Booking Airfare One Seat at a Time — Reader Success Story

May 23, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Aravind, who saved on a family trip by booking airline tickets individually. Here’s what he had to say:

Fort Lauderdale beach at sunrise with lifeguard station and palm trees.
Aravind saved on airfare to Florida by booking seats separately. Image courtesy of MichaelWarrenPix via Getty Images.

Earlier this year I was planning a spring beach trip for my family to escape the Midwest winter. Since I wasn’t picky about the location and had some flexibility with the dates, I used Google Flights and Fly.com’s fare calendar to browse possible options. I found some reasonable fares to from Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale on United, and after clicking through to United.com, I learned there were nine seats remaining at the lowest fare for the outbound flight.

I needed some time to discuss plans with my wife, so I didn’t book the flights right away. After getting her approval, I went to the Chase travel portal to book with Ultimate Rewards Points earned through my Sapphire Reserve card. While searching for the three seats we needed, I noticed the cost of the outbound flight had increased. I checked the United website to see what had happened, and noticed that the lower fare was still available if I searched for just one seat.

With that information, I went back to Ultimate Rewards to book one seat separately at the lower fare, and then booked two more seats at the higher fare. Once all three tickets were secured, I called United to link the reservations so that one of my travel companions could share my elite benefits (I have United Premier Silver status thanks to my Marriott Platinum Elite status.)

Although I was disappointed to not get the cheaper fares I found previously, I was able to save 4,600 Ultimate Rewards points by booking one seat separately from the other two.

When you buy airfare for more than one person, you may notice that the price per ticket is higher than it would be for a single passenger. This happens because airlines sell tickets in different classes and fare buckets; when there aren’t enough seats left in a lower (less expensive) bucket to accommodate your reservation, all your tickets may end up getting sold from a higher (more expensive) one.

That appears to be what happened to Aravind, as only one seat was available at the lower rate. His solution is a good one: When you’re buying airfare for a group, I recommend checking the price of a single ticket to make sure you’re not paying extra by booking them all at once. You may be able to save by booking some tickets separately, but you should weigh that against the risks involved with traveling on separate itineraries.

Another tool to keep in mind is the 24-hour cancellation period for flights operating within or to the US. Fares change quickly and often unpredictably, so if you find tickets at a great price, you can feel confident about buying them even if your plans are uncertain. Lock in the lower rate, and then take advantage of the cancellation period to verify your plans.

Caroline
When buying multiple tickets, check whether purchasing separately keeps you in a lower fare bucket.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Aravind for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.