Using airline award tools to your advantage

With more and more restrictions and fees when it comes to award travel and less and less “creative” agents that can find awards under almost all circumstances, I figured it was time to make a brief post about the best way to search for awards online through the various alliances. While most airlines allow you to search for award inventory on their website for flights they operate, it’s the airline websites that allow you to search for inventory of other airlines that can really help you, and that can make the difference between that dream vacation and staying home. They can give you a big advantage over the not so savvy travelers, and can make the time you spend searching for awards online worth your while.

Here’s a quick rundown of the various award tools that are best for searching for award space on the three major alliances. If I leave anything out or make errors, feel free to correct me.

Star Alliance: Both Air Canada and ANA allow members of their frequent flyer programs to search for Star Alliance award inventory online. ANA’s tool is much better than Air Canada’s, so I’ll be focusing on that. First you have to sign up for an ANA Mileage Club account, which can be done here. Then you can log in here with your credentials and select “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines.” The key to success on the ANA tool is to search segment by segment, or else it’s basically useless. If you put in an origin and destination it’ll generally just show you the nonstop and “direct” flights, which is why searching segment by segment is so important if you’re not looking for an award that’s for a nonstop flight.

For example, if you want to go from SFO-LHR, it might be worth searching SFO-FRA, SFO-LHR, LAX-FRA, LAX-LHR, IAD-LHR, ORD-LHR, etc, based on any possible flight combination that can get you there. The award inventory that you see on the ANA tool is almost always accurate for redeeming miles with any Star carrier, with the exception of United due to their notorious Starnet blocking. While the tool doesn’t really have a calendar view, it’s pretty easy to navigate since you can click the arrows to search day-by-day, and they tend to load pretty quickly.

OneWorld: Both BA and QF have excellent award tools, both serving a slightly different purpose. The nice thing about them is that they’re a bit better at finding awards between your intended origin and destination, even if it involves a stop or two, unlike ANA. Both award tools require you to set up an account with their FFP program. You can join BA’s Executive Club here, and QF’s FF program here. To use the BA award tool go here, and to use the QF award tool go here.

One important distinction to make is that QF F award availability does not show up on the QF tool, so if you’re interested in that use the BA tool. Generally I find the QF tool easier to use, although they search a lot less partners than the BA tool does. For example, the BA tool searches CX and JL, which the QF tool doesn’t search as far as I know. Regardless, they’re quite intuitive and overall very helpful in planning awards.

SkyTeam: One thing SkyTeam does very well as a whole is the ability to search awards online. I’m pretty sure most of the member airlines have award checkers for most partners. While they don’t necessarily search all partners, the CO, DL, and NW tools are very helpful, in my experience. To be honest I don’t use them too much so don’t know a whole lot about which is best to use, but I think they’re the best alliance when it comes to the websites of the various airlines showing award inventory. For what it’s worth, despite CO’s awful award availability, I find their site pretty good for finding award availability on partners.

Hope this helps someone out, so feel free to leave comments, ask questions, or make corrections as you see fit.

Thanks!

Comments

  1. I registered with ANA, but am unable to use the Partner Flight Award search function. It states that “The Partner Flight Award search function is only available for passengers who have a certain level of mileage.” All my miles are with United. Any suggestions for how I can get access to the ANA tool so I can check availability of saver awards? United’s own web site shows absolutely no availability US-Europe for summer 2011.

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