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Save miles or money and unlock better availability with positioning flights

If you’re looking to fly to a particular destination, searching for flights from your nearest airport to your destination is natural. However, you may be paying more than you should by doing so.

Savvy travelers often save points and cash by booking positioning flights. I frequently book positioning flights for my own travel. For example, last year, I booked a flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Bengaluru Airport (BLR) in India on a $950 round-trip British Airways premium economy ticket; the fare will earn me more than 46,000 American Airlines Loyalty Points toward American elite status.

However, I didn’t have plans to be in Los Angeles. So, I booked a positioning flight to the city before this inexpensive premium economy fare. I plan to start another trip from Los Angeles once I return from India.

The fare — and its American Airlines elite earnings — was just too good to pass up. My positioning flight was an 8,000-mile and $6 American Airlines flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to Los Angeles; it carried minimal cost, especially compared to my British Airways fare earnings.

Here’s a quick look at how and when to use positioning flights when planning a future trip.

Unlock better award pricing and availability


Positioning flights aren’t only useful for paid fares. They can also let you unlock better award pricing and availability.

For example, let’s assume you want to fly to Hawaii from 13,000 Avios each way or to Ireland from 13,000 Avios each way. These Avios sweet spots require you to depart from select airports (on the West Coast for Hawaii and East Coast for Ireland) for the best pricing. If you don’t live near eligible airports, you can still take advantage of these sweet spots by booking positioning flights to East Coast or West Coast gateways. You don’t want to miss out on a great redemption option just because you don’t live near an airport that the airline operates from.

Related: Strategies for booking great award tickets from non-hub airports

Or, perhaps you want to book a discounted Flying Blue Promo Reward, but your home airport in the U.S. isn’t on the list. You may want to book a positioning flight before or after your Flying Blue award to use the Promo Reward pricing.

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You may also discover better award availability when searching for other arrival or destination airports. If you can’t find anything from New York-area airports, try airports in Boston or Washington, D.C., for potentially more options.

For example, if you’re looking to snag Qatar Qsuite award availability, you’ll want to search for awards from all of Qatar’s U.S. gateways — not just the one closest to your home airport. In theory, you could connect domestically to one of Qatar’s U.S. gateways via a Oneworld partner, but availability might not appear for your domestic leg. So, you may need to book a positioning flight on a separate ticket.

Related: What I value most when picking award flights

What to know about booking positioning flights


I often redeem miles for positioning flights, especially when I can redeem a modest number of American Airlines miles, Southwest Airlines points or Delta Air Lines SkyMiles for a trip. However, it’s also worth checking cash rates.

You should also consider whether the complexity you add by booking multiple tickets is worth the gain. After all, canceling or changing multiple tickets can be time-consuming and expensive.

Finally, consider that there’s some risk in booking separate positioning tickets. If your positioning flight is late and you miss your onward flight, the carrier may not be sympathetic since, in its eyes, you missed the first flight of the itinerary.

Likewise, if one carrier changes your flight schedule and now your connection is too short, you may not get rebooked to an earlier flight unless the change is more than a few hours. I usually leave myself an overnight of at least 12 hours (ideally more than 24 hours) between tickets to minimize the chances of missing my flight.

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