When it comes to redeeming miles and points for “free” travel (plus taxes and fees), most people make a mistake when searching for award availability – there are ways to search for award availability and then there are accurate ways to search for award availability. The average passenger will visit the airline’s website and plug in their origin/destination and dates and search for availability – if nothing comes up, they will usually say “oh, well” and purchase a ticket.
Airlines love hiding award availability from us – whether that’s not displaying all airline partners online, having complex search engines for award flights, or even a glitch website. There are ways to find “hidden” award availability that you normally would not be able to find otherwise. Here’s how.
This is the number 1 trick and tip for finding award availability – always search each segment (flight) individually. This will usually only work for longer trips and won’t work for short-haul, nonstop flights – that’s because there are only so many ways to fly from Seattle to San Francisco, for example. However, there are probably an infinite number of ways to travel from Seattle to Sydney, for example.
When you go to search for a basic, quick trip (like SEA-SFO), chances are that you won’t find anything better than if you “broke up” the journey. This is because this is a very short journey and the available flights will usually show up – even with connections. That’s because those connections are “logical” – for example if the nonstop is not available, options via LAX, DEN, SAN, PDX, etc. might show up. The point is that it is a short journey, so the airline systems won’t get too confused at searching all of the possibilities between Seattle and San Francisco.
When you look at more complex trips, like Seattle to Sydney, there are millions of ways to travel between the two cities and the airline systems are just not that smart to look at all the connecting options and find award availability because there are literally an infinite number of ways to travel between those two cities. The idea is to search each segment separately. Yes, this sounds like a very long process, but if you know how to use the internet, it isn’t that bad.
Breaking Up Each Segment
The idea to find “hidden” award availability is to search segment by segment. For example, you want to fly Seattle to Sydney. The first thing you need to establish is what miles you have and if you have enough of those miles for this trip. Once you know you do, you would have to first identify the long-haul flights to/from Sydney. The best way to check what options you have is to look at the Wikipedia airport page – it lists all airlines and routes to/from that airport.
Say you have Alaska miles, for example. You look at Sydney airport’s Wikipedia page and you see a few options. To name a few, you could redeem Alaska miles to fly from Sydney to Los Angeles on Qantas or on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong. Then you would continue this method and search available routes from your “connecting” city (i.e. in this case LAX or HKG) onward. In our case, I could fly directly from LAX or HKG to Seattle – so then I would search those segments individually.
Once you match up available flights, you will have to call the airline and put them together on one booking if you are not able to book everything online. Remember, you must understand the rules of that frequent flyer program and if your desired routing is bookable.
Let’s look at another example:
- you want to fly New York – Johannesburg
- when you search for NYC-JNB you get no results
- check the Wikipedia airport page for JFK/EWR and JNB
- compare the origin and destinations and see where you could connect
- some connecting cities: CDG, LHR, HKG, ATL, CAI, DXB, ADD, etc.
- check the availability of each segment separately
- NYC – connecting city
- connecting city – JNB
- if still no results, you may need to repeat the process until you find a combination that works
- remember the connecting time/layover has to be under 24 hours
- once you find availability, call your frequent flyer program to book all flights on one ticket
- if your layovers are under 24 hours and your routing is logical and valid (per the rules of that FFP), you should be able to book it all on one ticket
This is the general way to find “hidden” award availability. The process can be a bit confusing at times and can take a bit of research, however, you can really find hidden gems and great routes using this process.
It is also important to note that you do not always have to do this! It could be that on your first try, you see the entire itinerary you want on the website of the frequent flyer program – that’s great. However, more often than not, you will likely get no results for a longer international trip – especially in First or Business Class.
Airlines love to hide award availability for us and make it harder to redeem our miles. Therefore it is important to understand how to search for award availability properly.
Remember that sometimes you won’t be able to search for all the award availability online and will need to either use another airline’s website to search or you must call in and ask for award availability over the phone. In our example above, if you were searching on AA.com, you would get no results for any Cathay Pacific flight as it isn’t shown online – but if you use the British Airways website, you can find award availability with Cathay Pacific and then you would call AA to book that over the phone.
I realise this process isn’t easy to understand for everyone, therefore please ask questions and I would be more than happy to help!