The Best Websites for Searching Star Alliance Award Availability

Dec 13, 2018

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The largest barrier to maximizing your points and miles is typically 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. For the latter of the two, it’s critical to know which website(s) will provide the best results when you’re searching for these seats, so today, I’ll cover the best award search tools for Star Alliance flights.

In This Post

If you’re looking for the best websites for either SkyTeam or Oneworld, be sure to check out the other two guides in this series:

Star Alliance Basics

The collection of airlines in Star Alliance is widespread, from well-known US airlines (United) and European carriers (Lufthansa) to highly-regarding Asian airlines (Singapore). In all, the alliance currently has 28 members, the highest number among the three large groups. Understanding how to earn and collect miles across partner airlines can be difficult if you’re new to points and miles, as you need to learn the basics of these relationships and understand the process of booking partner award flights. However, it all 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 idiosyncrasies to be aware of before getting into the specific websites you should use:

  1. You can typically only book long-haul Singapore first and business class award tickets using the airline’s own KrisFlyer program, though we have seen exceptions in the past.
  2. The same holds true for Swiss first class and its Miles & More program, which is even further restricted to just Senator (elite) members.
  3. Air New Zealand business class award space is very difficult to find.
  4. Lufthansa first class is generally only available with partner programs when you’re within 14 days of your departure date.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. Generally speaking, using the miles of the airline you want to fly will give you the best award availability.

With all that out of the way, what are the best websites for finding Star Alliance award availability? Let’s take a look.

United

United’s website makes it easy to search for award availability, even if you’re not logged in.

As United is Star Alliance’s US-based carrier, most of you probably use its site first 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’s accuracy can’t always be trusted. Award space exists that the website doesn’t show, and phantom availability can show for flights with no award seats.
  • United.com is poor at piecing together multi-segment itineraries, often giving inconvenient routings and lengthy layovers. Your best bet is to search individual, one-way segments on United.com and then call whichever program you want to ticket the award and piece your desired route together over the phone (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, though remember that long-haul first and business class on Singapore is typically not available through partners.
  • You’ll find if you change input parameters for the search engine (time of departure, preferred connections, cabin, etc.) then engine will give different results for the same route and travel dates.

I do like that United.com will display a month of availability at a time and you can sort by travel class. However, you can’t always trust the calendar display. Dates that indicate availability at one price sometimes have flights available at a lower price once you click that a specific date. Sometimes dates that show no availability actually do have flights.

United’s award calendar view is a great feature, though it isn’t always accurate.

Note the new options at the bottom left of the award calendar which allows you to filter results to show only nonstop flights and specific connecting airports to get a quick sense of the exact availability you want.

All in all, 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. Bear in mind that if you’re after space on a United flight and are a United cobranded credit card holder or a United elite member, make sure you’re logged in before searching award space, as additional inventory may show.

Aeroplan

Come 2020, Aeroplan in its current form may look quite different than it does today. 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. Unlike United’s site, you must log in to Aeroplan to search space, then click flights under the “Book Travel” menu.

The ability to see 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 drop-down menu allows you to sort the results by personal preference.

While the availability calendar now only shows a week at a time (it used to display a month), I’ve found it to be more accurate compared to United’s calendar. A yellow block represents space available:

Unfortunately, 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. One you’re logged in, look for the Award Booking icon in the search area:

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. Since you can only book round-trip awards with ANA, there’s no one-way, single-segment search option. You have to either use the open jaw or Multiple cities/Mixed classes option, and you have to input at least two segments.

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

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 11.01.42 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 11.15.51 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 11.06.28 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 1.08.04 PM

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.

LifeMiles

Avianca LifeMiles is a program that’s worth your attention if not an actual celebration thanks to a lack of fuel surcharges on awards and many great sweet spots. While it does have a robust Star Alliance search engine, I’ve found that it isn’t spectacular at finding accurate Star Alliance availability. I generally only use it when I want to actually book an award ticket with LifeMiles. Unfortunately, because the LifeMiles call center is so poor, you’ll want to have a basic understanding of this website for the times you decide to utilize the program or transfer points from Citi ThankYou Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, the latter of which was just added in November 2018.

You must log in to your LifeMiles account to search for award space, and then the search engine can be found under the Use tab by clicking Airlines.

Probably the most routine search I complete on the LifeMiles engine is for Lufthansa first class (when I’m within 14 days of my departure date). As noted above, LifeMiles does not passes on fuel surcharges for Lufthansa first class bookings and routinely has access to the space — even when the other engines above do not show space.

There’s plenty to love about the LifeMiles program, but don’t make it your first (or second stop) to find Star Alliance award space.

Bottom Line

With nearly 30 carriers around the world, Star Alliance provides numerous options for redeeming your miles, and the above websites are your best bet for finding award options. Just remember that when it comes time to actually book the award space you’ve found, you’ll want to use the program which gives you the best price and/or most generous award routing rules. United is typically no longer this program due to the destruction of its open jaw and stopover policies, now replaced by the Excursionist Perk. While this can be valuable, it’s a bit complicated.

I’d recommend maximizing ANA’s award routing rules and redeeming ANA miles on Star Alliance partners that carry no ANA fuel surcharges; earn ANA miles by transferring from American Express or Marriott, though be aware that our test transfer from Marriott still hasn’t appeared after more than two months. Transferring American Express points to Aeroplan can also be a great way to book Star Alliance award tickets. Aeroplan has no close-in ticketing fee and charges 15,000 miles less than United for most one-way business class transatlantic flights. Finally, booking through United or Avianca LifeMiles might save you on fuel surcharges, though the mileage costs may negate that savings.

For more info on which program to use, check out Ethan Steinberg’s Star Alliance booking showdown guide.

The last warning to heed: All of the above websites will price multi-segment itineraries at the premium class level, even if only one of the legs has business or first class space. You’d hate to book something like Miami (MIA) to Munich (MUC) to Prague (PRG) and pay a significant premium for business class only to find out that the transatlantic portion is in economy. Be sure to review the individual flights and ensure all of them (or at least the long-haul segments) are in business or first class.

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