are no 25k seats on Monday, there may be some the following Monday. I didn't attempt to wrap my brain around this crazy arline logic.

FYI - dealing with the agent on the phone took far more time than I wanted to spend, and I had to pay a Deal With A Human fee.
posted by Sheppagus at 8:19 AM on July 5, 2007

The poster did Actually Call the Airline, BTW. I'm very frustrated by NWA in this regard, too, trying to book a flight recently on miles and basically giving up. If you find anything out please do let me (us) know.
posted by tristeza at 7:57 PM on July 6, 2007

This might be a stupid question but did you call NW once or more times?
I've had this crazy experience:
Called once: "I'd like a FF ticket to X from Y (not NW but partner airline flew there) sometime in the 1st week of April, coming back 2 weeks later" "Alright, one second... howabout this day and this day?" I told them that I'd think about it and call back since I had to make sure it would work.
Called second time (~5 days later): Said the same thing. They reply, "Are you serious?! We have NO FF flights for the whole month of April. The person you talked to before must have been crazy."
Called third time (1 day later): Same thing again and I got the exact same response as the first time: they had several available days and were able to help me within a broad range.
Sorry for the anecdote but I just want to reiterate to all that for me calling did work and that maybe you have to try several times... though it makes no sense to me why it should be like that.
posted by shokod at 4:13 AM on July 7, 2007

You could call several times a day to check for availability changes if you wanted to. But I think ExpertFlyer would be much less frustrating.
posted by grouse at 6:06 PM on July 7, 2007

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