Editor’s word: This submit has been up to date with new data.
Turning into a sophisticated award traveler requires you to grasp two separate abilities: incomes factors and miles and successfully redeeming them for the utmost doable worth. By creating a portfolio of the best travel rewards credit cards, you possibly can grasp the primary ability. The second ability is more difficult.
Right here at TPG, we’ve devoted numerous hours to serving to you redeem your transferable Chase, Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott and Bilt factors on the most worth. The place most run into points, nevertheless, is discovering award area.
Sadly, there isn’t a normal rule you possibly can comply with to make this course of simpler. Every airline and award search engine has its execs, cons and quirks to concentrate on. Fortunately, instruments like ExpertFlyer and point.me may also help you seek for award availability throughout the foremost packages.
Immediately we’re going to demystify this course of and take a look at the place it’s best to seek for award area relying on which airline you wish to fly with and the way web sites like ExpertFlyer and point.me may also help make your searches simpler.
Earlier than we dive in, let me clarify what this chart will appear like.
Generally, it’s best to seek for award area with no matter loyalty program you propose to guide with. In that case, I’ll record the choices so as of recognition/pricing attractiveness and clarify how one can determine which one to make use of. In some instances, it’s a matter of private desire. On this case, you’ll see two packages on the identical line separated by “OR.”
Let’s dive in!
Immediately, we’ll focus on which airways provide one of the best award engines like google. However there’s additionally one omnipotent software that makes it straightforward to seek for award area on a number of airways in a single place: ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s father or mother firm, Crimson Ventures).
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For those who’re unfamiliar with ExpertFlyer, learn our beginner’s guide to award searches on ExpertFlyer to familiarize yourself. ExpertFlyer permits you to seek for award stock from most main airways on one interface. You’ll be able to seek for as much as seven days at a time and seek for a number of cabins (i.e., first and enterprise class) in a single search.
ExpertFlyer doesn’t help each airline on the market (notable absences are Cathay Pacific, Delta and JAL), but when your airline of alternative is supported, it’s best to begin your search there. The one factor to recollect is that the outcomes aren’t at all times completely correct, so it’s best to double-check with the airline earlier than you switch factors over to guide your award.
Associated: How to use ExpertFlyer alerts to snag a better seat
Level.me is a comparatively new web site that checks for award area on 33 packages throughout over 100 airways. You’ll be able to search your required itinerary, the dates and the variety of vacationers. Level.me will then offer you some real-time obtainable award choices you possibly can guide. In our checks, the platform does not at all times give essentially the most correct data (e.g., taxes and charges are sometimes inaccurate, and typically award area is wrong), but it surely’s an excellent place to begin your searches.
For instance, once I looked for a enterprise class flight from Newark Liberty Worldwide Airport (EWR) to Munich Airport (MUC), level.me urged transferring 54,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards factors to Air Canada Aeroplan with the current transfer bonus to guide.
The usual plan prices $129 per yr.
North American airways
To maintain this manageable, we’ve cut up up the information by geographic area, beginning with airways based mostly in North America.
You’ll discover just a few in style airways are lacking from this record. For those who plan on flying Southwest, JetBlue or Spirit with factors and miles, you must guide instantly by way of their loyalty packages and received’t have to fret about choosing which accomplice to look with. These airways have restricted or no airline partnerships and revenue-based loyalty packages.
U.S. legacy carriers are among the many best to take care of as a result of all of them have comparatively strong and complete engines like google. Extra importantly, they’re all tilting towards dynamic pricing, which suggests if you happen to’re making an attempt to redeem United miles, it’s best to at all times search by way of United earlier than checking award availability with a accomplice.
One of many (many) downsides of dynamic pricing is that there’s much less saver-award area obtainable, the bottom pricing band that’s usually required to guide awards by way of companions. Even when there’s saver-level award area, it’s not at all times straightforward to establish. For those who plan on booking your United flights through a partner like Avianca LifeMiles or Aeroplan to benefit from decrease award charges, it’s best to search instantly with that accomplice program.
