What Are “Positioning Flights” & Why Are They Useful?

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In a lot of the posts I write describing how I plan, book and pay for my trips I mention the fact that I booked a “positioning flight” to help keep the costs down. Over the past few months I’ve had a number of readers email me to ask about positioning flights so I thought I’d write a post to explain what they are and how they can be incredibly useful.

A positioning flight is a flight taken purely for the purposes of catching a second flight from wherever the positioning flight is going.

You can’t have failed to notice that the cost of air travel can vary quite widely from one location to another and positioning flights are tool that a lot of flyers use to take advantage  of this.

Here’s an example:

On a random set of dates a roundtrip Business Class fare between London and Los Angeles costs £3,736.31 (~$4,995):

On exactly the same dates a Business Class fare between Copenhagen and Los Angeles costs DKK 21,212 or approximately £2,500 (~$3,340):

That’s a HUGE difference in price.

London-based travelers who are willing to “position” to Copenhagen can make the most of this fare difference by booking two separate trips (if you book them as one the airline will charge you more):

  1. London – Copenhagen – London
  2. Copenhagen – London – Los Angeles – London – Copenhagen

A roundtrip fare between London and Copenhagen shouldn’t cost more than £100 if you book far enough in advance so the saving will be over £1,000. If you use Avios to book the London – Copenhagen – London flights the savings will be even greater.

I’ve used London and Copenhagen in the example but this can be applied to just about anywhere in the world.

If you live in LA you may well find that flights from LAX to your destination are very expensive on the dates you can travel….but flights out of San Francisco or San Diego may be cheaper.

Be aware that there are inherent risks built into booking positioning flights. Airlines aren’t exactly keen on passengers booking two sets of flights to make the most of some impressive savings to some of their rules can make life difficult if you’re not prepared.

Follow this link to a separate post I’ve written explaining the risks involved.

Catching a cheap positioning flight to another airport can save you quite a bit of money….and it can help you out with award travel too.

Saver-level awards tickets are getting harder and to book with just about all airlines but if you can be flexible with your starting point you’ll give yourself a far greater chance of finding that elusive award.

A traveler looking for Business Class saver award availability between Dallas and Hong Kong would have one open date in July:

If that passenger was prepared to position to Los Angeles he/she would have a choice of 4 dates:

That many not seem like a lot of extra choice but when you’re talking about awards that are as scarce as American Airlines Business Class saver awards it make a big difference.

Bottom Line

Positioning flights can add significant time on to journeys and can involve long airport layovers so they’re not going to work for everyone…but for a lot of readers they should be a go-to tool.

I never book a trip without considering if a positioning flight could save me money and I’ve managed to snag some incredible deals on Qatar Airways just because I was prepared to position myself to a city from where the airline was offering a good deal.

Here’s a link to a trip I made to Seoul and a link to my more recent trip to Bangkok which will both give you an idea of just how cheap great Business Class flights can be if you’re prepared to position.

Anyone else made good use of positioning flights to snag a great deal?