some frequent-flier basics (part two: preparing to redeem)

So you've flown a few times, banked a few miles and you're ready to redeem your miles. Here's how I usually start the process:

First, visit the English-language version of the Wikipedia page for your home airport (keep in mind many larger cities have two airports) and scroll down to the Destinations section. There you can quickly see every single route that's available and which airline it's on. This can save you time hunting for a direct flight that doesn't exist! 

Wikipedia destinations

Visit and price out the ticket. Kayak has a ton of very powerful options to help you find exactly the ticket you want at the price you want. Check the Nearby Airports option if you're willing to travel to another nearby airport for more options. (I also uncheck the Priceline and comparative search options since they just open up a ton of windows that I don't need to look at.)
One of the big reasons I go to first is to make sure I'm not passing up a great deal on a flight from a competing airline: why redeem 50,000 miles for a flight when a competitor is running a special on the same route for $149?
Look along the left-hand side of the screen and you can choose departure time, number of stopovers, wifi, etc. (see pics below) Use the 'Sort by' menu at the top to re-order the results (but be very observant of the "total trip duration" in grey — sometimes the cheapest flights will have you sleeping in the airport for 8 hours!)
TIP: One thing I always do is look at the itinerary on the screen and think about what that day will be like. Do you really want to get up at 4am from your super-relaxing vacation and drive 2 hours to get to a distant airport save $22? Or take a red-eye? or a 2 stopover journey on turbo-prop planes? Sometimes it's better to just fly out of the nearest airport on a direct flight at a civilized time even if it costs a little more.

Once you've spotted a flight that looks like it meets your sweet spot of convenience and price, click the "Details" button and see which airline is actually operating the flight (in the example below, it's a flight purchased on Scandinavian SAS but it's actually a codeshare flight that's being operated by United). Note the flight numbers and times so you have them when you visit the airline website to redeem.

on to part 3 ➡️
<< back to part 1

Kayak search options along the left (click to enlarge)
Flight details


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