Air Canada Aeroplan is a fairly attractive loyalty program, too — particularly for enterprise class flights to Europe or Asia. Regardless, examine pricing with Avianca LifeMiles earlier than transferring your bank card factors.
Associated: How to avoid fuel surcharges on award travel
Lufthansa first class is arguably one of the best ways to fly between the U.S. and Europe with points and miles, however you’ll have to be cautious about which program to seek for award area and guide your ticket. Lufthansa only releases first class award space to its companions 30 days out, so that you’ll want some last-minute flexibility to make this occur.
Avianca LifeMiles fees a really affordable 87,000 miles for the one-way top quality award. Alternatively, you possibly can guide with Air Canada Aeroplan, however awards begin at 100,000 factors to/from east coast airports, with longer flights charging extra miles. Nevertheless, one of many upsides to utilizing Aeroplan is that you can add a stopover for 5,000 points on a one-way ticket.
This similar sample applies to different Star Alliance carriers as effectively. You’ll at all times wish to examine Avianca LifeMiles and Air Canada Aeroplan to see who has one of the best pricing on any given route or use United as a final resort. The Lufthansa top quality ticket sells for 121,000 United miles. Award availability ought to be related throughout all these companions, so you’ll have a better time looking with whichever program you guide with if you have already got miles available.
Oneworld flights to Europe
Typically, you’ll have one of the best luck looking for American, British Airways, Iberia and different Oneworld accomplice flights to Europe with American AAdvantage. Simply word that you just’ll wish to guide Iberia flights with Iberia Plus Avios for one of the best charges. Likewise, you’ll get a greater deal reserving connecting tickets with AAdvantage miles over British Airways since BA fees based mostly on distance and per phase.
All Oneworld packages tack on big gasoline surcharges for British Airways flights. You’ll be able to scale back them if you happen to guide with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. This program persistently fees roughly half the gasoline surcharges you’d pay with different Oneworld packages.
The 2 largest SkyTeam packages — Delta SkyMiles and Air France-KLM Flying Blue — each use dynamic award pricing, so looking for SkyTeam awards has gotten rather more difficult.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club nonetheless makes use of award charts, permitting you to guide a one-way Delta One flight from the USA to Europe for simply 50,000 Flying Membership miles.
Associated: 6 tips for booking Lufthansa first class awards
Singapore Airways premium cabin awards
With Asia-based carriers, you’ll principally wish to seek for award area based mostly on the alliance you’re flying with, however there are just a few notable exceptions. Singapore doesn’t launch any long-haul premium-cabin award area to most of its companions, besides Alaska Mileage Plan. In order a normal rule, at all times seek for Singapore Airways award area on the Singapore web site and test the award worth on Alaska Mileage Plan earlier than deciding which program to guide with.
Cathay Pacific flights may be complicated
Cathay Pacific can be difficult, as ExpertFlyer doesn’t help the airline. Cathay Pacific awards have recently before bookable utilizing Alaska’s web site. Nevertheless, if you happen to guide with Asia Miles, search there first, as this system has traditionally opened extra Commonplace award area to its members.
Be sure to’re getting one of the best deal on ANA award tickets
You’re typically finest reserving with Virgin Atlantic Flying Membership factors on the ANA aspect. Firstclass award tickets start at just 110,000 points round-trip, which is a superb deal. ANA top quality flights departing the U.S. price 110,000 miles (or extra) one-way when booked with United MileagePlus miles. You’ll be able to’t guide these tickets on the Virgin Atlantic web site. Discover saver award area on the ANA or United web site, and name Virgin Atlantic to substantiate availability earlier than you switch miles to guide.
You too can guide off-peak ANA enterprise class tickets beginning at 75,000 miles round-trip from the U.S. to Japan with ANA Mileage Club. These tickets are bookable on-line on ANA’s web site. Plus, you’re entitled to a free stopover elsewhere in Japan so to go to two cities for the value of 1. Off-peak tickets elsewhere in Asia are an excellent deal, too however will price extra factors.
