Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of the All Nippon Airways Mileage Club. Not that I fly ANA frequently (though I’ve flown them in first class before, have an upcoming reservation to do so again, and it’s truly lovely).
First, because for some specific redemptions such as US East Coast to Europe in business class their award chart is quite favorable, e.g. New York to London in Virgin Upper Class for 63,000 miles or Washington-Dulles to Frankfurt on Lufthansa for 68,000 miles. (And of course you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to ANA, but when actually booking your ticket do be aware that they charge much higher taxes and fees than US-based programs.)
Second, and most useful for most, is that their website lets you check award availability across the Star Alliance. You don’t have to have any miles in your account to look for award seats, you just have to have an account. Their website will show the seats being offered as awards on most Star Alliance carriers. (United, though, will sometimes refuse to book awards where their partner is actually offering the seat — one reason I buck the conventional wisdom and currently actually prefer accruing US Airways miles for non-flight activity.)
Notably absent from the All Nippon Airways Star Alliance Award website is access to Air China and Swiss. If you want to check availability of awards on Swiss, you can call your frequent flyer program of course. Or you can sign up for ExpertFlyer, a paid service. But the only way to do it online for free is via Lufthansa (and Swiss’) frequent flyer program, Miles & More. But you can’t just sign up for a Miles & More account and search Swiss availability. You actually have to have credited a flight there first. Bummer.
Turns out there’s a workaround for checking Swiss award avialability online. You can register for Jetfriends, the children’s version of Miles & More. And this gives you access to check award availability without the need for a flight first. You just have to wait for the registration welcome letter to come in the mail with your account number and PIN.
(Hat tip to this Flyertalk thread.)