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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 Oneworld carriers, including the websites to use, tips for finding routes or carriers with better award availability and more.
Though the smallest of the three major airline alliances, Oneworld has some phenomenal member carriers with extensive global route networks. The member airlines include:
– Air Berlin
– American Airlines
– British Airways
– Cathay Pacific
– Malaysia Airlines
– Qatar Airways
– Royal Jordanian
As you can see, the major US carrier on this list is American Airlines, whose award chart still contains some pretty great values and does not differentiate between awards booked on American Airlines itself or its partners, as some other carriers including United and British Airways (to a certain extent) do. Keep in mind that if you want to use miles, Alaska Airlines also partners with several of these carriers including American, British Airways, Cathay, LAN and Qantas.
I’m not going to get into which miles you should use when here — otherwise, this would be a different post with topics like British Airways’ distance-based awards, Cathay’s new mileage program and more. Instead, I’m just going to give you a few simple strategies for finding awards on the various Oneworld carriers, and which websites you might want to use for a variety of scenarios.
Let’s start simple — especially since you’re likely going to be using American Airlines miles to book Oneworld awards. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele wrote a great, comprehensive post on How To Book Awards with American Airlines AAdvantage Miles. American’s website is a really great tool for searching for award availability, but it’s far from comprehensive.
I’ll get into the specifics below, but in brief, I would suggest using AA.com for the following searches:
- American Airlines and US Airways awards
- Month-by-month calendar searches on specific partners/routes
- Excluding results from specific carriers
You can use AA.com to search for and book awards on the following Oneworld carriers:
- Air Berlin
- British Airways
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- US Airways
However, it will not find awards on the rest. If the flights you’re searching for are likely on any of these airlines, though, I’d say AA.com is probably your best search tool. Not only will it pull in all kinds of flights on American Airlines and US Airways, but the site also has a useful calendar view where you can see award availability at various levels and all classes of service for a month at a time. Not only that, but despite the fact that Qantas’ search engine is better for Oneworld availability overall, I actually think that AA’s site is better for searching for Qantas awards to/from the US/Australia if you’re going to be using American Airlines miles.
You don’t even need to log in to your AAdvantage mileage account to search. Just put in your origin/destination and dates and make sure the “Redeem Miles” is checked:
Here’s a sample search from Los Angeles to Brisbane:
Once you pull up the calendar, just click on the day you want and click “Continue.”
The one other thing I use AA.com for instead of British Airways’ website is to search for awards to Europe. There are a few reasons. First, BA’s site will prioritize BA’s own flights. So if you’re looking for flights on Air Berlin, Finnair or even American Airlines itself, it’s better to use AA.com so that the BA flights don’t pull up first, and you can find routings that don’t take you through London and hence incur those huge fuel surcharges and taxes.
For example, here’s a search result on British Airways’ site for flights from New York JFK to Helsinki. As you can see, it does pull up Finnair’s flight on November 7, but just in economy.
By contrast, American Airlines shows both the economy availability, but also business-class awards on a combo of Air Berlin and Finnair, giving you some more options.
American Airlines also allows you to search for some airports that British Airways will not — a feature I’ve found particularly useful when searching out-of-the-way routes in Australia. For example, BA will not let you search for Qantas’ flights from Perth to Learmonth in Western Australia (in case you want to swim with the whale sharks at Ningaloo reef).
However, AA.com does load the airport code.
And shows you availability and specific flights.
One other thing AA’s site lets you do is exclude specific airlines — including British Airways. For example, here’s a search from Los Angeles to Helsinki where the BA flights pop up first. But those would cost you hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees on top of your miles.
AA.com can be a great place to search for Oneworld awards on specific airlines, especially if you plan to actually use your AA miles to book those awards. That said, it doesn’t search all of Oneworld, so you might be better off with one of the other options.
Though, as I mentioned, BritishAirways.com has some shortcomings, it can still be a tremendous asset when it comes to Oneworld award searches. I’ll get into specific searches below, but I would use BA for the following:
- Day-by-day searches on specific routes and in specific classes of service
- Piecing together itineraries segment by segment
- Awards on specific carriers JAL, Malaysia and Qatar
To use BA’s award search engine, go to the homepage and log in to your Executive Club account at the upper right-hand corner.
Next, you’ll be taken to your Executive Club account page, with a drop-down menu on the left-hand side where you can choose “Book with Avios.”
After that, just enter your flights and dates and you should be set. You can choose Economy, Premium Economy, Business and First as options, but if you just leave it as Economy, you should see results for Premium Economy and Business as well. My one tip would be that if you want to see first-class availability, search for Business or First. If you’re already logged in to BA, but not on your Executive Club account page, you can click on the Executive Club tab and be taken to this page:
One of the little gremlins that British Airways still hasn’t seemed to work out is that when you enter dates, you can get some errors. That’s because sometimes the field populates as a European version of a date, so November 30, 2015 would be written 30/11/2015.
But that will give you the following error.
So you might have to manually type in the date in the American style (11/30/2015), and that usually works.
