Positioning Flights: Everything You Need to Know


Positioning flights are a foreign concept to folks who don’t actively collect transferrable miles and points, so if you’ve never heard of this topic, you’re in the majority! 

Before my journey into miles and points, I only cared about getting to my final destination as fast as possible for the least amount of money. While I still want to travel for the least amount of money, my focus over time has changed to an emphasis on comfort and an interest in trying many different business and first class products.

Let me take you through the concept of positioning flights in simple terms and why they are a trick worth considering implementing when booking your next award flight.

What is a Positioning Flight?

Simply put, a positioning flight is a flight you take for the sole reason of arriving at another airport to take another flight. That sounds an awful lot like a connection, doesn’t it? Connections are always included on the same ticket or itinerary. For example, when you book a flight from Winnipeg to New York, you’ll have a connection in Toronto or Montreal all on the same ticket.

The biggest difference is that positioning flights are booked separately from the rest of your itinerary. This means that when you are flying a positioning flight as part of your journey, you will have two itineraries that are not linked in any way.

Why would you ever consider booking two separate tickets to get to a destination that you could get to on one ticket? The reason is threefold: Saving money and/or points, increasing your chances of finding your desired award availability, or being able to finally fly that aspirational business class or first class product you’ve been dreaming of.

Considerations Before Booking a Positioning Flight

When considering implementing this advanced strategy in your next flight award booking, it’s important that you take a few things into account.

Try to Avoid Positioning Flights

While positioning flights are a good tool, it’s obviously much easier if you can avoid them completely and string together your desired itinerary all under one ticket. Before you jump to booking a positioning flight, you should first exhaust all available options in working to find a reasonably priced itinerary that would work from your home airport.

If you have points in multiple loyalty programs or access to a transferable currency like American Express Membership Rewards, this would include searching Air Canada Aeroplan and Air France KLM Flying Blue as those are the loyalty programs that serve most Canadian airports. 

To a lesser extent, Cathay Asia Miles and British Airways Avios should be checked as well, however, these programs only serve long-haul routes from Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto.

Ensure You Can Find Award Flight Space from Your Desired Hub

Secondly, you must find a reasonable points (or cash) fare from a major hub airport that works for your travel dates. To do this, I use FlightConnections to search which airlines fly to the city I want to travel to. I can then search the frequent flyer program from my preferred major hub to the city I want to visit. 

For example, I can easily pull up all flights to Dubai from North America on FlightConnections to understand the possible routes that I might consider searching for award availability on.

route options to fly to dubai

From there, it’s easy to pick a major hub, such as New York (JFK), and search for award availability in the desired frequent flyer loyalty program.

new york to dubai pricing on aeroplan

Alternatively, to save some time, you can use seats.aero with airport codes CAD and USA to see what award flights are available from all major North American airports for the next 60 days for free! While you may not be booking a flight that leaves in 60 days or less, this can give you a good starting point to see what can be available from an airport nearby.

seats.aero CAD USA search results

There are other third-party tools that are great for this as well, so check out our award flight search tool comparison for more. Either way, once you find your desired award availability, you can then determine if a positioning flight is required and what your full journey would look like before booking.

Determine if Utilizing a Positioning Flight is Worth It

Finally, you need to do the math on your total dollars and time out of pocket when considering implementing a positioning flight in your journey.

If you save 20,000 points by routing through a major hub other than your home airport, but it costs an additional $500 to book a one-way flight to your major hub, it’s probably not worth taking the time and risk (which we will touch on later) to reposition. Ultimately, repositioning should be considered a “when all else fails” solution rather than something to implement for all your bookings.

Aside from saving cash and points, positioning flights can also have some intangible value in making new business and first class experiences available. 

For example, if you want to fly the world-renowned Qatar Airways QSuites booked through British Airways Avios but live anywhere in Canada except Montreal, you will be forced to reposition. Qatar Airways only services Montreal in Canada, and Canada has no airlines that partner with Qatar, making a connecting itinerary on points impossible from elsewhere in Canada.

Positioning Flight Examples

The concept of positioning flights can be a bit weird, so let’s illustrate the idea with a few examples to better showcase the value they can bring to your miles and points travel goals.

