Video SRQ: Can You Get To Europe in Business For 200,000 United Miles Any More?
TPG reader Eric is apparently having a hard time booking business class award tickets to Europe for his parents using 200,000 United miles, prompting him to ask:
"I am trying to book a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe for my parents who never travel and never splurge on anything luxurious. They really deserve this trip! I have 200,000 United miles ready to go for business class roundtrip tickets for the two of them, but so far there has been no saver award availability for their dates. Do you have any suggestions for any other options? Should I transfer some points to ANA and try their search engine?"
Redeeming miles for friends and family is a great way to put your miles to use - you get to send the people you love somewhere they've dreamed of going. That should make them, and you, feel great.
Although I actually think United does a pretty good job at pulling in Star Alliance availability, it does have limitations when it comes to routing, and if you are getting off the beaten path, or conversely, if you're trying to book on heavily trafficked routes, you might have issues finding award availability on the flights the search engine pulls up.
As I pointed out in this post on Searching for Star Alliance Availability, ANA's online search engine pulls in almost perfectly up-to-date Star Alliance award availability. You can sign up for a Mileage Club account here and then login to their search engine here. Award availability is shown 330 days in advance, which is less than some of the other engines, like Aeroplan. As Eric notes, you do have to have miles in your ANA account to search. You can transfer increments of 1,000 miles into your account from Amex Membership Rewards and many hotel programs, but usually at bad ratios (note: if you are a Starwood Platinum you can even transfer as little as 1 point per transaction, though I'd recommend transferring at least 100 because I once only transferred 3 points and it wasn't enough to activate the search tool). Note that transfers usually take about 48 hours, so plan ahead.
Once you have access, the tool will allow you to search specific city pairs and will allow you to pull in availability 7 days at a time, though the major downfall of the ANA search tool is its inability to piece together complex itineraries or offer different routing options. It's reliable in validating actual award availability before calling in to book, but it's not very helpful when trying to cobble together multiple leg itineraries.
Aeroplan.com also has a great Star Alliance search engine that searches award availability starting 356 days in advance, but can be tricky with routing and you can use the multi-city search to check segment by segment.
You can also use ExpertFlyer to search for availability on all Star Alliance carriers now, as well as setting alerts for when award seats open up.
I'd actually just recommend trying the United search engine again and getting creative with routing. For instance, if you're trying to get your folks to Europe, instead of searching New York to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, try searching Chicago to Dusseldorf or Newark to Stuttgart instead since you'll be getting them to Europe and there tends to be more availability on less-traveled routes like that:
If this truly is the trip of a lifetime and something they have been looking forward to, it's worth being a little more flexible and varying up their departure and arrival airports (within reason) so that you can get the big transatlantic flight on a great airline in a great class of service and then add on a short leg once they are already in Europe. It also helps to be a bit flexible with dates in order to fly in the class of service they desire.