There are a number of ways to search for airline award availability – whether that is through the airline directly, through a partner airline, through a subscription-based system, over the phone, etc. There are usually many ways to search for award availability, but there are only a few *good* ways to search for it – that is, some airlines and systems don’t always display accurate availability. In other words, you might sometimes encounter “phantom” award space – which means the flight will show as available, but actually isn’t and will error out when trying to book it.
It is always important to double or triple check if the availability you found is actually there – because if you decide to transfer points from a bank to an airline to book the flight, the transfers are nonreversible, so you will be stuck with those points in a specific program if you cannot book your desired flight because of a website glitch. Usually the best way to verify if an award flight is available is by calling the airline or the frequent flyer program that you want to book through – for example, if I want to book a Lufthansa flight through United’s program, I would call United and double check over the phone if the agents can also see that award space.
Star Alliance Award Availability
Star Alliance features the world’s most amazing carriers… and it also features United’s website which is hands-down by far the best way to search for award availability on any Star Alliance airline or connecting partner. In addition, United also partners with a bunch of other airlines which you can search on their website directly. As with any airline website, they sometimes aren’t good at everything, so you always want to double check to make sure the award space you find is bookable (either with another airline or over the phone).
The best ways to search for Star Alliance award availability:
- United (Air China and Singapore Airlines award space is often phantom – always double check it)
- ANA (usually very accurate)
- Singapore Airlines (SQ mostly releases premium cabin award space on their flights to their members only – so don’t rely on SQ’s website for SQ availability that you want to book elsewhere)
- Miles & More (more availability on LH Group flights to M&M members – especially in premium cabins, double check other sources)
In general, I begin all of my Star Alliance searches on United and double check them on ANA or Aeroplan, and sometimes I will also call in to make sure that space is truly bookable, especially if it is something rare that might show up (like Singapore Airlines Business or First Class).
oneworld Award Availability
oneworld features many incredible airlines, especially when you travel on them in the premium cabin. The most popular way to book oneworld flights is through American Airlines or British Airways. BA’s website is the most popular way to search for oneworld availability and was usually the best way to do so – as AA’s website did not display all oneworld availability online. AA does now display most of their partner’s award flights online and therefore you should begin your searches there and then confirm with BA. The one important aspect to note about BA’s website is that it does frequently display phantom award space – therefore you should always double check with yet another airline like Qantas or by calling the program you want to book through.
The best ways to search for oneworld award availability:
- American Airlines
- British Airways (double check if you find availability here, sometimes shows phantom)
- Qantas Airways (usually most accurate)
One word of warning regarding American Airlines’ website – it will sometimes show you award space that is there but it will say it isn’t actually available when you go to book it. This is especially tricky because while it may seem like it is phantom space, sometimes that award space is actually there, but the U.S.-based website and agents cannot book it. In this case, you want to check as many ways as possible to see if that award space is there.
SkyTeam Award Availability
SkyTeam isn’t very popular with international award redemptions as there aren’t any incredible redemption opportunities since Delta has more or less destroyed their program and Air France-KLM followed their lead. The best way to search for award availability is on Delta’s website for non-Delta flights and for SkyTeam partners that appear online as the DL website does not show all partners. The other best way is to search on Air France’s website – this would be best for Delta availability and other SkyTeam availability, but not necessarily Air France-KLM flights as there may be more award space to their own members.
The best ways to search for SkyTeam award availability:
- Delta (for non-Delta flights, DL’s website does not show all SkyTeam airlines)
- Air France (for DL flights, not for AF/KL flights, for other SkyTeam airlines)
- Calling the Airline (best way for other SkyTeam airlines which might not show up online)
SkyTeam is very tricky – they do not allow International First Class redemptions across all airlines and they also have a bunch of other strange aspects to them – mainly because Delta mostly runs SkyTeam. You always should check with the program you want to use to book your flight if that award space is there (for example, using Delta miles on China Airlines – check with Delta over the phone to verify availability).
Finding award space on airlines that do not belong to any major alliance is a bit tricky as you usually have to either search on their own website directly (and remember they sometimes give more seats to their own members) or you have to use their partner airlines to search – and some of them require you to call in and inquire over the phone.
The best ways to search for other airlines award availability (some examples):
- Aer Lingus = United Airlines or British Airways
- Air Tahiti Nui = American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines = American Airlines (for saver-level award space)
- Condor = Alaska Airlines (not all routes)
- Edelweiss Air = United Airlines or Miles & More (might be more availability)
- Eurowings = United Airlines or Miles & More (might be more availability)
- Etihad Airways = Etihad’s website (search for saver space) or American Airlines
- Fiji Airways = American Airlines or Alaska Airlines (not all routes)
- Hainan Airlines = Alaska Airlines (not all routes)
- Hawaiian Airlines = United Airlines
- Icelandair = Alaska Airlines
A word of caution: when airlines are not in an alliance together, they may not allow all earning and redeeming on their partners. For example, you cannot redeem Alaska Airlines miles on Fiji Airways for travel from/to Fiji from/to Asia (Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore)… but you should be able to redeem American Airlines miles for those routes. It is always important to check for situations like these.
Searching for award availability can sometimes be tricky and it is important to know what the best way to go about searching is – whether that is through the airline directly, through a partner airline, over the phone, etc. Remember to always verify if the award space you find isn’t phantom by double checking with other airlines or over the phone before you complete any mileage transfers. Do note that when searching for partner award space outside of an alliance, there may be additional restrictions on mileage redemption and/or on which routes you can redeem, be sure to check all aspects of your desired booking and the rules of the frequent flyer program you want to use.