Becoming a skilled award traveler involves mastering two distinct abilities: acquiring points and miles and efficiently exchanging them. By creating a collection of the finest travel rewards credit cards, you can master the first ability. The second ability can be more challenging.
At TPG, we help you exchange your transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Rewards points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy points and Bilt Rewards points at the highest value. However, some travelers often encounter difficulties in locating award space.
Regrettably, there isn’t a general principle you can adhere to in order to simplify the search for award space. Each airline and award search engine has advantages, disadvantages and peculiarities to be aware of.
Several innovative external tools can assist you in searching for award availability across the primary programs.
Find airline award availability with an application
Diverse applications and websites can enable you to search across multiple airlines, alliances and programs at once instead of being concerned about the ideal loyalty program to search through.
If you’re unfamiliar with ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), read our beginners guide to award searches on ExpertFlyer to get up to speed. ExpertFlyer enables you to search for award inventory from most major airlines on one interface. You can search for up to seven days at a time and search for multiple cabins (i.e., first and business class) in one search.
ExpertFlyer doesn’t support every airline out there (notable absences are Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines and, recently, most Star Alliance airlines). Nevertheless, if your airline of choice is supported, you should commence your search there.
Related: How to utilize ExpertFlyer alerts to secure a better seat
Alternatively, Point.me is a paid web service that checks for award space in 33 programs across over 100 airlines. You can search your favored itinerary, the dates and the number of travelers. Point.me will then provide you with real-time available award options you can reserve. It will also display which credit card points can be transferred to which partner, and how many transferable points you will need to reserve.
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In our trials, the platform doesn’t always provide the most accurate information (e.g., taxes and fees are often inaccurate, and sometimes award space is incorrect), but it’s an excellent place to initiate your searches. You can buy a 24-hour pass if you have a specific or urgent trip in mind, or sign up for an annual plan.
Bilt Rewards users can access a restricted version of Point.me for free through the Bilt Rewards app. As with the full version, you can search for award flight availability, although you will only see results from Bilt transfer partners. If you have Bilt Rewards points youwish to transfer to an airline loyalty program with the intention of buying tickets, this is a great avenue to test out Point.me free of charge.
You may also wish to explore Roame and Seats.aero, which are relatively recent platforms offering a one-stop solution for your next award search.
Related: Exploring in 2024? These 8 applications and websites simplify locating award redemptions
Exploring award availability for North American airlines
In the first instance, you will notice several well-known airlines are absent from this roster. If you are intending to fly with Southwest Airlines or Spirit Airlines utilizing points and miles, you will need to make direct bookings through their loyalty programs, thus eliminating the need to select a partner airline for searching award availability. These airlines have restricted or no airline partnerships and operate on revenue-based loyalty programs.
The major carriers in the United States are among the most straightforward to engage with given their relatively robust and comprehensive search engines.
Of particular significance, all these programs are trending towards dynamic pricing; as a result, if you are seeking to redeem United miles, you should commence your search via United before verifying award availability with a partner, as the surcharges could potentially result in higher booking costs.
One of the (many) drawbacks of dynamic pricing is the reduced availability of saver award space, making it more challenging to find favorable deals on partner award websites. If you are planning to book your United flights via a partner such as Avianca LifeMiles or Aeroplan in the hope of benefiting from lower award rates, it would be wise to conduct your search directly through the partner program to confirm the availability of award space.
Air Canada’s Aeroplan is also an appealing loyalty program, particularly for business-class flights to Europe. Regardless, it would be prudent to compare prices with Avianca LifeMiles before initiating the transfer of your credit card points.
Related: Sidestepping fuel surcharges on award travel
Exploring award availability for European airlines
One of the most reliable ways to fly between the U.S. and Europe with points and miles is by opting for Lufthansa first class, but careful consideration is required in selecting the program for searching award space and booking your ticket. Lufthansa only opens up first-class award space to its partners 30 days in advance, necessitating some flexibility for last-minute arrangements.
