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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.

Today I’m rounding out our series on the best websites for finding airline alliance award availability — I’ve previously covered the best websites for finding award seats for Star Alliance and Oneworld. Now, let’s head over to the SkyTeam alliance and its member airline websites.

SkyTeam Alliance Basics

Headlined by Delta and Aeromexico in North America, SkyTeam is perhaps the least well-known of the big three alliances.

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Here are a few SkyTeam Alliance award seat availability and frequent flyer program idiosyncrasies to be aware of before we go through the websites:

  1. 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 underutilized by Americans.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Delta.com 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.
  4. 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 rest of this year, but keep it in the back of your mind if you’re planning an award trip for later in 2018 and beyond.
  5. 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:

KLM/Air France

Flying Blue, the joint loyalty program of KLM and Air France, has the most robust online search tool for finding SkyTeam award seats. However, just because it’s the most robust doesn’t mean it’s perfect. To become familiar with the idiosyncrasies, there’s no substitute for spending a lot of time on the award search engine at either KLM.com or AirFrance.us. It’s important to note that come April 1, 2018, the entire Flying Blue program is changing and we don’t yet have all the details. I hope the search functionality remains unchanged or even improves at that point.

My personal preference for searching Flying Blue awards is the KLM website, 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:

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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.

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Often when searching your route and date, the Flying Blue engine will display no results or say it found 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 Hong Kong (HKG) to Los Angeles (LAX):

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Take note of a few things on the calendar results:

  • You can easily tell the lowest number of miles required by the “lowest fare” icon on the date.
  • Dates with significantly higher amounts of miles shown most likely (but not always) indicate business-class availability.
  • Even though most dates offer 40,000 miles for an economy ticket, you can tell the operating carriers and therefore connecting cities will be different on certain dates because of the different fuel surcharges required.
  • Use the “show later dates” hyperlink to push the calendar forward without having to redo the search.

Select the individual date you’d like, and the website will forward you through to the individual flight results. This is where Flying Blue gets even wonkier. For this particular HKG-LAX route, I have the option of connecting in Shanghai, Taipei, Paris or Seattle via four different airlines. Business class is displayed in the far-right column. The results aren’t sorted in any particular manner, so make sure you look at trip duration in order to narrow down the best results.

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If you’re feeling adventurous and want to fly Air France to LAX from HKG via Paris, it will cost you 40,000 extra miles. Often, the Flying Blue engine will display routings like this that at first glance make no logical sense but can yield better deals. By connecting in another region when searching for intra-region routes, you’ll sometimes be charged only intra-region miles (i.e., intra-Africa connecting via Europe), meaning you can fly farther for less.

Lastly, the good news is that Flying Blue displays flights for all SkyTeam partners and several other non-member partners like Aircalin and Transavia. The bad news is the engine often displays phantom availability, causing people to transfer points in from Amex, Chase or Citi and then finding out the flights they wanted are actually not 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. Make sure you maximize the program’s routing rules and promotions once you find available award seats.

Delta

The Delta.com search engine has come a long way with displaying SkyTeam availability, but it’s still not all-inclusive or even that particularly useful. 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 — or even accurate seat availability for the partner.

A good example: Delta can show Vietnam Airlines award space, but when I searched for the carrier’s domestic routes (even with a five-week availability calendar), Delta showed no award seats available. Flying Blue showed a seat almost every day for many of these routes. This means if you want to redeem SkyMiles for the flight you can, but you have to call Delta.

Delta does a pretty good job of showing China Airlines, China Eastern, Garuda, Air France, KLM, Saudia and Korean seats available to partners, but with Flying Blue’s engine offering more accurate results there just isn’t much reason to use Delta.com. This is a typical search result error message you’ll see when looking for partner seats:

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If you’re going to use Delta.com, make sure you have the Delta & Partner Airlines box selected. Also, I always default to the five-week view just to see what I can get to show up on the engine:

Nairobi (NBO) to New York (JFK) five week partner search results from Delta.com.

Korean

In late 2016, Korean SkyPass added the capability to book partner award tickets via its website. While it’s 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 have to search round-trip itineraries, which makes it difficult for me to use my usual segment-by-segment search strategy. For Delta specifically, if you want to find domestic first-class seats you need to search First Class, and if you want to find Delta One or international business-class seats, you need to search Prestige Class.

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Make sure you have Award Booking and SkyTeam Award selected at the top of the engine. I find the website more helpful if I’m specifically trying to redeem Korean miles (transferred from Chase) rather than using it to find SkyTeam award seat availability.

Bottom Line

I haven’t found a reason to go anywhere besides KLM.com when looking for SkyTeam award seat availability. The engine, even with its own challenges, is far ahead of Delta and Korean.

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 charts, in Delta’s case) and routing rules. I often use Flying Blue to find award seat availability and then redeem Korean SkyPass miles to book the ticket.

Feature photo @ashleyartidiello via Twenty20

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