Flying on Qatar Airways QSuites

As I mentioned, one of the most common positioning flights for Canadian points and miles maximizers is a hop to Montreal to fly on Qatar Airways QSuites to Doha and onwards. There are many ways to redeem miles and points for Qatar Airways QSuites, and Montreal is the only Canadian city serviced by Qatar Airways. 

As a result, unless you are located in or around Montreal, you will need to book a domestic flight to position yourself if you want to fly this highly desired business class product.

qatar airways qsuites overhead view

However, if you’re on the prairies or the West Coast, Qatar Airways also flies their QSuites product from Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, which may be much closer to home. Not to mention, flying from the West Coast means it’s a longer flight to enjoy QSuites. Either way, you will have to book a positioning flight if you want to fly this highly desired product.

Flying on Japan Airlines

While talking about the West Coast, we must mention the increased award availability from major hubs such as San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), or Los Angeles (LAX) compared to Calgary, Edmonton, or even Vancouver. 

While Star Alliance partners can usually be booked on a custom routing with Aeroplan, Oneworld partners such as Japan Airlines offer a great alternative when Air Canada Aeroplan dynamic pricing rears its ugly head.

In the above example, while you will pay more in taxes, you can save a ton of points by positioning to San Francisco on a separate ticket. Not to mention, this also opens up the possibility of being able to fly on Japan Airlines Business Class which is a superior product to Air Canada Signature Class. This reduced pricing is often the same for Economy and Premium Economy bookings on Japan Airlines as well.

japan airlines business class window seats

Think about it: why would you ever want to pay more points for a lesser business class product? A carefully planned positioning flight can prevent that from happening and ensure you are getting the most out of your points.

Increasing Award Availability Through Nearby Airports

Another great tip for west coasters, particularly Vancouverites, is to look for availability from Seattle. Many of the same destinations are served, and it’s only a short flight or 3-hour drive away, doubling the potential for available flight award space.

Not to mention, certain airlines may service one of these cities but not the other. If you have a dream airline you want to fly, a short positioning trip over the border might be an easy make your dreams a reality.

Flying on SWISS Airlines To & From Europe

If you live in the prairies (where I grew up), award travel is difficult but not impossible! You may end up with a few extra connections, but I have been able to get my parents’ flights from Winnipeg to just about everywhere. Positioning becomes vital as the Aeroplan search engine doesn’t like to route Canadians through the USA to reach Europe or vice-versa. 

On the way home from a ski trip to Switzerland, I booked my parents a positioning flight from Geneva to New York. They spent a few days in the Big Apple, then traveled on a cheap connecting itinerary from New York to Toronto and finally to Winnipeg. The alternative flying on Air Canada through Montreal cost an additional 32,000 Aeroplan points per person, making this a positioning flight worth taking, and they got to extend their trip by a couple of days.

aeroplan dynamic pricing geneva to new york

Not only did this save a significant amount of Aeroplan points, but I was able to also improve their vacation at the same time.

Using Delta SkyMiles For More Value

My final example is a bit out there and not something I’ve done personally, but it takes the concept of positioning to the extreme! If you are a Canadian who holds US credit cards and has started to collect Delta SkyMiles, there is a unique opportunity available.

Delta is known for having astronomically high award prices for premium cabins, but only if your flight originates or terminates in the USA or Canada. Where am I going with this? Mexico! If you’re willing to fly to Mexico City on a separate booking, you can often find reasonable SkyMiles redemption prices to get to the Oceania region connecting through LAX.

Best Practices When Booking a Positioning Flight

I mentioned risk earlier in the article, and that’s because there is some involved when using this advanced technique. After all, we are talking about two separate bookings that may involve airlines that have no relationship to one another. 

While airlines generally try and do the right thing, if your positioning flight is late and you miss your long-haul flight, they are not obligated to get you to your final destination. To avoid this worst-case scenario, here are some tips to keep in mind before you embark on a vacation that involves positioning flights to minimize risk and frustration.