Avianca LifeMiles imposes a very reasonable 87,000 miles for the one-way first-class award. Alternatively, you can make a reservation with Air Canada’s Aeroplan, but awards commencing at 100,000 points to or from East Coast airports, with longer flights incurring higher mileages. However, one of the benefits of using Aeroplan is the ability to add a stopover for 5,000 points on a one-way ticket.
This same principle applies to other carriers within the Star Alliance group. It is advisable to always compare Avianca LifeMiles and Air Canada Aeroplan to identify the most favorable pricing for any specific route. Award availability is expected to be consistent across all these partners, thus simplifying your search.using whatever software you plan to reserve with if you already possess miles available.
Trips to Europe for Oneworld airlines
In general, you’ll have the best success searching for American, British Airways, Iberia, and other Oneworld partner flights to Europe using American AAdvantage. For the most favorable rates, you will prefer to reserve Iberia flights with Iberia Plus Avios or British Airways Avios. Similarly, you’ll obtain a more advantageous offer by booking connecting tickets with AAdvantage miles as opposed to Avios, since British Airways levies charges per section based on distance.
All Oneworld programs add substantial fuel surcharges for British Airways flights, but you can lower them by reserving with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. Asia Miles consistently applies approximately half the fuel surcharges you’d incur with other Oneworld programs.
Locate available awards for Asian airlines
Senior-class rewards from Singapore Airlines
Singapore typically does not offer long-haul senior-class award space to most of its affiliates, with the exception of Alaska Mileage Plan. Therefore, as a rule, always search for Singapore Airlines award space on the Singapore website and verify the award price with Alaska Mileage Plan before determining which software to use for reserving your flights.
Ensure you’re obtaining the finest offer on ANA award tickets
Your best option is usually to make reservations with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points if you want to fly with ANA. The lowest cost for initial class ANA awards begins at merely 115,000 points round-trip, which is an outstanding deal. These tickets cannot be booked on the Virgin Atlantic website. Locate discounted award space on the ANA or United website, and contact Virgin Atlantic to confirm availability before transferring rewards for reservations.
You also have the option to reserve off-peak ANA business-class tickets from the U.S. to Japan starting at 75,000 miles round-trip using ANA Mileage Club. These tickets can be reserved online via ANA’s website. Additionally, you’re eligible for a free stopover in another part of Japan, enabling you to visit two cities for the price of one. Off-peak tickets to other destinations in Asia are also a good offer, but they will require more points.
Locate available awards for other airlines
|If you want to travel with||Search for award space with|
|Etihad Airways||American Airlines AAdvantage
Air Canada Aeroplan
|Qantas||American Airlines AAdvantage
Qantas Frequent Flyer
British Airways Executive Club
|Qatar Airways||American Airlines AAdvantage
British Airways Executive Club
Qatar Airways Privilege Club
General guidance when searching for airline award redemptions
Given that you now know where to find award space for your upcoming journey, let’s examine a couple of tactics I utilize to streamline the process.
Search on a segment basis
Most award search engines have this peculiar aspect where you often receive different outcomes if you search for your entire itinerary rather than one flight at a time.
If you can identify availability per segment, even if the entire journey does not appear in a single search result, you should be able to contact the airline and reserve this as a single award without too much hassle.
Take notes and be prepared
Many airline customer service representatives are skilled at their roles, but you’ll achieve much better results when you conduct the legwork yourself.
Prior to making a reservation for an award flight, you should have the precise dates and flight numbers you desire; communicate this early in the dialogue.
As soon as I divulge where I aim to travel, I’ll add, “I have the flight numbers here whenever you’re prepared for them,” so they avoid wasting time attempting to search on their end.
If you’ve carried out your research to confirm that there is award space and your routing is valid, these telephone calls will progress much more smoothly.
Related: Book this, not that: Star Alliance award tickets
Mastering the art of locating and reserving award flights is among the most challenging aspects of award travel — especially when booking senior-class seats on an extended journey.
A growing number of third-party applications and websites can save you a substantial amount of time by searching multiple programs and airlines concurrently for a nominal monthly membership charge.
If you have a specific airline in mind for your travels, utilize the tables above to search for award space and ensure you are aware of the lowest price before transferring any credit card points for reservations.