Here's how to do a broad calendar search for award availability
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
Flexibility is key when it comes to booking award travel, especially if you want to fly in a premium cabin, on more popular routes or during peak season. TPG reader Nancy wants to know if there's an easy way to do a broad calendar search for award availability instead of searching day by day...
[pullquote source="TPG READER NANCY"]Is there a website where I can do a very broad date search to get a business class mileage ticket? I've seen some websites where you can put a date plus or minus 3 days, but I'm very very flexible when I can travel. I have lots of points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve, so I can go with many different carriers.[/pullquote]
This is a great question Nancy, and the exact answer ultimately depends on what airline you want to fly. All three of the legacy U.S. airlines — Delta, United and American — allow you to search a calendar view on their website, and you can even filter for nonstop travel. Since United is the only airline that flies nonstop from San Francisco (SFO) to Tel Aviv (TLV), we'll use its website as an example.
After you enter your origin and destination airports and click search, you'll see two options. First, you want to click the "30 day calendar" button. Then, once that loads, you can uncheck the "with stops" option. It's important to do so in that order, because moving to the 30-day calendar view sometimes resets the other options. In fact the search might default back to economy, but you can easily toggle back to business/first.
From there, you can see the entire monthly calendar view, and the good news for Nancy is that there's plentiful award space on United's nonstop flight in December. This flight is even operated by a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft featuring true United Polaris seats.
Of course, this strategy only works if you know which airlines you want to fly. In Nancy's case, with her Chase Sapphire Reserve, she'll likely be best off transferring her miles to United and booking with a Star Alliance airline, all of which should show up in the search on United.com.
Another useful tool in this case would be ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures). This platform is arguably the single most comprehensive search engine for airline award availability, as it covers most airlines in all three alliances — plus others like Alaska, Emirates and Aer Lingus that don't belong to one. As Nancy noted in her question, ExpertFlyer lets you search one week at a time (+/- 3 days), so it's actually not as comprehensive as the United search engine if you know what airline you want to fly. However, one key reason why ExpertFlyer is so useful is because you can set award availability alerts if there's no space on your preferred dates.
RELATED: Best airline award chart sweet spots
I also like to use it when I want to fly a specific airline or product on the route. For example, both United and ANA fly from the New York area to Tokyo, and both appear in the search results on United. I would much prefer to fly ANA's new business class "The Room" instead of United Polaris, so this is one case where I prefer using ExpertFlyer over searching directly with United.
Finally, it's worth noting that Nancy is in an enviable position, since she has transferable points at her disposal thanks to her Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Even if United didn't have award availability on her desired dates of travel, there are many other programs to which she could transfer her points and get fantastic value from Ultimate Rewards.
The U.S. airlines are actually quite good about giving you a full-month, calendar view when you search for award space. Assuming you know what airlines you want to fly already, it should be as simple as just finding the right display option on the website. However, ExpertFlyer could also be a great tool in your arsenal — and even offers a five-day, free trial of its premium subscription.