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The largest barrier to maximizing your points and miles continues to be the hurdle of finding award availability. There are two solutions to overcoming this problem: paying an award booking service to deal with it for you, or putting significant effort into understanding tools and patterns of award availability. Today, I’ll cover the best award search tools for Star Alliance flights.

IN THIS POST

Star Alliance Basics

Understanding how to earn and collect miles across partner airlines can be difficult if you’re new to points and miles. You need to learn the basics of these relationships and understand the process of booking partner award flights, which starts with finding award seat availability.

lufthansa first class
Often the most desired Star Alliance award, Lufthansa first class can be tough to book.

Here are a few Star Alliance award seat availability idiosyncrasies to be aware of before we go through the websites:

  1. You can only book Singapore first class and Swiss first class (occasionally mystery space will appear, most often not bookable) when you use the respective Singapore KrisFlyer or Miles & More (Senator members only) programs.
  2. Phantom award availability will routinely show on the United and Aeroplan websites. If you’re going to transfer miles to book what you see online, I strongly recommend calling in to confirm agents also see the award space.
  3. Not all award space is shared equally between partners. If you want to avoid phone calls with agents, using two of the below websites to compare or confirm award space is often necessary. Use the miles of the airline you want to fly in order to have the best award availability — i.e., use Singapore KrisFlyer miles to have the best access to Singapore Airlines award seats.
  4. Air New Zealand business-class award space is very difficult to find.
  5. Lufthansa first class is only available with partner programs when you’re within 14 days of your departure date.

United

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As United is Star Alliance’s US-based carrier, most of you probably use it when attempting to find availability. At face value, United’s website seems like a great tool, but after hours of searches you’ll learn where it can let you down when searching availability:

  • United.com is the least accurate of the Star Alliance award search engines. Award space exists that the website doesn’t show, and phantom availability can show for flights with no award seats.
  • The two-month calendar at the top of the search results is not to be trusted. Dates that indicate no availability can actually have flights available once you click that date.
  • United.com is poor at piecing together multi-segment itineraries, often giving very inconvenient routings and layovers. Your best bet is to search individual, one-way segments on United.com and then call and piece your desired route together over the phone with whichever program you want to use to book the flights (note that if you attempt to do this with a United-issued award, the agent will most likely charge for segments individually).
  • Search results are not automatically sorted by the duration of the itinerary. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the results to find more convenient options.
  • You can once again view Singapore Airlines space on United.com.
17 hour layover shown for a SFO-FRA itinerary.
17-hour layover shown for a SFO-FRA itinerary.

All that said, United is still a solid starting place to find Star Alliance availability. Because you don’t have to log in to search space, I’ll often keep the page up on a tab in my browser so I can search a single segment in under 30 seconds. If you’re after space on a United flight and are a United co-branded credit card holder or a United elite member, make sure you’re logged in before searching award space so additional inventory will show.

Aeroplan

Come 2020, Aeroplan will be no more. For now, the site is a great tool to find Star Alliance space, despite some technical difficulties and a mistake award fare that ended up not being honored. You must log in to Aeroplan to search space, then click Travel under the “Use Your Miles” menu.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 12.15.53 PM

The ability to see Swiss and Singapore space, be shown convenient itineraries for multi-segment trips and search multi-destination itineraries makes Aeroplan a very useful website. You can complete a single search and quickly sort between economy/premium economy and business/first options. Another simple menu makes sorting routings by personal preference easy.

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The availability calendar now only shows a week at a time instead of a month like it used to, but it’s accurate compared to United’s calendar. A yellow block represents space available:

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The engine won’t show routings with any more than three segments, and as with United, you can often do better yourself by searching individual legs at a time. I typically use Aeroplan’s search engine if I want to take a look at a more accurate award calendar compared to United’s.

ANA (All Nippon Airways)

I’ve always found ANA to be the most accurate of the three websites for finding award availability. It’s not the easiest website to navigate from a user interface perspective, but with a few searches you’ll quickly get used to it. You must be a member of the ANA Mileage Club program and must log in to search award space:

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From there, the default award search is for a round-trip itinerary, and you must select which cabin of service you’d like to book. Oddly, there’s no one-way, single-segment search option. You have to either use the open jaw or Multiple cities/Mixed classes search option and you have to input at least two segments.

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ANA makes it easy to view weekly availability and search by a single class of service by simply checking the compare seat availability +/- 3 days box. The website will also save your recent searches if you took a few days to search the same route for new availability. The default search result automatically includes days with seats available either on ANA or by a Star Alliance carrier:

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Once you select the individual dates you want to travel, ANA’s engine will show you available ANA flights at the top of the search results (if it flies the route) followed by possible Star Alliance routings:

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If you’re searching an open-jaw or multi-segment itinerary, the engine will give you availability for all three classes of service:

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If I’m looking to piece together several Star Alliance segments, my first stop is the mixed cities/mixed class search option on ANA’s website. You can input eight individual segments and dates to search at once.

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If you aren’t yet familiar with ANA’s website for finding availability, and for that matter the ANA Mileage Club program as a whole, I suggest you spend a bit of time on ANA.co.jp.

Bottom Line

Remember that when it comes time to actually book the award space you’ve found on the above sites, you want to use the program which gives you the most generous award routing rules. United is no longer this program due to the destruction of its open jaw and stopover policies, now replaced by the single Excursionist Perk. While the Excursionist can be valuable, it’s a bit complicated. I’d recommend maximizing ANA’s award routing rules to book the space you find; earn ANA miles by transferring from American Express or SPG.

The last warning to heed: All three websites above will show you multi-segment itineraries as having premium cabin space, even if only one of the legs has business or first-class space. This means you should always click to review the individual flights and ensure all of them are in business or first class.

Feature photo courtesy Star Alliance

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