Where To Find Award Space

I’ve realized that my last few posts were starting to sound like an advertisement for award booking services, and that’s truly not the intent. Yes, US Airways is hilariously impossible to deal with, but that doesn’t mean you can’t book your own awards with a bit of practice.

Beyond that, myself and everyone I work with are really passionate about this hobby. Like, crazy-scouring-award-charts-for-fun-on-Sunday-mornings passionate. And as someone who loves miles and points it just makes sense to me that you’d learn how to redeem your miles as you learn how to earn them.

After all, if you don’t know what’s practical with your miles, how do you know if you’re accumulating the right ones?

So I thought I’d go through the bare-bones basics of how to find award space.

Full disclosure: If you’ve been reading Lucky’s blog for years, have redeemed United miles for Singapore Suites, or LifeMiles for anything, then this post will probably be a bit basic for you. I’m also only going to cover publicly available tools and ExpertFlyer — there are some “pro” tools out there for searching award space, but I don’t use them.

Alliances & Partnerships

Airline alliances and partnerships are really the building blocks of award travel. Pretty much every airline has partners nowadays, and for the most part you can redeem the miles you’ve earned on an airline on their partners as well.

However, you will always follow the charts and rules for the program you have miles withAlways.

This is an area where there’s often a great deal of confusion, so to be clear: you can earn miles with one airline, and potentially use that airlines’ miles to fly another airline. With very very limited exceptions you will not transfer miles between the two airlines.

So if you have United miles, you’re going to be paying United’s award rates.

You’re going to use united.com or call MileagePlus to book your ticket.

Your email confirmation will come from United, regardless of which airline is operating your flight.

Swiss-Business-Class-A330-03
So you can accrue SPG points to transfer to Aeroplan to book on Swiss Air — oh my!

Make sense so far?

Saver vs. Standard

The next key thing to understand is that many airlines have multiple tiers of award space.

A subset of space is often reserved for members of the airlines’ frequent flyer program, and partners don’t have access to that inventory.

Singapore Airlines, for example, only releases long-haul premium cabin availability to members of their own KrisFlyer program. Delta Air Lines has three tiers of award availability (soon to be five in 2015), but partner airlines only have access to the first tier.

Visually, one of the easiest ways to show this is through United. United displays their “Saver” award space in blue:

Find-award-space-1

All partner airlines should have access to this award inventory. The price you pay is going to be dependent upon which program you’re using, so you can just ignore the numbers if you’re booking through a Star Alliance partner.

Meanwhile the flights listed in yellow are only available if you’re redeeming United MileagePlus miles.

Similarly, American’s “MileSAAver” award space should match what their partner airlines have access to:

Find-award-space-2

While “AAnytime” awards are reserved for those using AAdvantage miles:

Find-award-space-3

So if you can find saver award space, you can generally use miles from any partner or alliance member to book the flights.

But where do you go about finding this mythical saver award space?

Where to search for award space

There isn’t a great way to consolidate this information, but it basically boils down to some airlines having more robust websites than others. We’ve compiled a list of where we search for space — that doesn’t mean these are the only options, just our favorites.

Star Alliance

For flights on:Search for space on:
Aegean AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
ExpertFlyer
Air CanadaAeroplan
ANA
ExpertFlyer
United
Air ChinaANA
ExpertFlyer
United
Air IndiaAeroplan
Air New ZealandAeroplan
ANA
United
ANAAeroplan
ANA
United
Asiana AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
United
AustrianAeroplan
ANA
United
AviancaTACAAeroplan
ANA
United
Brussels AirlinesAeroplan
ANA*
United*
Copa AirlinesANA
United
Croatia AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
EGYPTAIRAeroplan
ANA
United
Ethiopian AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
United
EVA AirAeroplan
ANA
United
LOT Polish AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
United
LufthansaAeroplan
ANA
United*
Scandinavian AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
United
Shenzhen AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
Singapore AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
Singapore
South African AirwaysAeroplan
ANA
United
SWISSAeroplan
ANA
United
TAP PortugalAeroplan
ANA
United
THAIAeroplan
ANA
United
Turkish AirlinesAeroplan
ANA
United
UnitedAeroplan
ANA
United

The little asterisks on this chart are because life is complicated. Sometimes, for reasons I don’t quite understand, these websites come up with random “phantom space” that doesn’t actually exist.

