I’m going to make this post as transparent and straightforward as possible. So basically, a positioning flight is a flight that you take from your home base to a place where your main journey starts.
For example, a few days ago, I wrote a post about reasonable business class fares between Montreal and Bangkok. If I were to take advantage of this fare, I would need to figure out how to get from Washington D.C. to Montreal to catch my Turkish flight.
Why Would I do that?
The answer is simple. Spending $2500s is better than spending $7500s for the comparable (more direct) flights. Essentially, you need two separate round-trip tickets instead of one. Let’s break them down.
The flight segments are in the following sequence:
- 1st itinerary: Washington to Montreal (outbound)
- 2nd itineary: Montreal to Bangkok via Istanbul (outbound)
- 2nd itineary: Bangkok Montreal via Istanbul (inbound)
- 1st itinerary: Montreal to Washington (inbound)
If you think it’s too cumbersome and complicated, you could buy a direct flight between Washington and Bangkok. Though it would cost you extra $5000 for the convenience!
I’ve been practicing this for years now — for example, my most recent adventure to Bali in July. I tried different routings, but they were expensive. However, the premium cabin fares originating out of Cairo Airport are usually cheap. This time was not an exception – my guess was spot-on. I found a pretty cheap business class fare from Cairo to Bali via Istanbul, round-trip for $1215. The best part of all, I got to fly the inaugural flight and destination between Istanbul and Bali on Turkish Airlines Boeing 787-9. To position, I redeemed 70,000 AAdvantage miles flying Etihad Business Class from New York to Cairo via Abu Dhabi.
Leave Plenty of Time
Since you have two separate tickets, I highly recommend you to have plenty of time to connect between the two flights with separate tickets. Based on the example above, I would have at least 4-5 hours in Montreal to catch the Turkish flight. Make sure you book two flights with legal connection time. Expertflyer has a great (paid) tool to guide you on whether or not your connection time is legal.
The reason is that you are not protected if you hold separate tickets. In this case, Turkish wouldn’t be responsible for rebooking you if the Air Canada flight is delayed and results in misconnection. That leads us to the next point.
Mileage Redemption Option
Sometimes the revenue cost of a short-haul flight is expensive. Alternatively, you can try to see if an award ticket is available. Depending on your travel date, sometimes United and American have web-specials where you can redeem your miles at a reasonable rate.
Take Advantage of the Free Stopover
Since you hold separate tickets, you practically have a free stopover. As I explained above, since you need to have a long buffer for your connection, why not spend a day or two before your main journey.
Transit Without Visa
If you purchase a separate ticket and plan to have a connection in a foreign country, please make sure to check the transit without visa policy (TWOV) for that country. TWOV allows certain citizens to remain airside during transit without leaving the sterile area. United has a free tool you can use to check your entry requirement as a guideline.
At the first point of departure airport, the check-in agent verifies your entry documents. If you hold a visa-required passport, you have to prove that you have a valid onward ticket. I highly recommend you bring a hard copy of your itineraries.
Planning a trip with a positioning flight is a daunting task – even for me. I always make sure that I have all the required travel documents and have plenty of time between two flights with separate tickets. Fortunately, it has always worked out for me. However, I’ve heard countless cases where, for unfortunate reasons, people misconnect their flight which results in hefty fees to rebook and change your plan last minute.
Note that my recommendation above is solely based on my personal experience. It has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by anyone. Each case is different. It depends on many factors, such as travel documents, entry eligibility, visa requirements, flight operations, and more.