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What’s the Best Way to Search Airline Award Availability?

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TPG reader @TheBroadwayBoys tweeted me to ask

@thepointsguy—”hey TPG, is there a search engine for miles and points, like Kayak for awards?  If not, you should add that to your app!”

There are a lot of things in this world that I would love, like world peace, or for Delta to stop devaluing the SkyMiles program. And I would absolutely love to have one consolidated, easy, free, and fast search engine for all award availability, but it’s not gonna happen anytime soon.

Many airlines have outdated IT infrastructure, with limited access to all their different partners, and getting all the different airline computer systems to communicate is a nightmare. That’s why even now, in 2015, you still have to call to book many partner awards. For example, you have to call to book AAdvantage awards on Cathay Pacific, since they simply won’t show up on the American Airlines website.

My impression of airline award booking computers. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

There are a few other websites that will search award availability for you, for a price. Award Nexus will pull in a lot of availability, but it’s slow and not 100% perfect (no system will be). It’s also not cheap; they have premium membership plans, and the more you search, the more you pay.

I’m a fan of ExpertFlyer and have been using it for years. You can actually search award availability for a number of different airlines. Delta and British Airways are excluded, but most others are on there. You can also search for upgrade awards, and you can set alerts to email you when, for example, that elusive Dallas—Sydney first class seat opens up on Qantas.

Finally, there’s a KVS tool that’s pretty clunky; a lot of people like it, but I haven’t used it in years. It takes time to get used to, and once again you have to pay for it.

Set up Expert Flyer seat alerts.
ExpertFlyer offers seat alerts, so you can be notified when availability opens up.

Personally, I’m of the mindset that you should just become an expert in the miles that you have, and learn all the ways to search for award availability. Thus, my vote is to just use the airline websites. They’re inefficient, but they’re free. I’m an American Airlines flyer, and I use the British Airways award chart, which pulls in most Oneworld award availability. The Qantas award chart is another option, as it shows you results in a monthly format.

For Star Alliance, the United website is relatively good, but you can also try Aeroplan or the ANA search tool. Aeroplan is especially good, and you can put together some fairly complex itineraries; once you find them, you can go back to United and put together your award.

For SkyTeam, the Flying Blue website is a bit unwieldy, but it shows a good amount of space. The Delta website isn’t terrible for pulling in space, but you can’t expect the broader award calendar to do it for you. Instead you have to search day by day. Try to narrow these searches in little by little, because they have trouble pulling in big data. Similarly, United.com will tell you there’s no saver availability in the larger calendar view, but it shows up when you click on the individual days.

One more option: Alaska Airlines partners with a ton of different carriers, and while they don’t show all availability on the website, both the website and app are pretty good.

No one system is perfect; you need to be flexible and figure out how best to use each mileage program to get the awards you want. I wish I had a better answer for you; maybe one day when we have a lot of extra time at TPG we’ll figure out how to put this all together. In the meantime, hunker down and teach yourself; that will be your best bet to maximize your miles.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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