Plan for Delays

This particular technique works best for eternal pessimists, as you need to account for Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will go wrong). When it comes to air travel, that usually rears its ugly head as one of our biggest fears as travelers: delays.

However, if you have a plan in place to avoid disappointment, you’ll be successful almost all the time. 

For example, consider positioning yourself the day before your main flight and utilizing a Marriott Free Night Certificate or a Hilton Honors Free Night Certificate for an airport hotel stay the night before your long-haul booking as a way to safeguard your trip. Also, consider the time of year you’re traveling. Canada is called the Great White North, after all, and weather delays happen often in the winter.

Think of your positioning flight like you’re going on a cruise, but you arrive at your destination much faster! If you’re unfamiliar, the best practice for cruising is to arrive at your departure port city the day before departure so you don’t get delayed and miss your boat. The same goes here, but you’re arriving at your “air” port.

Prepare for Baggage Woes

If you opt out of staying in your “port” city the night before, you need to be aware that the chances are high that you’ll have to collect and re-check any baggage. I had quite an adventure when I splurged on last-minute Lufthansa First Class with separate tickets. You can read all about my woes in my Lufthansa First Class review.

Thankfully, none of my baggage got lost, but if it does, you’re in for a hellish experience. Explaining to an airline that you’re now in another city or on another continent and convincing them to forward the bag will be extremely difficult. Worst case, your baggage stays at your “port” city, and you have to backtrack to get it on your way home.

During this baggage carousel (pun 100% intended), you may find yourself stuck in long security lines, meaning it’s vital to have some sort of priority security benefits such as access to the Verified Traveller program or Star Alliance Gold status. In the event of a delayed aircraft, these programs could be the difference between sleeping in a lie-flat bed in the sky or a sad airport hotel.

The best way to avoid baggage woes is to bring carry-on luggage only! One great thing about flying in premium cabins is that you likely won’t get hassled about the size of your carry-on if it’s slightly oversized and it will reduce the stress that comes with checked luggage when positioning.

Choose Positioning Flights Carefully

So, you’ve booked an aspirational trip or saved thousands of points as you booked your main flight from another airport, hooray! The next step might be more important, which is choosing how you arrive at the “port” city. 

While low-cost carriers will be tempting, I would steer clear as they don’t often operate on a regular schedule and tend to be more prone to delays. If your scheduled aircraft needs maintenance, it’s unlikely they have a backup plane ready to go on schedule.

swoop airlines boeing 737 featured image
Swoop might be cheap, but I wouldn’t ever trust them with a positioning flight.

It’s also important to make as few connections as possible to arrive at your “port” city, as this allows more variables into the equation. If you can fly directly from home to your “port” city, that is always preferred. If you must make a connection, consider flying the night before and booking a cheap hotel nearby for peace of mind.

Monitor All Booked Flights

One often overlooked aspect is that your flight times can change and sometimes make your overall itinerary impossible when combined with a positioning flight.

If you’ve booked a positioning flight, you need to closely monitor any changes to that flight in addition to any changes to your main itinerary. On the plus side, if there are schedule changes, you are most likely able to adjust the itinerary free of charge, just like how you can with Aeroplan flight award changes.

While airlines are pretty good about making customers aware of schedule changes, you absolutely want to be proactive and stay on top of your flights to make sure nothing has changed.


Using positioning flights is a great way to save points and cash for the savvy traveler. You always need to make sure it’s a good deal by doing the math of added costs and assigning value to your time, as they are not the most direct path to your vacation. 

Hopefully, this introduction to an advanced subject will give you the confidence you need to save on your next overseas redemption!

Daniel Burkett

Daniel Burkett

Contributor at Frugal Flyer
Daniel entered the Miles and Points game in 2021 and has taken the “make up for lost time” mentality. After spending five years travelling for work and paying no attention to loyalty programs, some say Daniel is out for Points Revenge. With his desire to maximize every point available, he hopes to share the knowledge gained with more travellers to prevent the same mistakes he made.


Review: Lufthansa Business Class (A340)

Review: Aspire Air Canada Café at Toronto Billy Bishop (YTZ)


Leave a Comment

All comments are moderated according to our comment policy. Your email address will NOT be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.