United.com is the worst culprit here, although they’ve gotten much better in the past year or so. But it’s good to take a  “trust but verify” approach with united.com.

oneworld

For flights on:Search for space on:
airberlinAmerican*
British Airways
American AirlinesAmerican
British Airways
British AirwaysAmerican
British Airways
Cathay PacificBritish Airways*
JAL
Qantas
FinnairAmerican
British Airways
IberiaBritish Airways
ExpertFlyer
Japan Airlines (JAL)British Airways
LATAMBritish Airways
Malaysia AirlinesBritish Airways
QantasAmerican
British Airways
Qatar AirwaysBritish Airways
Royal JordanianAmerican
British Airways
S7 AirlinesBritish Airways
SriLankan AirlinesBritish Airways

The phantom space situation is much better with oneworld, but there are still a few things to watch out for. British Airways will sometimes show inaccurate space for Cathay Pacific, and American randomly makes up availability on air berlin.

SkyTeam

For Flights On:Search For Space On:
AeroflotExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Aerolíneas ArgentinasExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
AeromexicoFlyingBlue
Air EuropaExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Air FranceAlaskaair.com*
Delta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue*
AlitaliaDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
China AirlinesExpertFlyer
China EasternExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
China SouthernExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Czech AirlinesExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Delta Air LinesAlaskaair.com
Delta.com
Garuda IndonesiaFlyingBlue
Kenya AirwaysExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
KLMAlaskaair.com
Delta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Korean AirDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Middle East AirlinesNo clue, but no one wants to fly them anyway
SaudiaExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
TAROMExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Vietnam AirlinesFlyingBlue
Xiamen AirlinesExpertFlyer

Ah, SkyTeam.

So the main thing to understand here is that Delta doesn’t really understand what “alliance” means, so you have to pretty much disregard everything I’ve said about saver space being open to all partners. Delta often only has access to a subset of a subset of partner space, so just because you see something on one of these other tools doesn’t necessarily mean Delta can book it. Sorry 🙁

Other key airlines

For flights on:Search for space on:
Aer LingusDifferent availability for all partners.
Use partner site or call.
Air Tahiti NuiExpertFlyer
Alaska AirlinesAmerican
ExpertFlyer
Saver space on Alaskaair.com
Bangkok AirwaysCall partner
EmiratesExpertFlyer
Alaskaair.com
Etihad Airways"Guest" space on Etihad.com
Hawaiian AirlinesDifferent availability for all partners.
Use partner site or call.
Jet AirwaysCall partner
Virgin AmericaCall partner
Virgin AtlanticDelta.com
Virgin AustraliaDelta.com

When airlines aren’t part of an alliance they tend to have different agreements regarding award space. So while Alaska Air shares award space equally with all of its partners, Aer Lingus does not.

Booking mileage tickets

When you’re searching, just search for one segment at a time — these websites need all the help they can get, so if you’re going to be making a few connections start with the long flights. You’ll get better results starting your search with Chicago > Frankfurt than expecting the website to pull up a Portland > Chicago > Frankfurt > Athens itinerary.

If you don’t know how to use any of the tools in the tables above, or if the previous paragraph sounds like Martian, you might want to check out the Beginner’s Guide, or Ben’s tutorials.

As you find flights, make notes. When you’ve put together your entire itinerary, go back to the airline where you have miles to book your award.

Also, in many/most cases, if you’ve found award space using one of the tools above, you won’t be able to book using the issuing carriers website and will need to call.

Bottom line

When it comes time to redeem your points, you nearly always have more options than are immediately apparent on the airline website.

Knowing where to find award space can expand your options greatly, and can help keep you on track with earning miles as well.

