Booking A Positioning Flight and How It Can Simplify Your Travel Plans

In this hobby, you will hear a lot of lingo and acronyms. YMMV… HUCA… Hard/Soft Product… Positioning flights… etc. Sounds like a foreign language, yeah? It is! And if you’re new to the hobby, it can feel overwhelming but I’m here to help walk you through this process.

Let’s focus on that last one…a positioning flight.

WHAT IS A POSITIONING FLIGHT?

In the aviation industry, a positioning flight occurs when an airline needs to send a plane to another airport to conduct a flight. However, you’ll probably hear it used differently when talking about award flights.

In terms of award travel, a positioning flight is a journey you must take in order to get to (or from) your main gateway city. For example, when you fly from the USA to Europe, your long-haul segment will, typically, depart from an east coast hub or gateway city (e.g. JFK, EWR, IAD, ATL, MIA, etc.) and fly over the Atlantic Ocean. However, if you don’t live in or close to one of those major international hubs, you will need another flight to get there.

Typically, it won’t be a challenge because there is often a connecting flight that will start and terminate in your city. However recently, I found myself in a peculiar position.

I was searching for an award flight from Atlanta, GA to Zurich, Switzerland, however, I had a crazy schedule that needed to be met:
1) I had to be in New York City on July 10th for a 2pm meeting (reasonable)
2) I had to be in Zurich on July 11th for a 4pm meeting (reasonable)
3) I wanted to use aeroplan miles (reasonable)
4) I wanted to fly Business Class on Swiss Airlines (unreasonable?)

Given those parameters, I searched for flights from ATL-ZRH through Aeroplan (loyalty program of Air Canada)…

via aeroplan.com

I eliminated the flights that had “2 stops.” I had a busy schedule and did not want to fly all day. The remaining 3 flights (all highlighted) were: 2 flights departing at 11:50AM and an Air Canada flight departing at 9:25AM.

The two 11:50AM flights connect in Newark, NJ (EWR) at 2:02pm before continuing to Zurich. However, both options are unreasonable with a 2pm meeting time in New York City. Additionally, the third option, Air Canada, connects in Toronto. Toronto is not near NYC so that was not a viable option.

You will also notice that Swiss Airlines is not mentioned as an option.

DETECTIVE WORK

I knew, however, that Swiss Airlines flew a nonstop flight from New York (JFK) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH). I confirmed this by changing my award search and searching instead for JFK-ZRH.

via aeroplan.com

LOOKY HERE! LOOKY HERE!

Swiss…check! Business class…check! On the, specific, date that I need…check! Able to go to my meeting and make it to the airport for the 6pm flight…check! Backup flight at 9pm just incase NYC traffic is crazy (as usual) …Double Check! Now I just needed to find an inexpensive positioning flight from ATL-JFK.

HOW TO BOOK A POSITIONING FLIGHT

There are different ways to “position” yourself for the main flight. You could buy a seperate, one-way ticket or use miles to arrive at the gateway city. In this case, I knew that I could find multiple, direct flights per day ATL-JFK on Delta since Atlanta is a Delta hub city.

I searched google flights and found quite a few options, however, paired it down to cheapest flight and earliest departures. I have an abundance of skymiles and prefer to play it safe so the 8:18am Delta flight is the best choice.

Lately, Delta has been running weekly “flash fares.” Sometimes, they offer good value so I decided to check how many miles Delta was requiring for an economy award ticket from ATL-JFK. 7500 miles + $5.60 is excellent! Personally, I prefer to spend miles before I spend cash so I booked my ticket with miles.

via delta.com

CAVEAT: When booking separate tickets, ensure that you have enough time to transfer, understand the rules, and have a “back-up plan.” In this scenario, I have two separate tickets (ATL-JFK on Delta and JFK-ZRH on Swiss). Swiss is not responsible if I miss my flight because Delta did not arrive on time.

When all is said and done, I spent:
7,500 + $5.60 USD…ATL-JFK
55,000 + $7CAD (~$5.26USD)…JFK-ZRH
This route could’ve been done for cheaper. For example, every ATL-ZRH route that I eliminated in the Aeroplan screenshot above were 55k + $7CAD. However, this plan fulfilled all my needs.

FINAL STAMP

When you begin your search for an award flight, your first instinct is to enter your origin and destination cities and that is the correct impulse. However, the more “prerequisites” you add to the equation, the more complicated it will be to obtain the award ticket you desire.

Flying from a gateway city (e.g. ATL) should not be complicated. However, when I added the prerequisite of using aeroplan miles, it limited me to certain airlines and certain airports. The more “needs” I added to the equation, the less options were going to be available for me.

If you are able to find a direct flight to your destination, that’s a win! However, sometimes finding long-haul, award flights over the ocean from the U.S. (even from a gateway city like ATL) can be complicated. It happens.

PRO TIP: Swiss Airlines also flies from Newark, NJ (EWR) and have award availability for the same date but would’ve required transiting NYC. Given my parameters, I was not willing to take the risk. If you’re interested in other reasons you may need to book a positioning flight, READ THIS BLOG.

Have you ever booked a positioning flight? What was your experience?

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