This weeks mailbag yielded a fantastic question from a long time reader, and it’s a question many points enthusiasts have at some point wondered. If you cancel a flight booking you made with points, does that seat automatically become available using points again? There are so many reasons that this could be beneficial, so we’ll tackle the answer, as well as strategies behind some hopeful thinking…

The Answer

No. With virtually all airline programs, when you cancel a booking made with points, the seats or rooms do not automatically go back into available inventory using points. That’s not to say it may not happen, but you simply cannot bank on a cancelled seat becoming available again using points, at least not immediately…

A Prime Example

You make a business class booking using points, paying 100,000 points and $500 in surcharges. Just a week later, you find that there are Premium Economy deals on sale, for $500, which would only require 50,000 points for a round trip upgrade. Who wouldn’t then want to cancel and save 50,000 points, paying exactly the same cash? While you might think that you’d automatically be able to upgrade from premium economy to the business class seat you’ve just cancelled, the airline has no obligation to re release that seat using points.

Why You Care

Reserving airline seats with points can be a great way to hedge your bets on cost and upgrades, and sometimes plans just change. For people with restrictive corporate travel policies, which limit travelers to economy or premium, holding a seat in business using points could in theory be used as a way to ensure an upgrade opportunity pops up, once the ticket is booked. This could also make sense in playing the flight ladder game, where you try to continually improve your points bookings, when you’ve booked for more than one person, and are trying to trade on each improvement to improve the other ticket.

Ladder Game Example

You’re looking to book two first class seats. When you search, there’s one seat available in business and one in premium, so you take one of each. Fortuitously, a seat becomes available in First Class, and so the business ticket upgrades. This does not automatically mean that a seat in business will become available for the other traveler. Basically, it may work, but there’s just no guarantee, so if you need a seat, be very wary and calculated before cancelling any bookings.

Long Story Short

This was a great question, and hopefully by now you know that there’s just no guarantees. If a flight is still relatively empty when you cancel your seat using points, there’s a far greater chance that the airline re-releases the seat using points, but if it’s a relatively full flight, they’ll likely want to try to sell it for cash first. One thing is for sure: setting alerts for seats using points helps.