Which are your favorite sites to search award space?

Comments

  1. Thanks for taking the time to put this together – although I’d say it’s novice level interesting. The piece of data that would be most interesting and helpful is a set of compiled information based upon prior experience like this:
    CX; Availability ~330 days out then again LT 5 days out
    LH: Partner awards in F starting 14 days out to as little as same day
    NZ: at 60 Days out and less
    UA; at 330 Days and again at 1 week then more at 1 day prior and more a day or departure
    (examples may not be completely accurate)

    Mike

  2. excellent post. i’ll add to that – awardnexus is a really great tool as a single point to search all 3 alliances across dates and classes. obviously it misses things like SQ premium space or etihad, but by-and-large it’s very comprehensive for people who bank miles in regular alliances

    disclaimer : i’m absolutely un-affliated to AwardNexus, and speaking purely out of personal opinion

  3. Travis mentioned this in his most recent post but it’s worth mentioning again is that if you are fixed on where, be flexible on when and if you are fixed on when be flexible on where. The third part to this is to be flexible on routing.

    My most recent award was a trip on a whim from Melbourne to London. Award space out of Australia can be really tough however you can draw a line between Seoul and Johannesburg and 2000 miles either side of it there are places you can connect from Australia to Europe, you can add in the north and south American west coasts as well. The combinations are endless. Lucky has shown this several times, there are two ways to Asia from the US.

  4. @ patricia — Agreed! We don’t use it ourselves because it doesn’t “scale” well for us, but it’s a great tool!

  5. Tiffany,
    Nice post. One question, are American and US Air flights bookable with AVIOS via the BA website, or do you have to call BA directly to ticket? Thanks.

  6. I think a great post (if there isn’t one already) talking about routing rules on award tickets. When I went to Australia I built the routing from scratch. I ended up on JFK-LAX-SYD-MEL(break) (did some domestic travel on my own dime) then SYD-BKK-NRT-LAX-JFK since that’s the only way I would stay in F. It was quite the experience traveling back home.

  7. Great post.

    Why is ExpertFlyer not listed as a means to search for award space in AC? Are their results not reliable?

  8. Not experienced in this area at all, but after reading various flyer websites which suggested using Avios points to fly Boston – Ireland, using the United site to check availability, I tried booking yesterday. Unfortunately despite finding availability for the date I want to fly in April, I can’t book it thru BA Executive Club because they aren’t showing availability.

    So, apropos of the statement above that “while Alaska Air shares award space equally with all of its partners, Aer Lingus does not.”, I guess this is a case of Aer Lingus providing more award seats to United than to BA?

    If so, my effort to build my Avios points was a bit of a waste of time 🙁

    Many thanks for any ideas anyone can offer 🙂

  9. @ Franklyn — Hmmm, I think that would need to be a “series” but that’s a great thought. So many nuances to each airline!

  10. @ Todd — Thanks! They are, and I’ve added them. That’s just not generally how I personally search space, hence the oversight.

  11. @ Catherine — Ouch! Unfortunately that’s correct, and while economy space is often (but not always) similar between what United and British Airways have access to, that’s not the case at all for business class.

  12. Thanks Tiffany. Obviously that explains it…of course I wanted business class! Although I have enough united points to book one business ticket, with avios – had i been able to use them – i could have booked two tickets for fewer points than one aer lingus business class ticket via united. Needless to say, i wanted to use the avios miles. Do you suppose it’s worth waiting to see if ba gets additional aer lingus business class seats? Is there any timetable to any of this? Thanks in advance!

  13. To follow up on Catherine’s question, can you roughly rank the 3 main partners, United’s Mileage Plus, Cathay’s Asia Miles, and BA’s Avios in terms of award availability on Aer Lingus? While she was accumulating points transferable to Avios, I’ve been focused on points transferable to Asia Miles. Am I also making a mistake?

  14. @ Catherine — They certainly could open up more seats, but I haven’t noticed a pattern of that, unfortunately.

