Positioning Flights for International Travel


When it comes to traveling on points, it pays (or in this case saves) to have some flexibility. One area that can offer you huge savings is positioning flights. Positioning for a flight means taking a flight from your home airport to a bigger international airport. This is something that can save you a lot of points or if you are using cash, a lot of cash!  Alex, Jess, and I both do this often when traveling internationally. 


Why Positioning Flights

Nothing beats using award points and traveling for nearly free, especially when you can grab lie-flat seats! Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t find award availability out of your home airport, or if you do, it might cost a ridiculous amount of points. I live near Denver, Colorado and DEN is a huge airport. You would think it would be easy to find award travel. But when you have a certain destination, dates, or class of travel in mind, it sometimes isn’t that easy.

If you are booking a flight and all you see are flights that are costing a fortune in points, then it is time to consider a positioning flight. To give you a gauge as to what is a fairly standard price on international award flights, economy often goes for around 30,000 miles each way. In business class, you are looking at around 70,000 each way. This changes depending on the airline, but anything that requires a lot more than this means you should look into a positioning flight.

This economy, one-way flight from Denver to Paris on United Airlines is going for 67,000 miles! That is more than the typical cost of a round-trip flight! I would look at taking a positioning flight in this instance.

This flight one-way flight from Denver costs 67,000 miles

This flight from Chicago to Paris is 30,000 miles. That is closer to what one could expect to pay when booking a one-way economy class ticket to Europe. I would then look for a cheap flight and buy a flight to Chicago from Denver or use Southwest Rapid Reward Points.

This one-way flight from Chicago costs 30,000 miles

Airports to Consider Taking a Positioning Flight to

When looking to book your award flight out of another airport, consider these international airports:

  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Houston-Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Boston (BOS)
  • New York City-JFK (JFK)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD)
  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Miami (MIA)



Times I’ve Used Positioning Flights


I wanted to go to Vietnam in business and couldn’t find business class seats from Denver. But I could find business class seats from San Francisco on EVA Airlines. Using United miles, I took a positioning flight to San Francisco and then, using Citi ThankYou points, flew EVA from San Francisco to Vietnam. 75,000 miles on EVA for lie-flat seats was amazing! My willingness to take a positioning flight gave me an incredible lie-flat experience and let me feel rested once I got to Vietnam!


Phu Quoc vietnam beach

A positioning flight to another airport allowed me to grab business-class seats to Vietnam


Another time, I needed to book tickets to Dubai for my husband and me. That is a long flight (16+ hours), and there is no way I would do that in economy class. I couldn’t find award availability from Denver, so I booked positioning flights on Southwest (using points) to LAX.  I then booked a business-class seat on Emirates Airlines from LAX to Dubai.


Woman sitting in business class on airplane

It was totally worth taking a positioning flight to LAX for these amazing Emirates business-class seats!

This summer, I was flying to London to visit my daughter and had trouble getting an award redemption from Denver. So, guess what? I positioned to EWR (Newark, New Jersey). Don’t get frustrated when you can’t find award redemptions out of your home airport, just take a positioning flight!


Word of Caution


One thing I need to add is this—Always give yourself plenty of time between the two flights to make your redemption flight. Because your positioning flight and award flight are two separate flights, you can’t rely on the airline to help you out if there are any delays and you miss your flight. They might be willing to help, but don’t count on it!

I have had two close calls. When I went to Vietnam, I had a connecting time of four hours. Plenty of time to get my luggage and check in for my next flight. Or so I thought! The flight in Denver was delayed, and the plane sat on the tarmac for 1 ½ hours. I was getting really stressed about not making my connection!! Luckily I made it, but I was wishing I had gone to San Francisco the night before.

Another time, on our Dubai trip, the weather changed in Denver, and the day we were supposed to fly out, they projected a blizzard! Luckily, I got us out the day before and used the free night I had at Hyatt to stay at the Hyatt Regency LAX so we wouldn’t miss our Emirates flight. Those flights cost $6000+ each, and missing them would have been horrible. I think that flying in the day before and staying at a hotel I can get free nights with might be my new plan.

Besides giving yourself plenty of time, I recommend traveling with a carry-on. The last thing you want to worry about if there are delays is waiting at baggage claim, rechecking your bag, and going back through security!

I recommend giving yourself 4+ hours between your positioning flight and your main flight. That may seem like a long time, but you never know what can happen! If everything goes well and you have a lot of time on your hands, get a good book and enjoy some snacks in an airport lounge!

When it comes to flying home, I don’t stress as much. Your longer flight will be first, followed by your positioning flight. It’s much less of a big deal to miss your positioning flight than your long award flight!


Bottom Line

Positioning to another airport is a great way to get a cheaper award redemption! I have had great success getting better award travel redemptions by positioning for a flight at another airport. You don’t want the stress of not making your flight, though, so make sure and plan on the what-ifs! Give yourself time to make those connections, or go the night before! Positioning flights open up the world when you are trying to book award travel, so get creative with where you start.




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  1. […] in all my personal very top selections as We could take a trip from Denver and also maybe not must position for a flight.  Soaring in a Joined trip suggests We could make use of United Miles otherwise Ultimate Rewards […]

  2. Martin says:

    Pam, say on your way home, your positioning flight is late, causing you to miss your final flight home. Won’t you have to pay for another flight out of pocket, since it wasn’t the airline’s cause of delay?

    • Pam says:

      Yes, a flight that isn’t part of your final flight doesn’t have to cover you. (Some will but I wouldn’t count on it). We always give ourselves several hours in-between a positioning flight and a reward flight or stay overnight at a hotel and fly out the next day.

  3. Stephanie Mulhern says:

    Don’t forget your checked bags! You need to retrieve them and then get them onto your next flight!

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