Where To Find Award Space [2018]

Whenever I’m talking with people who are just getting started with miles and points, I’m often surprised by both what miles they’re accumulating, and how intimidated they are by actually using those miles. The natural instinct is to look for shortcuts or somewhere to outsource the research to, but if you’re invested enough to be reading One Mile at a Time, I think it’s worthwhile to learn how to do this stuff on your own.

There are certainly more complicated elements, but that doesn’t mean you can’t book your own awards with a bit of practice.

Beyond that, myself and everyone I work with are really passionate about this hobby. Like, crazy-scouring-award-charts-for-fun-on-Sunday-mornings passionate. And as someone who loves miles and points it just makes sense to me that you’d learn how to redeem your miles as you learn how to earn them.

After all, if you don’t know what’s practical with your miles, how do you know if you’re accumulating the right ones?

So I thought I’d go through the bare-bones basics of what sites and tools to use to look for award space.

Caveats: If you’ve been reading OMAAT for years, have redeemed United miles for Lufthansa first class, or LifeMiles for anything, then this post will probably be a bit basic for you.

I’m also only going to cover publicly available tools and ExpertFlyer — there are some “pro” tools out there for searching award space, but I don’t use them.

Even beyond that, just because these are the tools that I use to search space, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other sites with the same information. I gravitate towards using the British Airways site out of habit, not because it’s any good, so if you have alternatives or tools you prefer, please share in the comments!

Alliances & Partnerships

Airline alliances and partnerships are really the building blocks of award travel. Pretty much every airline has partners nowadays, and for the most part you can redeem the miles you’ve earned on an airline on their partners as well.

However, you will always follow the charts and rules for the program you have miles withAlways.

This is an area where there’s often a great deal of confusion, so to be clear: you can earn miles with one airline, and potentially use that airlines’ miles to fly another airline. With very very limited exceptions you will not transfer miles between the two airlines.

So if you have United miles, you’re going to be paying United’s award rates.

You’re going to use united.com or call MileagePlus to book your ticket.

Your email confirmation will come from United, regardless of which airline is operating your flight.


So you can accrue Marriott points to transfer to Aeroplan to book on Swiss — oh my!

Make sense so far?

Saver vs. Standard

The next key thing to understand is that many airlines have multiple tiers of award space.

A subset of space is often reserved for members of the airlines’ frequent flyer program, and partners don’t have access to that inventory.

Singapore Airlines, for example, typically only releases long-haul premium cabin availability to members of their own KrisFlyer program. Delta Air Lines has (roughly) five tiers of award availability, but partner airlines only have access to the first tier.

Visually, one of the easiest ways to show this is through the old United site. United used to display their “Saver” award space in blue:

Find-award-space-1

All partner airlines should have access to this award inventory. The price you pay is going to be dependent upon which program you’re using, so you can just ignore the numbers if you’re booking through a Star Alliance partner.

Meanwhile the flights listed in yellow are only available if you’re redeeming United MileagePlus miles.

The new United website isn’t as helpfully color-coded (or helpful at all, really), but there are still separate categories for “Saver” and “Everyday” if you’re looking at premium cabins:

Similarly, American’s “MileSAAver” award space should match what their partner airlines have access to:

While “AAnytime” awards are reserved for those using AAdvantage miles:

So if you can find saver award space, you can generally use miles from any partner or alliance member to book the flights.

But where do you go about finding this mythical saver award space?

Where to search for award space

There isn’t a great way to consolidate this information, but it basically boils down to some airlines having more robust websites than others. We’ve compiled a list of where we search for space — again, that doesn’t mean these are the only options, just our favorites (or the ones where we’ve fallen in to a rut).

Star Alliance

For flights on:Search for space on:
Aegean AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
Air CanadaAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
Air ChinaExpertFlyer

United
Air IndiaAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
Air New ZealandAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
ANAAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
Asiana AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
AustrianAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
AviancaTACAAeroplan
United
Brussels AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United*
Copa AirlinesExpertFlyer
United
Croatia AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
EGYPTAIRAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
Ethiopian AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
EVA AirAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
LOT Polish AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
LufthansaAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United*
Scandinavian AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
Shenzhen AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
Singapore AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
Singapore (Particularly for premium cabin bookings)
South African AirwaysAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
SWISSAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
TAP PortugalAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
THAIAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
Turkish AirlinesAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United
UnitedAeroplan
ExpertFlyer
United

The little asterisks on this chart are because life is complicated. Sometimes, for reasons I don’t quite understand, these websites come up with random “phantom space” that doesn’t actually exist.

