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Understanding how to earn and collect miles across partner airlines can be difficult if you’re new to the points and miles hobby. 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. Across the three major alliances, not all airline websites are created equally when it comes to finding this inventory, so it’s critical to select the best one(s) for your search. Today we’ll evaluate which SkyTeam members offer the best sites when it comes to searching for award tickets.
If you’re in need of the other alliances, be sure to check out the following guides:
- The Best Websites for Searching Star Alliance Award Availability
- The Best Websites for Searching Oneworld Award Availability
SkyTeam Alliance Basics
Headlined by Delta and Aeromexico here in North America, SkyTeam is perhaps the least well-known of the big three alliances.
There are a few SkyTeam Alliance award seat availability and frequent flyer program idiosyncrasies to be aware of before we go through the websites:
- Because of several lesser-known SkyTeam members in Asia and the Middle East, and a lack of robust online award program websites, the SkyTeam alliance is generally underutilized by Americans.
- Of all SkyTeam member airlines, I recommend collecting and redeeming miles only with Flying Blue (Air France/KLM), Delta, Korean and (on the rare occasion) Aeromexico. The other programs in the alliance aren’t advantageous or accessible enough for North American flyers.
- If you want to book a Delta-operated flight with a partner airline’s miles, note that Delta seats are bookable if they show available on as requiring the lowest amount of miles. That said, it’s not always so straightforward; sometimes partners can book multi-segment Delta itineraries that price higher than the low-level SkyMiles price.
- Italian member airline Alitalia is in the middle of significant financial turmoil, and no one can say for sure how long it will continue operating. You’re most likely okay to book Alitalia flights for the next several months, but keep it in the back of your mind if you’re planning an award trip for later in 2019 and beyond.
- Create a Flying Blue account immediately if you don’t have one. The program has been known to freeze brand-new accounts that immediately have miles transferred in for an award booking, so to be safe you’ll want to have an existing account for some time before you move in miles.
With those basics covered, let’s look at the websites you can utilize to find SkyTeam award availability:
Flying Blue, the joint loyalty program of several Skyteam members (Air France and KLM are the most well-known), has the most robust online search tool for finding SkyTeam award seats. However, the program underwent significant changes in the middle of 2018 and the program and online engine are not what it once was.
My personal preference for searching Flying Blue awards is the KLM website over Air France, so I’ll be using screen shots from KLM.com. You must create a Flying Blue account and log in to have access to the award-booking engine:
The first and most important step to complete when searching for SkyTeam award space on Flying Blue is to select the box on the main search engine that says “You are looking for a flight around these dates.” This will bring up a calendar view — often the only way to get Flying Blue to display award seats for the route you want.
Often when searching your route with specific dates, the Flying Blue engine will display no results or say it encountered a “technical error.” But once you select the above option for flexible travel dates, the engine will often display availability on your requested date previously shown as having no results. Request the class of service you want, though you can also see any class of service available by clicking the date from the award calendar.
Here’s Flying Blue’s monthly calendar view of availability from Los Angeles (LAX) to Taipei (TPE):
Take note of a few things on the calendar results:
- You can easily tell the lowest number of miles and fuel surcharges required by the “lowest fare” icon on the date.
- Any time you find dates with significantly higher amounts of miles shown (over 100k) that most likely (but not always) indicate business-class availability.
- Even though most dates offer 46,000 miles for an economy ticket, any differences in fuel surcharges will indicate that there’s likely different operating carriers (and connecting cities) on those dates.
Select the individual date you’d like, and the website will forward you through to the individual flight options. The results generally aren’t sorted in any particular manner, so make sure you look at trip duration in order to narrow down the best itinerary.
This results page is where Flying Blue will often display interesting alternatives. For the above LAX-TPE route, I have the option of connecting in Xiamen (XMN), Tokyo-Narita (NRT), Osaka (KIX) or San Francisco (SFO) via four different airlines (if business class is available, it will be displayed in a far-right column).
The last flight option above, which connects in San Francisco, is a great example of the lack of logic in the new Flying Blue program. Prices can vary widely depending on the date, airline and route, and you won’t know exactly how many miles a flight will cost until you get to this page. This also makes it difficult to tell if the flight you see is at the “saver” level and therefore bookable via partner programs like SkyMiles.
