Cheap Cruise Clinic–Part 2–Booking Award Tickets to Meet Your Cruise

In Part 1 I discussed a method to find an exceptionally cheap cruise. If you have followed my strategy, you have compared prices on several sites and are ready to book the cruise. But you still need to make sure that you can get there on award tickets (because you have a huge stash of miles, naturally!)

I don’t claim to be an expert on booking award tickets. For example, I don’t use any of the sites that do megasearches for award space. But I have plenty of experience going to airlines’ web sites and searching there.

Let’s make a few assumptions and set our parameters. Let’s say that we want to book the cruise discussed in Part 1. It is a round trip from San Juan embarking on May 3 and disembarking on May 10.  For our example I will use Atlanta as our home airport. We will search on Delta (for SkyTeam), American Airlines (for One World), and United (for Star Alliance.) Our contingency plan in case we run into bad weather, mechanical problems, and any other delays, is to fly into San Juan a day early on May 2.

My rule for planning my flights to meet cruises:
1. Cruises departing from the US–arrive one day early.
2. Cruises departing from anywhere else–arrive two days early.

The following opportunities present themselves yesterday afternoon:

1. Delta–They had non-stop flights for 45K miles RT in economy, but several one-stops for 35K RT. They were also the only airline that had award space leaving San Juan on the day of disembarkation, on May 10. Fortunately you can now get one-way awards on Delta, so you could fly to San Juan using some other currency, and fly Delta out for 17.5K miles. You can book award tickets on Delta and cancel within 24 hours, but you have to call in.

2. United–Had round trip award tickets for 35K miles, with transfers in Houston. Unfortunately they didn’t have availability on May 10, but they did have space on May 11. Feel like spending an extra day in Puerto Rico? You can cancel award travel with United within 24 hours, but you have to call in, and it may take awhile for them to reimburse your fees and recredit miles.

3. American Airlines–Had the best award availability (for 35K miles RT) on May 2 of any of the airlines. They did not have award seats in economy for the return on May 10 but did have availability on May 12 (2 days on the beach in Puerto Rico?) They did however have first class seats on the return on May 10 for 30K miles. When you book an award ticket on AA, you have the option of a 5-day hold, which comes in really handy in a case like this.

4. British Airways–If you see Saver award space on the AA website, you can use Avios to book the seats on the BA website, usually for fewer miles than AA. In this case it took 12K miles, and if you cancel within 24 hours before the flight, all miles are reimbursed. You only loose the $5 fee.

Now you are ready to rock ‘n roll. Go ahead and book the flights if you are using AA or Avios miles. Hold off if using Delta or United. Now go back to your agency or website and book the cruise. If you are going to use Delta or United miles, ask for a 24-hour courtesy hold. The Carnival website allows you to do this, and most travel agencies will also oblige you. Then book your flights on Delta or United, and call back the cruise agency and put your deposit down on your cruise.

Here is a summary for timing flights and cruises:
1. Search for cruises. Do not book or put on hold until you see if you can get there on award tickets.
2. Search the airlines for award tickets. Go ahead and book flights if using American or BA Avios.
3. Book cruise if you used AA miles or Avios. Otherwise book the cruise with a 24 hour courtesy hold, book the flights, and then go back and finalize the cruise.

This post first appeared on Saverocity just before I started the blog.

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