United.com is the worst culprit here, although they’ve gotten much better in the past year or so. But it’s good to take a  “trust but verify” approach with and check multiple sources if you find exceedingly rare space.

oneworld

For flights on:Search for space on:
American AirlinesAmerican
British Airways
British AirwaysAmerican
British Airways
Cathay PacificBritish Airways*
JAL
Qantas
FinnairAmerican
British Airways
IberiaAmerican
British Airways
ExpertFlyer
Japan Airlines (JAL)British Airways
LATAMBritish Airways
Malaysia AirlinesAmerican
British Airways
QantasAmerican
British Airways
Qatar AirwaysAmerican
British Airways
Royal JordanianAmerican
British Airways
S7 AirlinesBritish Airways
SriLankan AirlinesAmerican
British Airways

The phantom space situation is much better with oneworld, but there are still a few things to watch out for. British Airways will sometimes show inaccurate space for Cathay Pacific, and American randomly makes up availability on Finnair.

SkyTeam

For Flights On:Search For Space On:
AeroflotExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Aerolíneas ArgentinasDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
AeromexicoDelta.com
FlyingBlue
Air EuropaExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Air FranceDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue*
AlitaliaDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
China AirlinesDelta.com(not reliable for connections)
ExpertFlyer
China EasternDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
China SouthernDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Czech AirlinesDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Delta Air LinesDelta.com
Virgin Atlantic
Garuda IndonesiaDelta.com
FlyingBlue
Kenya AirwaysExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
KLMDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Korean AirDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Middle East AirlinesDelta.com
SaudiaDelta.com
ExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
TAROMExpertFlyer
FlyingBlue
Vietnam AirlinesDelta.com
FlyingBlue
Xiamen AirlinesExpertFlyer

Ah, SkyTeam.

So the main thing to understand here is that Delta doesn’t really understand what “alliance” means, so you have to pretty much disregard everything I’ve said about saver space being open to all partners. Delta often only has access to a subset of a subset of partner space, so just because you see something on one of these other tools doesn’t necessarily mean Delta can book it. Sorry 🙁

Other key airlines

For flights on:Search for space on:
Aer LingusDifferent availability for all partners.
Use partner site or call.
ExpertFlyer
Air Tahiti NuiAmerican
ExpertFlyer
Alaska AirlinesAmerican
ExpertFlyer
Saver space on Alaskaair.com
Bangkok AirwaysCall partner
EmiratesExpertFlyer
Alaskaair.com
JAL
Etihad Airways"Guest" space on Etihad.com
Fiji AirwaysExpertFlyer
Alaskaair.com
Hawaiian AirlinesDifferent availability for all partners.
Use partner site or call.
Jet AirwaysDelta.com
Virgin AtlanticDelta.com
Virgin Atlantic
Virgin AustraliaDelta.com
ExpertFlyer

When airlines aren’t part of an alliance they tend to have different agreements regarding award space. So while Alaska Air shares award space equally with all of its partners, Aer Lingus does not. So you can use these tools as a starting point, but know that availability will ultimately be different based on what the program you’re booking through has access to.

Booking mileage tickets

When you’re searching, just search for one segment at a time — these websites need all the help they can get, so if you’re going to be making a few connections start with the long flights. You’ll get better results starting your search with Chicago > Frankfurt than expecting the website to pull up a Portland > Chicago > Frankfurt > Athens itinerary.

If you don’t know how to use any of the tools in the tables above, or if the previous paragraph sounds like Martian, you might want to check out the Beginner’s Guide, or Ben’s tutorials. For more specifics on how to use certain types of points, be sure to read over Spencer’s guides to Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards as well.

As you find flights, make notes. When you’ve put together your entire itinerary, go back to the airline where you have miles to book your award.

Also, in many/most cases, if you’ve found award space using one of the tools above, you won’t be able to book using the issuing carriers website and will need to call.

Bottom line

When it comes time to redeem your points, you nearly always have more options than are immediately apparent on the airline website.

Knowing where to find award space can expand your options greatly, and can help keep you on track with earning miles as well.

Which are your favorite sites to search award space?

Comments

  1. Thank you Tiffany.

    I use the British Airways Executive Club site to search for One World awards. In my experience its not too “glitchy”.

  2. It doesn’t look like I can view LH availability on EF t-minus 1 week. User error on my side or can anyone else confirm?

  3. I like AwardNexus for finding availability. But I am able to use it for free – I think new users have to pay. But it basically aggregates data from the main airline sites.