Often, the Flying Blue engine will display routings that make no logical sense at first glance but can actually allow you to fly further for fewer miles. By connecting in another region when searching for routes within a given region, you’ll sometimes be charged solely based on your departure and arrival city, even if you connect in another region. For example, a trip from Johannesburg (JNB) to Nairobi (NBO) flight may connect in Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS) but only charge you miles based on the fact that you’re starting and ending the trip in Africa.
Finally, the Flying Blue engine does not currently display wholly domestic Delta award itineraries on the desktop sites, but the KLM and Air France mobile apps will show space. The good news is that Flying Blue displays flights for all other SkyTeam partners and several non-member partners like Aircalin and Transavia. The bad news is that the engine sometimes displays phantom availability, causing people to transfer points in from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or Capital One only to then find out the flights they wanted weren’t actually available for booking. I typically call the Flying Blue call center to confirm space is available if I’m going to need to transfer miles.
Thesearch engine continues to make improvements displaying SkyTeam availability, but it’s still not all-inclusive. Even if Delta has the capability to show a partner’s flights on the award search engine, that doesn’t mean it will show all routes — and it may not display accurate seat availability for the partner.
From my searches, I’ve found that Delta now does a pretty good job of showing China Airlines, China Eastern, Garuda, Air France, KLM, Saudia, Vietnam, Aerolineas Argentina, Aeroflot and Korean Air seats available to partners, but the Flying Blue engine tends to display more accurate results. When you do perform a search for partner award seats, make sure you use the five-week flexible date calendar and have the Delta & Partner airlines radio button selected:
Previously, if you’d search a route from pretty much anywhere in the US to far flung destinations like the Maldives (MLE), the Delta engine almost had no hope of returning a result. The engine has advanced far enough to give a week’s worth of results:
Complex award searches that wouldn’t have been part of my wildest dreams using Delta.com just a few years ago now produce solid results, like this Paris to Bangkok (BKK) search:
When you click on those results, you’ll see a mixture of Air France, China Southern, Jet Airways (not a Skyteam member) and Vietnam Airlines over the course of five weeks.
The problem (of course) with Delta goes beyond the improved search functionality on its website. Even though it now does a better job at finding SkyTeam availability, the pricing of many award tickets using SkyMiles is a very poor value, and like Flying Blue, there are no published award charts. It’s probably most advantageous to use Delta to find award availability (or to confirm award availability) but book with Flying Blue or Korean miles.
In late 2016, Korean SKYPASS added the capability to book partner award tickets via its website. While it was a huge step forward in making a great program more accessible, the engine is still full of kinks, and search results are not always accurate. You also must search round-trip itineraries rather than one-way, which makes it difficult for me to use my usual segment-by-segment award search strategy.
Because you can no longer transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Korean, this engine and currency have taken a dramatic drop in usefulness for Americans. If you do have Korean miles left and are looking to book Delta flights, you’ll need to search “First Class” to find domestic first class seats and use the “Prestige Class” option to find Delta One or international business class seats.
You must be logged into your SKYPASS account in order to do an award search, and make sure you have the Award Booking and SkyTeam Award buttons selected at the top of the engine. I find the website more helpful if I’m specifically trying to redeem miles for Korean operated flights rather than using it to find SkyTeam award seat availability. And of course, beware of the program’s onerous booking process, especially if you’re trying to book for family members.
One Additional Option
If you prefer to utilize a non-airline website for finding SkyTeam availability, consider using ExpertFlyer. The premium subscription allows you to search across dozens of airlines, and if award inventory doesn’t immediately appear, you can set up an alert to receive an email when seats become available on your desired flight(s). This is one of my go-to travel tools and has helped me and numerous TPG staff members lock in award tickets or upgrades across SkyTeam airlines. Just note that the site will not allow you to book these flights; once you find availability, you must go to the individual program through which you want to redeem points or miles to finalize the ticket.
I haven’t found a reason to go anywhere besides KLM.com when looking for SkyTeam award seat availability outside of domestic Delta flights. The engine, even with its own challenges, is still ahead of the improved Delta site and the less useful Korean interface.
Remember that this article is only about finding the actual seat availability, not which program’s miles to use for maximum redemption value. Both Delta and Korean have sweet spots in their award charts (unpublished, in Delta’s case) and routing rules. I often use Flying Blue to find award seat availability and then compare the miles and fuel surcharges required with Korean, Delta and Flying Blue to determine which currency I’ll use to book the flight.
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