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We get a lot of readers asking about the best strategies for searching for airline awards. So we asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to put together a guide of helpful hints for finding awards on SkyTeam carriers, including the websites to use, tips for finding routes or carriers with better award availability and more.
SkyTeam is one of the three major airline alliances. Its members include:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air Europa
- Air France
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Czech Airlines
- Garuda Indonesia
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air
- Vietnam Airlines
- Xiamen Air
As you can see, the major US carrier on this list is Delta, and I’d suggest checking out Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele’s post, How to Book Award Flights With Delta Miles, for tips and tricks on how to maximize those SkyMiles for Delta and other SkyTeam awards. Delta.com is also a great resource (finally) for searching SkyTeam awards, as is the Flying Blue site, which is the mileage program of Air France, KLM and Air Europa. Finally, for Korean Air awards, I’d suggest searching its own site directly. But I’ll get into that below.
I won’t get into the specifics of the various mileage programs and maximizing them in this post, as it’s just about searching for award space, but for those topics, I’d suggest checking out the following posts:
- Overview of Delta Award Routing Rules
- Delta Changes Stopover and Open-Jaw Policy, Updates Website
- Yet Another Delta Devaluation
- Delta Pulls SkyMiles Charts From Website
- Discounted Delta SkyMiles Awards
Though Delta has undergone major changes to its SkyMiles program, one of the few positives out of many, many devaluations has been the overhaul of its online award-search engine and the addition of several airline partners to search results.
Among the positives: You can now book one-way awards, search five-week periods at once and set parameters including Delta or partner flights, service cabins, nonstops and more. The list of airlines whose awards now show up on the site now includes:
- Delta Connection
- Aerolineas Argentina
- Air France
- Alaska Airlines
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Garuda Indonesia
- Hawaiian Airlines (non-alliance)
- Korean Air
- Middle East Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic (non-alliance)
- Virgin Australia (non-alliance)
That’s pretty great, though it leaves five SkyTeam carriers you have to call in for.
To search Delta.com, simply go to the homepage and enter your city pairs and the dates you’re interested in. Make sure you select “Miles” as your payment choice, and I’d suggest setting “Flexible Days” as your option, just to see what’s out there.
I’ve put in New York-JFK to Buenos Aires (EZE) in April as an example. This brings up a matrix of award availability that spans seven days of departures by seven days of returns.
As you can see, saver-level economy awards are available for several of these at 60,000 miles round-trip. Some are nonstops and some include stops. If we click on a nonstop, we get options at the saver level in both economy and business class, including Aerolineas Argentinas’ flight in economy, flights on Aeromexico in business class and a flight on Delta to São Paulo and continuing on GOL in both economy and business class.
If you want to both narrow the search parameters while expanding the search dates, you can select the “5 Weeks” option, the cabin to search for, nonstops only, round-trip or one-way, and whether to search just Delta or its partners. In this case, I’ve selected the business/first cabin on Delta and its partners over a five-week period.
Here were the results.
I picked a date, and there are my two flight options on Aeromexico or a combo of Delta and GOL.
For something a little more exotic, here are the results I did for a search from Hanoi to Paris, which pulled up both an economy and a business-class award on Vietnam Airlines’ A350, which could be a fun experience.
So Delta.com has become an actually useful tool in searching for a variety of SkyTeam award space. However, one thing I do want to point out is that Delta’s search engine does seem to prioritize some airlines over others. For instance, it seems to pull up a lot of Aeroflot flights to Europe randomly, so you might find a calendar with tons of availability to various spots in Europe only to realize all your options are flying via Moscow.
Delta also gives you false positives from time to time. I’ve noticed it with flights on its Asian partners especially: China Airlines, China Southern and China Eastern. For instance, if I wanted to try booking an award from Taipei to Los Angeles on China Airlines’ new 777-300ER in business class, Delta.com tells me that there are plenty of awards to be had in November.
But when I actually click on one of the available dates, here’s the screen I get.
I called up Delta to ask if an agent could see the flights the website intimated would be there, but she couldn’t find anything for me, so don’t get your hopes up too much — Delta’s site still has a long way to go before it displays partner award availability accurately, though it’s much better than it used to be.
Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of Air France, KLM and Air Europa. It’s also a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, so it’s a good program to keep your eye on, apart from having a decent award search engine.
Other things to note:
- Flying Blue is good at finding awards on Air France, KLM, Delta and Alitalia.
