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Using Positioning Flights for the Best Flight Deals

By: Julie Szpira

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As a travel junkie, I’m constantly looking for the best flight deals. When I was living in Los Angeles (LAX), deals were always popping up: $377 to Europe! $545 on ANA to Japan! $798 on Singapore Airlines to Bali!

I even snagged an error fare from LAX to Auckland (AKL) for $211!!

Right now, I’m living in New Orleans (MSY), which is a great city, but has only six international routes operating from the airport. New Orleans is not a hub city for any airline, so in order to take advantage of great flight deals, I often have to use positioning flights.

 

What Is A Positioning Flight?

A positioning flight is a flight booked separately from your main flight, in order to get you from your home airport, to the airport where the main flight originates. Positioning flights can be used to when booking award flights, as well.

 

Using A Positioning Flight For A Flight Deal

I have friends and family living in Chicago, so I often use Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) as a starting point for international travel.

I recently saw a fare sale for economy flights from Chicago (ORD) to Prague (PRG).  The flight cost $437!

Using A Positioning Flight

Roundtrip to Europe for less than $500? Yes, please!!

When I checked flights to Prague from New Orleans, a flight on the same dates cost $1,580, which is a difference of $1,143. That’s a ton of cash to pay to fly from New Orleans instead of Chicago.

Using A Positioning Flight

Now, if you check the above itineraries closely, you’ll see that the international flight segments match exactly. So you are really paying $1143 more dollar for a roundtrip flight from MSY-ORD.

I checked to see how much booking the flight segments from MSY-ORD and from ORD-MSY would cost, and the total comes out to $215!

These segments would be booked in Basic Economy, so if you wanted to select a seat or carry on a bag, the ticket price would be $275, but booking a separate positioning flight still represents a great value.

By booking two separate flights, a round trip from MSY-ORD (economy ticket price, $275) and round trip from ORD-PRG (economy ticket price, $437), your total trip cost would be $712.  That is a savings of $868 from the single itinerary booking.

 

Using A Positioning Flight For An Award Flight

Finally accruing enough miles to book a dream trip is a great feeling. Unfortunately, some of the “bucket list” airlines and airline products only operate out of specific airports.

If you are looking to fly Singapore Suites from the United States, you have to fly from New York (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA).

A fully enclosed suite and personalized service are highlights of the Singapore experience

Etihad operates aircraft from a variety of cities in the US, if you are hoping to fly on the Etihad A380 featuring the Apartments, you need to be departing from New York (JFK).

A separate seat and bed awaits you in the Etihad Apartments

Cathay Pacific First Class is consistently rated well, but the airline only operates out of Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), New York (JFK), Newark Liberty (EWR) and Boston (BOS).

Cathay Pacific offers a luxury travel experience with a 36-inch wide seat and caviar service

Some airline programs allow you to book positioning flights as part of your award ticket, but sometimes domestic availability can be hard to snag.

You don’t want to miss out on a flat-bed in the sky because you are unable to find award space from Pittsburgh (PIT) to New York (JFK).

When checking for first class award availability on Cathay Pacific from New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG), there are a few dates in the upcoming weeks that have seats available.

Cathay Pacific is part of the OneWorld alliance, so availability from PIT-JFK would need to be available on American Airlines.

When I check for availability from Pittsburgh (PIT) to Hong Kong (HKG), the first class seat availability is gone. That is because the system was unable to find award space from PIT-JFK, so the flight is considered unavailable.

It would be a shame to miss out on 15 hours in Cathay Pacific first class because you were unable to find an award flight for the 90 minute flight from PIT-JFK, so just book a positioning flight.

You can book a positioning flight using cash, using miles from a different program, or using a card such as the Capital One Venture card or the Barclaycard Arrival+ card which can erase the travel purchase.

 

Tips For Booking Positioning Flights

Since the airline does not recognize your positioning flight and your main flight as a single booking, you will have to collect your baggage, and check in for the second segment of your flight.

You will want to leave plenty of time to deplane, get to baggage claim, re-check your bags and go through security again.

If you booked your positioning flight and main flight on the same airline, you can ask the check in agent if they can “check your bag through”. You would provide the check-in agent both of your itineraries, and ask for the agent to link them as well as check you in for you main flight. There is no guarantee that this will work, but it’s worth it to ask.

Don’t automatically exclude low-cost carriers, like Frontier or Spirit. These airlines can provide a great value for a flight that is only a few hours long.

I like to plan my positioning flights on outbound segments to include a few days in the city where my main flight departs. That gives me plenty of time in case there is a flight delay on my positioning flight, and I get to visit a new city before departing for my main travel destination.

If you have a credit card with lounge access, check out the options at your airport. Spending a few extra hours in the airport because of a positioning flight can be enjoyable if you’re spending time in a lounge with comfortable seats and complimentary snacks.

 

Final Thoughts

Even if you are not based at a major airline hub, you can still take advantage of incredible flight deals.

Using positioning flights can help you book premium cabin dream trips, as well as help you save money when booking trips with cash.

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