“Sweet spots” in award charts are the cheapest ways to use miles and points to get from point A to point B. You can find sweet spots to get pretty much anywhere you want to go and having knowledge about them is a great way to essentially create a short cut to get where you want to go. But a lot more goes into using these sweet spots than just knowing the quantity of miles a given sweet spot requires. So here are some factors to consider when trying to find and book sweet spots that should help you gain a more thorough understanding of using them.
How to find sweet spots
The easiest way to find what the sweet spots are to get to a destination is to utilize one of the many tools available to you. I prefer to use to two tools to find the cheapest redemptions to a given location.
To use them, you simply input your origin and destination and which kind of cabin you’d like to book with and the web tools will provide you with the mileage requirements to get where you want to go. By using both of these tools you can see specific routes that you could book on partners, the total fees expected, how to search for those flights, and even see which transfer partners you could use to accumulate points for those programs.
These tools are extremely helpful and make those beginning stages of searching for award seats much more convenient. However, those tools can’t help you with knowing everything you need to know when making a booking, so it’s important to be aware of many other factors.
Always double check options and routes
First, remember, those are just web tools created by humans. Thus, they might be incomplete and not tell you all of your options or there could be glitches or mistakes that occur (some are still in Beta versions). So always double check your findings and explore if their are other options by doing some online research.
I suggest always confirming with the actual award charts or mileage calculators found on the official website of the airlines. If you’re still in doubt try to do a dummy booking online or over the phone, so that you can be sure about the mileage requirements.
Consider which programs transfer points
Some programs like Japan Airlines (JAL) and Asiana Airlines (OZ) offer unbelievable redemption rates in business class and you can fly to places like Europe and South America at insanely cheap rates. The problem is that they you can only transfer points to those airlines from SPG, so it’s much harder to accumulate points that can be utilized for those programs. If you come across a super cheap sweet spot route, always check to see which programs allow points to be transferred to that airline because chances are they will be limited.
This is one reason why when I write my articles on “the best ways to use miles and points” I like to include programs like Flying Blue and Singapore Airlines, even when their redemption rates aren’t the cheapest. Because you can transfer points to Flying Blue and Singapore Airlines from Chase, Amex, Citi, and SPG, it makes redemptions with those programs much ridiculously easy to obtain, so that’s always something to think about.
Fees (taxes and surcharges)
Another important factor is how expensive the fees will be for your redemptions. Some programs that offer low redemption rates, such as ANA and Korean Air can charge you hundreds of dollars in fees for certain routes. These fees are often route specific and will often depend on which airline partner of theirs you are flying with, so you’ll need to test out the routes to see what the fees come to. For some programs like Korean, you’ll have to call in and check on the fees.
Always weigh your savings in miles and points with the amount of fees you have to pay. Some people hate to pay fees and like to rely on miles for redemptions as much as possible and other people don’t mind shelling out some cash if it means savings points for a later redemption. It all comes down to your personal preference.
Off-peak, peak, saver, etc.
Many award charts offer different rates for off-peak or peak dates and some even have three different redemption-rate categories of low, middle, and high season. Other award charts offer saver awards which while much cheaper, are also harder to book due to limited availability. Make sure you know which award rates apply to your exact dates when planning a booking and always keep in mind that saver awards will be harder to come by.
One drawback to programs like ANA and Korean is that you have to book round trips. So if you’re trying to put together a complex itinerary, it might be much harder to utilize those sweet spots since roundtrips can often complicate things or limit you.
Also, some airlines like JAL allow one way awards but the cost per mile rises when you utilize a one way award. For example, a first class ticket on a JAL partner would cost 40,000 miles for a one way trip that is 4,5000 miles long. However, if you made that trip round trip it would only cost a total of 50,000 JAL miles. So only 10,000 additional miles allows you to complete the round trip and greatly increases the value of your redemption.
It’s really important to keep these things in mind because in many cases you may need to exclude potential sweet spots in order to complete an itinerary or avoid booking a one way to make sure you don’t leave a lot of value on the table.
When an airline allows a stopover you can often make up for a higher redemption requirement by going with airline and utilizing a stopover.
For example, let’s say you were thinking about getting from North America to Japan in business class and you had enough miles for that ticket in both American Airlines miles and United miles. You might choose to go with American Airlines in business class for 120,000 roundtrip over United since United requires 130,000. However, with United you can add in a stopover so you can potentially get more value for your personal travel goals, despite spending 10,000 more miles.
Of course, I recommend other ways to get to Japan, but the point is to always factor in how booking policies of a program may offer you more value, despite their higher mileage requirements.
Availability and booking
This is probably the most important factor to consider for any type of redemption but especially for sweet spot redemptions. The reason is that the better the sweet spot, the more attractive that redemption is to other people and if too many other people are attracted to that sweet spot, it might not do you any good.
For example, one of the lowest sweet spots out of any airline is using Etihad miles to book a business class ticket on Air Brussels from New York to Brussels. That roundtrip redemption is only 36,620 miles. That flea-market rate is a steal of all steals, but the issue is that availability can all but non-existent at times. Thus, how “sweet” is a sweet spot if in practice, you can’t ever actually book it?
Another issue comes with booking the awards. Some programs, especially foreign carries like Etihad and Alitalia, are known to be very difficult to deal with then it comes to booking partners over the phone. There are horror stories out there and so sometimes you may want to spend the extra 10,000 miles or so just to avoid a potential nightmare scenario when you can’t get a booking done in time before open seats vanish.
Thus, when you’re transferring points from a rewards program to an airline it’s extremely important to survey the availability for an airline and get a sense of how open the seating might be for you and how user-friendly the booking process might be.
As a reminder, you should always check to see if your desired aircraft is flying on your desired sweet spot route. The business and first class product can differ a lot in quality sometimes depending on the aircraft you’re flying on. So sometimes it might make sense to not pursue a sweet spot because you might not be getting the in flight experience that you think you’re getting.
Don’t go crazy
Finally, if there’s one thing you should remember, it’s to not go berserk over chasing sweet spots. It’s really easy to get caught up in maximizing every single aspect of award travel to the point where you’re obsessing 24/7 over not spending one point or cent over the minimum amount required. But in reality, things get complicated and it’s often impossible to put together a perfectly efficient itinerary every single time you plan a trip. So don’t stress out if you can’t hit every sweet spot you were gunning for and just remember to enjoy your travels, since you’re still probably traveling at a fraction of the cost compared to most people you know.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.