- Flying Blue is not good at finding awards on certain partners, including Aeroflot, China Southern and Korean Air.
- Use it to find awards to Europe, especially on its own airlines.
- You must use Flying Blue to book its discounted Promo Awards.
In order to search Flying Blue, you need to have an account and be logged in, though you don’t actually need any miles in your account to search. To log in, I just go to the Air France website. Don’t click on the “Flying Blue” tab, as that just takes you to a general information page on the program.
Instead, click on “My Account” and enter your Flying Blue account information.
That takes you to the following page. From there, click on “Purchase a Ticket,” and then the link that says “Award ticket reservation.”
You end up on this page where you can input your cities, dates and class of service.
Flying Blue is better at finding some awards than others. However, depending what you’re looking for, it might be the search engine you use most. For instance, it seems to display much more low-level award availability on its own flights to and from Europe, and the mileage requirements are pretty much the same as Delta’s (lower for economy), though taxes/surcharges might be higher.
Here is award availability next March/April from Chicago to Paris, for example. Low-level dates are in green.
When you click on the date you want, you’ll also be able to see availability in economy, premium economy and business all in the same space.
Note that it’s a Delta economy award at the lowest price (for which Delta would charge you an additional 5,000 of its own miles!), but low-level awards in premium economy and business on Air France’s own nonstop.
And awards that are sparse at best when searching using partner miles can be downright plentiful using Flying Blue’s miles for its own airlines. This is a calendar of award availability of nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Paris Charles de Gaulle, a notoriously tough route to get a low-level business-class award on. Look at all the days in green!
It’s also decent at finding Transpacific award space on China Airlines, China Eastern and Delta. For example, here are economy awards in April from Los Angeles to Shanghai nonstop on Delta and China Eastern with availability in both economy and business, as well as connecting options via Taipei on China Airlines.
One thing I want to point out is where Flying Blue is not great at finding awards, like with partner Korean Air. Let’s say I want to find awards from Los Angeles to Seoul in business class. I simply enter those terms and the following award availability calendar pops up.
Saver-level awards are highlighted in green. Just click on the day you want and it will pull up the specific awards. In this case, it’s connecting flights via Taipei on China Airlines.
What’s odd is that when I do the same search on Delta.com, the options are totally different. In this case, Delta only shows me mixed-level awards on Delta’s own flights (and some Alaska partner flights) via Seattle.
However, on the following day, Delta generates a business-class award on Korean Air.
While Flying Blue only shows me high-level awards on KLM via Amsterdam – no thank you!
So, I wouldn’t use Flying Blue to search Korean Air awards.
One more thing to note: Every month, Flying Blue releases a list of “Promo Awards” where you can book award tickets in various classes and between various cities and regions for 25%-50% off. You can find out more in this post. To check which cities are currently available and what the discounts are, check this page on Flying Blue’s site.
The thing to know is that if you want to search, let alone book, these discounted awards, you must be logged in to Flying Blue and using Flying Blue miles to do so. For instance, one of the current cities is Houston, from which you can book economy awards to Europe at a 25% discount in January 2016. Only Flying Blue will show you the days those discount awards are available, though. Here’s the calendar with the promo dates in green.
Flying Blue, while a bit wonky and displaying different award availability than Delta in some cases, is still a decent tool for both searching and verifying SkyTeam award availability.
While Delta is good at finding Korean Air award space, Korean seems to release many more awards on its own flights to members of its own SkyPass program, which is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus cards.
To search, go to Korean Air’s website, click “Book a Flight” and then click “Award Booking.”
The following screen should pop up where you can enter your SkyPass number and password.
Then you’re back on the search page where you can enter your cities, dates, what kind of travel you want and the class of service.
Since Delta won’t let you search partner first-class award availability or book partner first-class awards, I find that I usually use Korean’s site to search for first-class awards on Korean Air itself.
The good news is that first-class awards from the US tend to be plentiful. For instance, here are first-class awards available on November 2 from Los Angeles to Seoul. There are six seats on one flight and five on the other, which are both on the airline’s flagship A380.
Plus, it would only cost you 80,000 miles each direction, as opposed to the 70,000 miles Delta would charge you just to fly business class. So if you’re thinking of using your Ultimate Rewards points to get to/from Asia, this is a great option.
Those are the three main sites I check for SkyTeam awards, each for a different purpose and set of award availability. Have any strategies or tips of your own? Feel free to share in the comments below!
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