I particularly like British Airways for searching hard-to-find awards on carriers like JAL, especially since Qantas seems to have trouble finding some of those. For instance, Qantas.com.au, which I love because you can search specific routes and classes of service month by month, doesn’t show JAL award availability from Chicago O’Hare to Tokyo Narita later this month:
But searching on BA …
I see that there are premium-economy and business-class awards. That said, BA is far from perfect. I was actually looking to get from Chicago to Seoul via Tokyo, but when I put in ORD-ICN for my search …
No availability in business class. But I already knew that ORD-NRT was available in business class, so instead, I did a whole separate search just for the NRT-ICN segment, and sure enough …
It was available in both economy and business class. So with BA, I would definitely suggest searching segment by segment, starting with the harder-to-find long-haul international flights.
I also like using British Airways’ website to search for Qatar and Malaysia flights. Qantas seems to deprioritize Qatar awards in favor of those on its other Middle Eastern partner, Emirates. For example, here’s a search on Qantas from Singapore to Dubai.
All the entries are on Emirates! But when you scroll down a bit, you do see some other options including some Qatar Airways and SriLankan flights. However, it says that Qatar has no business-class awards available on the big flights from SIN-DOH.
A quick second-opinion search on BA, however, shows that Qatar business-class availability does indeed exist on both those flights, so that’s why I go with BA instead for this particular carrier.
As I mentioned, BA is also far superior to Qantas for finding awards on Malaysia Airlines. For example, here are flights from Hong Kong to Singapore via Kuala Lumpur. The first set are Cathay Pacific’s nonstops.
Followed by Malaysia Airlines flights.
Versus the results on Qantas — the same Cathay flights …
But no Malaysia flights. Instead, there are just SriLankan and Jet Airways flights listed.
I also particularly like BA for searching for awards on LAN. It’s not great at finding them, but it is better than AA.com, which doesn’t list them at all, and Qantas, which seems to have a hard time seeing them as well. Here’s a quick example of an award from Buenos Aires to Santiago on LAN.
I would just warn you that, as with out-of-the-way Australian airports, BA doesn’t seem to list a great many of LAN’s lesser destinations in South America, so you might have to call in to search for awards with a phone agent. Just ask them to waive the phone booking fee because you were not able to search online, though, and they should be willing to do that.
Though it can be an unwieldy interface, BritishAirways.com can actually be a great resource for Oneworld award searches if you have specific routes, dates and carriers in mind.
I know I’ve only pointed out the shortcomings so far, but in my opinion, Qantas.com.au is probably the best Oneworld search engine out there. The reasons I like it include:
- It pulls in more availability on more Oneworld members than other sites
- You can search by class of service
- You can view award availability month by month, greatly shortening your search time
To search for awards on Qantas, you need to have an account with its Frequent Flyer program, but it only takes a couple moments to register. Then just sign in with your credentials on the homepage on the right-hand side.
Once you do, you’ll be taken to this page:
Be sure that “Flexible with dates” is checked if you want to view the award calendar. If you want to search partner awards, you’ll note that it says, “This itinerary can only be booked as a Classic Reward.” This means that when you’re putting in your search cities, you must check the box that says “Show Classic Flight Reward Cities.”
That way it will search partners awards. I looked for flights from Hong Kong to Los Angeles at the end of the month specifically to try to find Cathay Pacific awards. As you can see, there was availability every day in economy.
But I also wanted to search business and first class, so I clicked on the boxes next to each of those and then “Go” to do a new calendar search.
The resulting award availability was … tight, to say the least. Just two days in my search period.
I clicked on the latter one to see which awards had come up.
As you can see, I got a business-class award on Cathay, but it also pulled up a mixed award on Cathay and American. But when you actually hover your mouse over that award …
You’ll note that the Shanghai-LA flight on American is actually in economy! This is my single biggest pet peeve with Qantas’ search engine. If you find an award where just one segment (and it’s usually the shorter, inconsequential one) is in the higher class of service, it tells you that the award in that class of service is available, when in fact, the major part of the award is just in economy. That can end up wasting a lot of your time. I wish there were a way to just search nonstops to avoid this problem, but unfortunately there isn’t.
One final warning: If you want to modify your search, you can click the “Modify” button at the top of the page.
And that should take you to a page where you can do another award search … but more often than not, it takes you to this page, where you’ll note that it says “Search Airfares.”
That’s right, it just takes you to a paid-fare booking engine. So instead, I’d suggest just using your browser back button to go to your Qantas Account Page and start your search over again from there.
My top three picks for searching for Oneworld awards are the websites of American Airlines, British Airways and Qantas. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, but if you know what to use each for, you can zero in on the awards you want pretty quickly. Not only that, but for complicated awards, it pays to have a few different search engines to rely on to find the exact award you want or need.
For instance, in those examples of flying JAL from Chicago to Seoul via Tokyo, I’d actually been searching for awards from Los Angeles to Seoul. In order to finalize my booking, I used AA.com to find a flight from LA-Chicago to connect, and then British Airways’ site to find the individual flights from Chicago to Tokyo and Tokyo to Seoul Incheon. Knowing where to look for what ended up saving me a ton of time while letting me piece together a complex trip within a matter of minutes.
What are you favorite strategies for searching Oneworld award availability? Feel free to share your own tips and tricks in the comments below!
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