SkyTeam isn’t any simpler
The identical SkyTeam woes that apply to looking for flights from the U.S. to Europe apply right here too. I like to recommend looking for flights with Flying Blue and Delta SkyMiles for award area and pricing. Sadly, you’ll possible pay a giant chunk of factors whatever the route and airline you guide with as a result of program’s dynamic pricing insurance policies.
Associated: The best ways to fly to Asia in business class
|If you wish to fly on …||You must seek for award area with …|
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Attending to the Center East isn’t (too) laborious
The Gulf carriers and their opulent premium cabins are a bucket-list merchandise for a lot of award vacationers. Sadly, you possibly can no longer use Alaska miles to fly Emirates, so if you wish to use your miles to journey on Emirates, you are caught with Emirates Skywards, this system that is infamous for some of the worst fuel surcharges.
Whereas award area is way and few between, you possibly can guide the Qatar Qsuite on American’s web site. Qsuite flights from the U.S. to the Center East price simply 70,000 AAdvantage miles. Etihad bookings typically don’t seem on aa.com, however Etihad award area may be discovered on Air Canada’s web site. For those who discover Etihad “visitor first” availability, you possibly can call American Airlines to get it ticketed.
LATAM has left Oneworld
LATAM left Oneworld in 2020 and teamed up with Delta Air Strains. You’re finest off in search of award area utilizing the Delta or LATAM web site after which calling your accomplice to guide your ticket. The airline has stored non-alliance partnerships with many Oneworld members, like Alaska Airways.
Associated: How to get to (and stay in) Dubai using points and miles
Now that you already know the place to seek out award area on your subsequent journey, let’s take a look at just a few methods I take advantage of to make the method simpler.
Search phase by phase
That is an odd quirk of most award engines like google, however you’ll typically get completely different outcomes if you happen to seek for your full itinerary as an alternative of looking for one flight at a time.
For instance, let’s say you wish to fly Cathay Pacific first class from Chicago’s O’Hare Worldwide Airport (ORD) to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). For those who go to the British Airways web site and seek for a flight from Chicago to Bangkok, it’s possible you’ll not get any availability. For those who do, there’s an opportunity they could possibly be British Airways flights connecting by way of London with high fuel surcharges.
Nevertheless, if you happen to break your search into two, one for the Chicago to Hong Kong Worldwide Airport (HKG) leg and one other for Hong Kong to Bangkok, yow will discover the flights you want to piece collectively the itinerary. Then, you possibly can name the airline you’d prefer to guide with and have them guide the itinerary for you over the cellphone.
One other means to consider that is to try to construct longer journeys from the within out. I lately helped a good friend guide a visit from Miami Worldwide Airport (MIA) to Bali’s Ngurah Rai Worldwide Airport (DPS). We looked for award flights from Miami to Bali at no level within the course of. With a minimal of two stops in that itinerary, we’re not going to have a lot luck counting on the pc to do the work for us.
We looked for flights from New York, Chicago and D.C. to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. As soon as we discovered area on the longest phase, we appeared for positioning flights within the U.S. and Asia.
Take notes and are available ready
Many airline customer support brokers are good at their jobs, however you’ll get a lot better outcomes if you do the work your self.
So earlier than you name to guide an award flight, it’s best to have the precise dates and flight numbers you need. Make that recognized early within the dialog.
As quickly as I inform the agent the place I’m making an attempt to go, I’ll throw in, “I’ve the flight numbers right here everytime you’re prepared for them,” in order that they don’t waste any time making an attempt to look on their finish. For those who’ve accomplished your homework to make sure that there’s award area and your routing is legitimate, these calls will go a lot simpler.
Associated: Book this, not that: Star Alliance award tickets
Studying find out how to discover and guide award flights is without doubt one of the hardest issues about award journey — particularly if you’re trying to score a coveted first class seat on an extended flight. One factor you’ll have seen is that regardless of the handfuls of airways coated on this submit, solely 5 or so essential frequent flyer packages hold popping up.
Spend a while familiarizing your self with them and training looking for award area. That means, if you’re able to fly, it is going to really feel like second nature.
Further reporting by Andrew Kunesh and Kyle Olsen