  15. @ Less Antman — United definitely has more access to more business class award space on Aer Lingus than British Airways does. I have no clue about Cathay Pacific – I don’t think we’ve ever booked an Aer Lingus award through AsiaMiles.

  16. Can you still book SQ flights using UA miles? I know you can’t search for SQ space online anymore on United’s website. Do you have to call?

  17. Hi Tiffany:

    I’ve read conflicting reports that Alaska seem to have less access to CX’s flights than other OW partners. Is that accurate?

  18. @ Lee — It’s possible, but pour yourself a drink first. Availability should match what Aeroplan has, but it’s a hassle to get the awards priced.

  19. @Tiffany – Thanks. I’m wondering if Citibank’s return to the land of meaningful points will change that in the near-future, given that Asia Miles is the only major transferee in the OneWorld alliance for ThankYou points. I hope I’m not making a big mistake accumulating TY points, although I can always use them for transcontinental and Hawaiian flights on American & Alaska.

  20. @ Less Antman — My guess is it probably won’t, to be honest. While Citi TY points are relatively easy to accrue, the other flexible points currencies tend to be more lucrative and better known. Beyond that, people savvy enough to be finding value in the Asia Miles chart are probably not going to seek out help from a booking service, most likely.

  21. @Tiffany – For Middle East Airlines it’s mainly to fly to to Beirut, Lebanon! The fares flying in and out of there are ridiculous, like $700-800 one way at peak times. You can search for the space on mea.com! I know it’s not on expert flyer, but I believe there’s also space on flying blue and possibly delta!
    Also their award chart is outrageous, you can still use flying blue miles, Alitalia, and/or skymiles correct? Or is just better to use miles from one world or Star Alliance and fly BA, Ethiad, Qatar or Luftansa? Or possibly even use Emirates?
    Sorry if this is a confusing question! I just have family over there and trying to find the best use of miles and comfort for my parents to BEY are quite difficult…

  22. @Tiffany – Thanks again. So is United Mileage Plus the very best for partner availability on Aer Lingus?

  23. @ Tiffany – many thanks for taking the time to educate me! Wish I had spent the time earlier as I probably would have approached this differently. Oh well…

  24. @ Omar — Yeah, you can do better than MEA in all regards.

    For other SkyTeam carriers you have Air France, Alitalia, Aeroflot, and even Saudia (not actually recommending that last one).

    oneworld is good for BA and Qatar, and American miles can be redeemed on Etihad, which is a great choice.

    And then Star Alliance gives you some space on Lufthansa, but Turkish generally has good space as well without fuel surcharges.

    So you should have lots of options if they’re flexible.

  25. My experience booking with US Airways has been really good – though this relied ion identifying available sectors through the site beta.awardtravelr.com – sadly now no longer! Was excellent identifying almost all Star Alliance options, excellent for me for options on routes between Australia and Europe.

    Can one now use Dividend Miles to claim “AAnytime” awards?

  26. @ MSPpete — It’s weird. Sometimes they’re listed, and other times even if there should be space it says “RQ” rather than “OK.”

  27. @ Tiffany — thanks! The tables for alliances/places to search are actually very helpful even for more experienced of us. Also, FYI, BA’s site can be glitchy: right after the AA/US merger, all HoustonDallas routes were broken (would try to route on US via PHX or CLT). It’s been mostly fixed but encountered another problem this week when getting tickets to DFW to position for those cheap DFW-AUH fares.

    Searching IAH-DFW roundtrip worked fine and showed multiple options on both legs. For flexibility, I decided to buy them separately. One-way IAH-DFW search/purchase was successful; when trying to search DFW-IAH, however, only showed routing via PHX. So ended up having to buy a RT and then calling in to cancel the OW ticket (for some reason, system wouldn’t let me cancel online).

    P.S. Booking LifeMiles is actually not very difficult online if everything goes well. As soon as you have to talk to someone (e.g. to cancel/change a ticket), things are much less fun.

  28. @ alex — You have to call American to search for space if you’re trying to redeem AAdvantage miles for Gulf Air.

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