By Tim WinshipSpecial to

By Tim Winship
Special to

Sometimes, the best "secret" is hiding in plain sight.

That's the case when it comes to the tricky business of redeeming frequent flyer miles.

The airlines have done a masterful job of training travelers to make their bookings online.  And for paid tickets, that works fine.  But when redeeming frequent flyer miles for free tickets, the airlines' booking applications often show no award seats available for your chosen route on your preferred dates of travel.  At that point, many would-be travelers just give up and opt to either buy a ticket or stay home.

The alternative: Pick up the phone and call the airline's reservations center.  A reservations agent can often successfully book an award trip that couldn't be booked on the carrier's website, using alternative routings or a mix of airlines to circumvent capacity bottlenecks.  Or they can sometimes exercise their authority to bypass capacity restrictions that limit award availability.  Res agents have the expertise and tools to do what you cannot do.

If the agent is successful in making the booking, you'll pay a service charge, typically $20.  It's a small price to pay if it makes the difference between getting where you're going and staying home.

Are you finding it harder to use your miles?

More award booking tips here.

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