Happily booking a "Standard" airline award ticket

An American Airlnes A330 heads back to Charlotte from Heathrow

I like to think I’m pretty good when it comes to travel points. In 18ish years of playing this game I can think of exactly prior one instance where I redeemed a “rule-buster” award rather than the cheaper, saver level (though there may have been others; I just don’t remember any of them). This week I did it again and I have no regrets about that decision.

At the end of August I’m joining my wife on a west coast tour (come join if we’re near where you live!) promoting her new book (it is amazing; you’ll love it; go pre-order now!) and our schedule is relatively inflexible. We need to get home from Seattle eventually and the selection of decent flights available for such are limited.

That's a lot of flights to choose from, but the fares aren't great and neither are most of the schedules.
That’s a lot of flights to choose from, but the fares aren’t great and neither are most of the schedules.

Oh, and I hate domestic redeye flights unless there is no other viable option so that cuts out something like half the options on offer. Midcon domestic redeyes are simply not an option.

Drop the redeye flights and options dwindle
Drop the redeye flights and options dwindle

Kill the flights arriving in New York after midnight and those departing before 6:30am and a bunch more drop off the list. But I’m willing to pay real cash to not wake up at stupid o’clock so I’m also willing to pay points for the same.

Turns out I dislike a 3-5a wakte-up call to head to the airport. I'm willing to pay (a little bit) for that luxury
Turns out I dislike a 3-5a wakte-up call to head to the airport. I’m willing to pay (a little bit) for that luxury

At that point the cost differential for a nonstop – saving 3+ hours – is under $50. That’s a no brainer to me.

Ultimately, these are the flights worth considering
Ultimately, these are the flights worth considering

In the end American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have a trio of flights between them and none were available at the saver points level. Paying in cash my options were $354-439. And so maybe paying with points isn’t such a bad deal. Both AA (20k) and DL (32.5k) were charging “full price” for the awards and first class was also unavailable at saver levels (not always the case; worth checking before committing to paying the extra points in the back). But it turns out that the date in question was one of American’s lower priced premium award dates – only 20,000 points for the one way trip. I did not hesitate at all in buying those tickets.

And the trip I ended up with: An AAnytime AAward from AAdvantage
And the trip I ended up with: An AAnytime AAward from AAdvantage

Yes, I’m also giving up the potential award earning on the trip and the PQMs might be nice. But I’m mostly over that. The cost to get there just wasn’t worth paying the cash.

Are 20,000 AA points worth more than $354 (I would have taken the cheaper Delta flight if paying cash; no reason not to)? Maybe in some cases. But for me in this scenario definitely not.

Certainly not my most “valuable” redemption ever, but sometimes doing the “wrong” thing with points isn’t such a bad deal after all.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I book standard awards all the time unfortunately. Some sectors (like to/from Canada, Hawaii, small city pairs) last minute costs are crazy ($800+) and even 25k awards are a good deal.

    1. The not really sleeping part. Even if one assumes restful sleep the entire flight that’s only 4 hours if you’re lucky, given the climb out and descent times.

      I’m generally unhappy with only 4 hours of sleep in a real bed, much less in a coach seat on an airplane.

    2. I maximize my last day somewhere by spending the night, sleeping in a real bed, and flying home first thing the next morning. I’ve been commuting to the West Coast (or almost West Coast – Nevada) for going on 3.5 years now, and have taken only two redeyes home from that. Every other trip has been either Thursday afternoon so that I’m home around midnight Thursday, or like today, leaving first thing Friday morning so I get home by around 5:00 PM, in time for dinner. If I do the Friday return, I can work on the plane most of the day, and be far more productive than I would be if I had taken a redeye the night before and then passed out in bed for most of the rest of the day. Plus, this is less disruptive to my sleep schedule.

      If I’m on an overnight flight, I better be changing continents.

  2. On a Trans-con it seems worth it with those prices and times. What isn’t worth it is a typical non-transcon domestic award most of the time. It’s all about the cash price.

  3. Standard awards are definitely great for last-minute trips as well. Had a B6 flight that cancelled NYC-MSY last month and they couldn’t rebook me before the following day. Needed to be at work, so booked an AA standard award for 20k miles (plus the $75 close-in fee, unfortunately). Cash prices were >$400 to get me home that night, so it was definitely worth it.

  4. Make a book appearance in Utah and I’ll be there…the book looks intriuging, you should run a special on wandr.me! And btw, I need to find a skill like writing so I can get out of the internet startup world 🙂

  5. Yes, a Rocky Mountain tour! I’m in Santa Fe, so Albuquerque would work too. Right now the only dates on the “west cost tour” link show east coast dates.

    1. Edit – I should read more carefully. I see the west coast dates. But nothing in the Mountain time zone.

  6. Agree with scheduling which is why I’ve been focusing on earning points in credit card programs — that same $354 flight would be 20,000 FlexPerks and would also cover a $25 airline allowance to buy things sold by the airline. I would have even saved $5.60 on the tax! 🙂

  7. I happily booked a full fare domestic coach award on AS BOS-SEA-ANC-BRW and return (60K RT) because they do instant upgrades on full fare awards for elites. F upgrade space was available on all but the BRW flights so i grabbed it. Other option was 40K choice award in coach or 120k RT for full fare F (w/ lounge access)

  8. Your math is wrong. You paid 20,000 miles to save $348.40 ($364 of the ticket you would have purchased – $5.60 co-pay required along with the miles).

    Further math shows that you got 1.74 cents in value per AAdvantage mile used. And this is on the high-end of what they’re worth (for now, until the next devaluation). So yes, very sensible.

    But you ended up on a far worse airline (AA) that if you had paid $364 (DL), one that probably doesn’t even have seat-back screens on your 5+ hour flight (DL 757 guaranteed screen, AA 738 only 50% or so), so you should take that in consideration as well.

    1. If you’re going to nit pick over the $5.60 part of my calculations I suppose that’s okay. But at 1.5% of the total ticket price I was comfortable rounding off. And I said very clearly that I was comparing the AA points against the DL ticket price, not the higher AA price. I’ve spoken and written extensively about comparing against replacement cost, not list price.

      As for the “better” airline or plane, I don’t care about in-seat IFE for this trip. I’m pretty happy without it, actually. I’ll have power and I got the legroom for “free” thanks to status. The legroom is worth a lot more to me than in-seat TVs. Also, the DL flight was 32.5k, not 20k so that’s a big part of the math. I think DL points are worth less than AA points but not that much less.

  9. You and I have the same “rules” about trans con red eyes and times… I just can’t. I’ll pay the extra if I need to.

  10. well if you have AA status, you can of course change this to saver levels even on the day of departure and knock it down to 12.5K!

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