    For Korean Airlines awards wouldn’t you search Korean’s website? Or is it a matter of them not making their space available freely to partners? But if you’re using KE miles it makes perfect sense to search there for space.

  4. @ raksiam @ Omer Stark — Sure, if you’re using the miles of a given carrier, on that carrier, you can use their site. But many of these programs make more space available to their own members, so you can’t necessarily rely on the native site to tell you what is available to partners, if that makes any sense.

  5. There’s also a great free chrome extension, award.flights where it works with different mileage programs like BA Avios, to search multiple dates and multiple airports automatically. It worked very well for me searching Qatar qsuite space on BA before I caved in and bought expertflyer premium.

  6. Tiffany thanks for the post. I was surprised to read Hawaiian Airlines has different availability for all partners. Do you have any info you can point me to on this?

    I’m interested in booking what appears to be generous Business space from Asia and I was planning to use AA / TrueBlue / or HA to book in the future for a travel 2019.

  7. The advice to “search for one segment at a time” is often helpful; however, it may be worth calling out the airlines (e.g., American) that have married segment restrictions which necessitate adding connections to see availability on long-haul flights. With AA, these extraneous segments can sometimes be dropped after placing such an award on hold.

  8. Thanks for this post Tiffany! Very helpful. I have a specific question. Do you know what type of award space needs to be available on Emirates when booking via Alaska? I ask because there is a flight I’d like to book JFK – Dubai – Male, but the Dubai to Male segment is in coach. If I book this, is it D space I am looking for before calling Alaska to change my seat? Do you know if there will be fees involved if/when I see space become available when I call to change from coach to j? The JFK to Dubai segment is in j. I called twice and got two answers, one agent said no fees and the other said $125. Thank you.

  9. @Charlie or anyone who can answer. Thanks for your tip. However, I use Safari and not familiar with Google Chrome extensions. What would I search in Chrome and how would I use the extension, “award.flights”? Thanks for the info!

  10. For those of us older folks who are not computer savvy and a bit lazy, what’s wrong with calling and having an agent try to find connections using our mileage plan?

  11. This is great Tiffany, thank you. Nice to just be reminded of some of the smaller airlines one could take advantage of.

  12. There is a caveat about searching for AS on BA. BA shows award space further out (by almost a month?) that is not bookable on AS. By the time the AS clock progresses and allows booking all the good redemptions are gone. If a good redemption remains it will always be cheaper (long haul) on AS points by a huge margin.

  13. Oops – searching for award space on the BA site for redemption with AS points is what I meant in the first sentence. Should re-read before posting.

  14. I couldn’t find any flights on Cathay Pacific when I used British Airways site. Also, how many stopovers, transits, open jaws are allowed on a one-way and/or round trip on CP with One World Flights? It’s so confusing because even CP agents are confused, and have different, often conflicting answers!

  15. Thanks Tiffany I’m definitely going to bookmark this! FYI, I recently redeemed points for Qatar QSuites (yay) and Ive found the Asia Miles search to be quite easy and accurate to use.

  16. @Tiffany asking for my mom. Is there anyway how she can use or transfer her CSR points for China Airlines flight? Thank you.

  17. @Omer Stark I’m IB Infinita (long period top tier for IB), I’ve done many redemption on IB and Tiffany seems to be right. OW redemptions on IB where neither departure or arrival airports are not IB ones are a bit unusual (let’s say HKG NRT, better to see in BA)
    Even only way redemptions of an usual destination: eg LIM- CUZ are strange, if you search returns easier.
    On my way I’ll go thru the article to find a good redemption to JNB or CPT. I got that 500 EUR first class from CPT to BCN), it was honoured :))

  18. Thank you, this is really helpful 🙂 .

    I’m using Aegean’s program and have run into issues a few times where neither their website nor their hotline can see award space on a given route even though United shows multiple flights available for redemption. One example was LH from Frankfurt to Tokyo recently.

    Do you think this has more to do with inaccurate availability showing on United’s site or *A airlines not giving Aegean’s program members any availability?

  19. @chub yup, that’s where I found it from

    @darlene search award.flights on google, and there will be a button on the homepage sating download chrome extension. That should be it

  20. Thank you for this post. Even as someone more seasoned it’s helpful to have this to reference back to.

    You mentioned that Etihad should only be searched on Etihad.com, what about ExpertFlyer? The airline is listed on the award space list but not on your list?

  21. @Tiffany Do you know of a good way of checking award availability on Philippine Airlines? I’m interested in booking their nonstop flights from the US/Canada to Manila but can’t seem to find any space when looking on ANA’s site.

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