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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Associate Editor Brendan Dorsey.

Searching for award availability can be an arduous process and can include phone calls, countless searches and clicks on an airline’s website. TPG reader Jatin wants to know if he needs miles in his account to even get an award price…

I called Etihad to book a ticket using Etihad Guest miles. They can’t give me a price in miles until I transfer points from Amex. I don’t want to transfer until I know for sure they have seats available. Have any suggestions?

TPG Reader Jatin

In most cases searching for award availability (and receiving a quoted price) doesn’t require miles in your account. However, you may run into the issue that Jatin did. And in his case, the Etihad agent likely didn’t know what he/she was talking about. In TPG Senior Contributor Richard Kerr’s piece on Etihad’s improved partner booking process, we learned that Etihad gained a new call center that makes booking partner awards on airlines like American and Royal Air Maroc a bit easier. As he says, if you are having trouble with an agent you should try the Hang Up and Call Again (HUCA) tactic.

HUCA is an important acronym in the points and miles community. There are many cases where you’ll find an airline agent that’s unaware of rules or procedures when booking award tickets, especially on partner airlines. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on the agent; redeeming miles can be a pretty convoluted process. That’s why there are plenty of sites like TPG that devote countless hours to provide suggestions on how to best book award tickets. If you know that a seat is open but are getting nowhere with an agent, your best bet may simply be to hang up and call back, hopefully receiving an agent that’s more in-tune with booking procedures.

That being said, there are a few select programs that require you to have miles in your account to search for award availability —  Upgraded Points writes that you need a minimum of 7,000 miles to search for award availability through Lufthansa’s Miles & More program, and the carrier does release additional inventory to its own members. However, if you’re planning on redeeming miles through other Star Alliance programs, you’re better off searching on other sites.

Bear in mind too that many airlines don’t show all of their partner availability on their own website. For instance, if you want to use your American miles on Cathay Pacific, you’ll have to search through British Airways and then call into American to redeem your Advantage miles for that seat. This is also where a paid subscription service like ExpertFlyer can come into play, allowing you to search award inventory for nearly 90 airlines and even set alerts for when new seats open up.

If you’re searching for award tickets within a particular airline alliance, you’ll want to check out the guides below:

Thanks for the question, Jatin, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at

Featured image by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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