Air travel cost can be like playing the stock market. The prices go up, and sometimes down and then back up again. One thing we know for sure is that they often go up the closer we get to an event date.

That can be a tricky and expensive game for those making last-minute decisions.

Many events promote their conferences up to the last moment and if attendees haven’t booked travel, they’ll likely have to pay the price … unless there’s a way to pay with miles!

I started thinking about this as the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team was advancing to the Elite 8 during March Madness and I saw people posting videos of them surprising their children with tickets to games. I looked up how much those tickets would cost: Over $2,000 from Cedar Rapids (where the company headquarters of Meetings Today’s corporate parent Stamats Communications is located) to Greensboro, North Carolina.

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I’ve flown cheaper to Europe so I wasn’t too excited about buying airfare that expensive.

Then I thought of looking at award travel. That was much cheaper.

On American Airlines, I could book a round trip for 50,000 miles for two. Greensboro is also a reduced-mileage award city, which meant American would discount the 50,000 to 40,000.

Then I got another 4,000 miles back since I have their credit card and now the cost was 36,000.

I used 17,500 Marriott Bonvoy points to book our hotel so the total cost of attending the event was basically just the cost of the tickets, Lyft rides and food. Not bad. I can certainly apply that same concept going to events I didn’t realize I wanted to go to until the last minute!

How to Use Award Travel Strategy for Events

Now, would I use my personal miles for business travel? Of course the answer is that it depends. If I’m the business owner—why not? If I’m trying to balance a budget, maybe.

Perhaps your company has a policy where employees can use mileage and get reimbursed for an average ticket cost. That could save the company money and make the employee some.

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Another way isn’t involving personal miles at all, but business miles. All major airlines in the United States have business programs. American’s is Business Extra, for example.

Your business can earn additional miles for all employee travel. Those points, which can add up quickly, also can be used for last-minute trips and often are cheaper than cash tickets.

Considerations When Booking Award Tickets for Business Travel

As good as this may sound to some, not all employees will be fans. Some may not want to use their personal miles for business trips, even if they get reimbursed. At the very least, businesses—even small ones—would benefit from signing up for the business account mileage accrual. It can save dollars long-term and can get employees to conferences last-minute.

How much event planners want to promote this concept, of course, also depends on individual situations. The other day I talked with a conference that was partnering with Lufthansa and Star Alliance carriers. Certainly, I wouldn’t recommend that event planner to promote reward travel on American. Things to consider and may be worth using as the need arises.

Have you booked a last-minute business trip using award travel programs?

Let us know your experience in the comments below.