When Your Positioning Flight is Delayed


Positioning flights are a huge part of our award redemption strategy. When you can’t find a flight from your home airport (or to your final destination), positioning flights can help make trips happen. They are not without risk, though—what happens when your positioning flight is delayed (or canceled)?

I have taken numerous positioning flights without issue, and a few where I was a little nervous. The problem is that your award flight carrier has no obligation to you if you miss their flight due to a delay or cancelation on a different airline. Sure, there are instances where they will accommodate you somehow, but again, there are no obligations.

Here are some suggestions:


Book a Back-Up Flight

I have started doing this more often. If I am flying to another city in the US to start my journey, I will book a second flight (usually Southwest). I schedule this flight to leave a little later than my original flight so that I have another option if something happens with the original flight. Southwest will let you cancel VERY last minute (up to 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time)—just remember to cancel it, or you will be out of cash or miles.


southwest airplane taking off

Southwest is my backup plan for positioning flights.


Watch the Weather

If your positioning flight is during the winter, watch the weather. We once had an Emirates flight leaving out of LAX, and we started getting severe weather warnings for Denver that had the potential to affect our positioning flight severely. The decision was made to get out of town—quickly! We made a reservation at a hotel near LAX, spent the night, and protected that positioning flight and (more importantly) the award flight to Dubai. The weather was indeed severe, and we never would have made our flight otherwise!


Hotel room with two queen beds and living area

Use that free night certificate to stay overnight near the airport prior to flying out on an award flight.


Give Yourself a Buffer

I have to admit that I’ve done this many times. I give myself a buffer of about 5 hours and take my positioning flight the same day. You have to be willing to take the risk, though, and I’m getting more risk-averse in my old age. So I think I will start getting there the night before.

I have definitely had a few instances where we have been on the tarmac too long or delayed an hour or so, and I’ve started getting nervous—not a fun feeling!


My Recent Experience

Recently, I was going to London and, since it was in the summer, the award flight was hard to find. I finally found an Air Canada flight from Calgary to London for about 70K miles in business class. My flight from Calgary to London was a daytime flight. I thought I had completely covered my bases by booking a positioning flight from Denver to Calgary the night before and a hotel room at the Calgary airport. But things didn’t go as smoothly as I had anticipated!

When I got to the American Express Centurion Lounge, the VERY long lines to enter (I’ve never seen anything like it) alerted me that there was a problem. Sure enough, bad weather across the United States (in June) caused numerous delays. My 7:00 p.m. flight was repeatedly delayed and had me worried that I might not even get to Calgary that night. Here is what I did:

  1. Stayed calm—it was out of my control.
  2. Looked for early morning flights for the following morning from Denver to Calgary to book in case they canceled my flight. There were none that could get me there in time for my 2:00 p.m. departure from Calgary.
  3. Checked out the airport hotel to see if they had open rooms in case I had to stay the night.
  4. Looked for award flights from Calgary later on the next day and found one that was the same price.
  5. Took a deep breath and relaxed knowing that there were possible options.

Thankfully, my flight eventually made it out that night (albeit very delayed) from Denver to Calgary and I was able to take my award flight on Air Canada to London. Crisis averted!


Bottom Line

When your positioning flight is delayed, you can panic or you can start planning. After this situation, I will try and have more backup plans (although it may not have helped in this instance as the entire airport was delayed). No matter what, I would have made it to London. Maybe not in business class, but in the end it would have all been fine. One thing I’ve learned from traveling so much is to make the best out of every situation and to be grateful when things go right. (That Haagen Daaz Dulce de Leche ice cream cone I had while waiting helped, too!) 😜

People sitting in busy airport

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