Using ExpertFlyer.com for Award Availability
Airline websites are notoriously horrible for award searches - especially when it comes to partner availability. Even ANA's site, which is revered as possibly the most accurate search engine for Star Alliance availability, has a frustrating and time-consuming interface that only searches simple routes day-by-day.
While not perfect, I religiously use Expertflyer.com to identify accurate award space, which is a paid service that costs either $4.99 or $9.99 a month (and comes with a free 5 day trial). However, ExpertFlyer requires a bit of inside knowledge as well and it does not have award space for every airline - most notably excluding British Airways, Delta and US Airways.
Another thing to be mindful of is that you are searching for the appropriate types of awards. Many airlines offer premium or elite-only awards that have restricted availability. In general, only "classic" or "saver" level awards are bookable with alliance partners. ExpertFlyer has lists of what each fare code means for each airline, so you can hover the mouse over a code if you are unfamiliar.
Once you are ready to search log-in to ExpertFlyer.com and choose the Awards & Upgrades feature on the left, fill in the route you are looking for and the dates +/- 3 days.
Once you select an airline, the award bucket choices will populate - remember to choose saver/classic awards if you want to book the cheapest award possible.
Once you search, all possible flights will load and it will show you the number of seats per award bucket. In the instance below, you could book up to 6 first class low level tickets on the 7:09am flight. Since this is a saver award, you could book this ticket using any Star Alliance member airline miles, like US Airways.
In general, it takes the guesswork out of finding award availability on a buggy online search engine or risk getting a clueless phone rep that gives you bad information. ExpertFlyer is extremely accurate and links into airline systems, though you still may run into issues from time to time. For example, not all availability is released to partners - especially when dealing with non-alliance partners. For example, Air Tahiti Nui is a non-alliance partner with American Airlines. However, even when Air Tahiti Nui shows first class award availability, most American phone reps will claim no first class Air Tahiti Nui awards can be booked using AA miles. In the end, you are at the mercy of the phone rep. Likewise, Korean Air may show First class availability, but Delta does not allow International first class award bookings, so I'd recommend brushing up on the rules of your airlines partner awards before picking a fight with a phone rep.
Here is an updated list of currently supported airlines on ExpertFlyer:
Air New Zealand
LOT Polish Airlines
Swiss- note this availability is for Miles & More members- Star Alliance partner award availability should be cross checked with ANA.
Aerolineas Argentinas (coming soon to SkyTeam)
Delta (upgrades only)
KLM (business class only)
Korean (first class only)
Finnair (Economy only)
Air Tahiti Nui
Here's a quick video tutorial, though once again for those who are better visual learners (though apologize in advance for quality of the video).