December 19, 2022 Mindset Tools
What to do when the best deals don’t start from your doorstep
Here’s a travel problem you may have encountered: the most lucrative (or, indeed, most interesting) flight opportunities often don’t begin at your home airport. Nooo! Okay, relax… this special report was made just for you. We’re talking about “positioning flights.”
A positioning flight is a shorter flight (usually) that gets you to where the deal is. It’s the flying version of the Uber that gets you to the train.
A positioning flight is for someone who:
- Wants an epic flight experience, say a better seat, a better airline, or a better aircraft
- Doesn’t want to miss out on a deal where the cost is so low you can’t say “no”
- Can’t find any great deals out of their hometown airport
Here are the three most common scenarios when the deal you want doesn’t start at your home airport:
When You Can Save a Wheelbarrow Full of Miles
You see a Sweet Redeems for a ticket that saves up to 80% when using your miles.
Example: You live in Tallahassee and Delta charges 360,000 miles to get to Madrid seamlessly via Atlanta in Business Class. BUT, Iberia Airlines — an Amex and Chase partner — flies to Madrid via Miami for just 68,000 miles round-trip. So you buy a separate ticket to Miami to catch the killer deal.
When You Can Save a Ton of Cash
Similarly, there could be a premium Flash Fare from an airport just a short hop away, or to a destination not far from the Flash Fare destination.
Example: New York-Milan has a Business Class Flash Fare of $1,900, but you’re actually going to nearby Venice and those fares are $2,900.
When You Want a Top Comfort Flight or Experience
Example: You have a really big desire to fly Emirates’ shower/champagne/caviar flight, but you don’t live in one of Emirates A380 hubs: Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or Washington, DC. So you book a separate positioning flight from your home airport to one of the A380 hub cities and fly like royalty.
Am I crazy about positioning flights?
Not really. But they can be one of the keys to a great travel experience, a “second-best ticket” if you like (see our “two out of three” idea here and here), and they can save tens of thousands of dollars, seriously.
If You’re Risk Averse
On paper, positioning flights are lovely. However, there are any number of things that could go wrong if you don’t play your cards right. Depending on your tolerance for risk, you’ll want to consider same-day or next-day connections.
I Usually Do Next-Day Connections
If you’re nervous about missing a connection, give yourself a day’s grace. Most international flights I take are in conjunction with a positioning flight. Why? Because I’m either flying First Class cheaply, or I’m flying in an exotic First Class seat. Those often require flexibility, so I arrive the day before in the departure city for the special flight opportunity to avoid any stress about making my connection. I don’t like to be stressed when I travel. There’s almost no risk with this approach.
HIDDEN OPPORTUNITIES to Consider
Layover Bonuses: If my layover is in New York, for example, I can catch a world-class performance, show, or ball game I might not otherwise experience. So in conjunction with the big international flight I’m about to take the next day, I rationalize the layover by getting to snag a special event there.
If the deal is out of Los Angeles, I can visit friends in SoCal who I don’t typically see at any other time these days, so it’s a sweet bonus to get to see them when the deal is out of their city.
It’s killing multiple birds with one stone. I seldom make a decision or choice that has only one benefit. I prefer options that give me multiple benefits. Think about taking positioning flights out of cities where you have family, friends, attractions you want to see, famous landmarks, sporting events, whatever. Some of the most interesting things I’ve experienced were during an overnight in cities I wouldn’t otherwise visit if I didn’t have multiple excuses, reasons, or rationales to do so.
Same-Day Connections & Risks to Consider
While many of you are daredevils, this is not for the faint of heart. I would want to ensure the following if I were flying on two different tickets on the same day:
- At least one buffer flight in between the positioning flight and the ultimate flight to give a bit of leeway if the flight is delayed or canceled.
- I wouldn’t check bags, but I haven’t checked bags in years anyway. That’s just me.
- I wouldn’t change airlines or terminals unless I had a comfortable buffer of at least three to four hours. I’ll typically go to the lounge and catch up on email or phone calls so it really doesn’t waste any time.
Simply put: all it takes is a flight delay or cancellation and your whole scheme can be derailed. Here are a few booking options that increase your risk of something going wrong on same-day, two-ticket connections:
- Flying on two different airlines
- Flying on airlines from different alliances
- Big airports or having to change terminals
- Checking bags
- Tight connection times
Setting the Table for Positioning Flight Success
- Remember: airlines don’t take responsibility for a missed connection when it’s on a separate ticket, this is why I usually arrive a day early and enjoy my layover city with friends or exotic events.
- Consider positioning flights in economy or Premium Economy when the flight is short. If the flight is only an hour or two, I don’t always need First Class (which is not even offered within Europe usually). For example, connecting flights between Monterey and Los Angeles, and between Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
- For positioning flights near your destination, if you’re going to take advantage of the stopover, consider that some cities have multiple airports. For example, you can arrive in London Heathrow and depart from London Gatwick.
- If you are connecting to a cruise, be prepared if your big awesome transoceanic flight gets delayed or canceled. Well, you’ve got to deal with that question regardless. On the handful of occasions that I’ve taken cruises, I planned to be in the departure city two days in advance. Or I’ll arrive in the region a day in advance and take a train or Uber to the city where the cruise departs from.
- Check what terminal each airline is in. If they’re in different terminals, research the best way to move between terminals and how long it takes. Airport websites and airline apps feature maps that will tell you how long it takes to get from one place to another at an airport.
- Consider the seasons of each airport. If it’s winter, airports in the north might have snow, which can cause delays.
- When arriving from an international destination, leave extra time to go through immigration and customs and collect your bags. Luggage coming from international flights might take significantly longer due to the large number of bags coming off of widebody aircraft.
- If checking bags, consider bag fees for both the positioning flight and your long-haul flight should there be any.
The more conscious you are of the opportunities that can come with utilizing positioning flights well, the more your eyes will open to deals on more-important long-haul flights you’d have otherwise not even considered.