You’d think you could type in where you’re flying from and where you’re going and get a list of available flights. In fact, most customers think this because it’s perfectly logical. But it’s often not the case.
Most airlines don’t show availability of awards on all of their partners on their own websites and don’t show all options even for their own flights.
If you searched flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on the American Airlines website, it will tell you only if you can fly American’s non-stop or Los Angeles to Dallas to Hong Kong (using American’s own Dallas to Hong Kong flight). It won’t ever tell you about the four flights a day Los Angeles – Hong Kong non-stop on oneworld partner Cathay Pacific (let alone connections through San Francisco) because Cathay’s award space isn’t supported by AA.com.
What’s more, an airline’s website may return only a subset of available flights, failing to search all possible connections.
- It pays to call in addition to searching online
- The best thing is to find award space yourself and then call, asking for exactly the flights you already know are available.
In other to do this you need to know where to search.
Since I search for a lot of award availability, I use several paid sites and tools but for the most part they’re accessing publicly available information, you just need to know where to look for it.
- KVS Tool is a downloadable software program, you enter your search in a simple box and it queries the relevant airline sites for you. You can have multiple copies of the program open at a time to do concurrent searches. And you can have it search a month at a time, stopping when it comes up with available space.
- Award Nexus is a site that lets you search many of these same data sources as much as a month at a time and gives you results on a calendar. It’s the most expensive (you essentially pay per-search) but probably the most powerful. You can automate searches and get emailed results.
- Expert Flyer can search for space and email you when it opens up. It also has revenue availability and can alert you when preferred seats open up.
Very few people use all of these, and most will only use the free airline websites that give you the underlying data — paid services are for power users.
But what websites do you go to? Here are some that I use, for different airlines. You may have to join a frequent flyer program in order to search availability on its site.
Star Alliance airlines: I use Aeroplan.com most, because it’s fast and finds plenty of routings even I might not have thought of. United.com is likely the easiest (and doesn’t require logging in) but it isn’t totally comprehensive — not all partners are there, and some come and go. I find Aeroplan to be more reliable for Star Alliance partner availability than the ANA website. See: How to Book Star Alliance Awards
oneworld airlines: I find the Qantas frequent flyer website to be the quickest and easiest, but it doesn’t include all oneworld airlines and occasionally returns ‘false positives’ (shows space that isn’t really there). For Malaysia Airlines and Japan Airlines I search the British Airways BA.com website. While BA.com will occasionally give ‘false positives’ itself for space (especially on LAN) it does so less frequently than the Qantas website. See: The Ultimate Guide to Booking Award Tickets Using American Miles
Skyteam: Delta.com is getting better, but it doesn’t support as many airlines as AirFrance.us. Air France’s website will sometimes show phantom space you can’t actually book, especially on Kenya Airways. Air France has been known to close down accounts of members who don’t have any miles and don’t use their accounts for anything other than award searches.
Emirates: You can find Emirates award space using the Alaska Airlines website, but only for routes that Alaska lets you redeem miles for and the Alaska website also sometimes shows false positives. So if you search Dubai – Bangkok you won’t get results. Instead I search the Qantas website and I use Expertflyer.
Virgin Australia: I use Delta.com most frequently, rather than the Virgin Australia website (anyone can join and search, but you need to use an address from an eligible country).
Singapore Airlines: They’re a Star Alliance airline but they almost never make long haul premium cabin award space available to their partners so you won’t see much of it at Aeroplan.com. But if you’re using Singapore Airlines miles you have access to much better availability, and have to use the Singapore Airlines website to find the space.
Virgin Atlantic: This airline isn’t a member of a global alliance, but they’re 49% owned by Delta and so you can use either the Delta.com or Virgin Atlantic websites to search award space.
Etihad: You can search Etihad’s website and don’t even need an account with them to do so. You want to look only at the lowest level “Guest” award space and that’s what you can use American miles for, or miles from other partner airlines. See: How to Snag Etihad First Class Awards