Miles are boundless – you can see the entire world on miles and points for little to none in taxes and fees. I’ve been able to visit so many unique destinations around the world thanks to miles & points in true luxury.. that would otherwise cost a fortune to fly to (i.e. Fiji, French Polynesia, Maldives, and more).
The beauty of miles and points is that you can get insanely creative with constructing your perfect/dream award flight… it can get to the point where you will want exactly *that* flight for each segment of your trip and you’ll spend endless hours searching for the perfect flight award.
There are several ways to ensure you don’t spend hours searching, yet you end up with some unique flight results – that’s why I’d love to share my tips and tricks on how to construct the perfect itinerary using miles and points. Remember that the rules of the frequent flyer program you are using to book your flights will always apply… not the airlines you are flying on. Be sure to familiarise yourself with the rules!
Which Airlines Don’t Allow Custom Routings?
Let’s start with the negative first to get it out of the way. There are a few airlines that DO NOT allow you to construct an itinerary on your own and instead force you to select from one of the options their system has found for you. These airlines include:
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
When searching and booking with the above airlines, you are forced to search from origin to destination and can’t break up the journey and create a custom route – you can only book what they show you.. on one ticket. If you’d like to still book a custom route, it would cost two tickets. For example:
- you want to book Seattle – Los Angeles via San Francisco
- you search for Seattle – Los Angeles
- no connection options show up via San Francisco
- you then search for Seattle – San Francisco and San Francisco – Los Angeles, separately and find results
- even if the layover in San Francisco is under 24 hours, Delta and United don’t let you book this on one award ticket if they don’t show the routing when searching from origin to destination (that is Seattle – Los Angeles).
Delta and United have a lot of passenger-unfriendly policies and this is one of them. Beyond that, Delta changes the price of an award ticket based on the cost of a revenue ticket on the same routing (mileage price increases when cash prices increases).
Which Airlines Allow Custom Routings?
Basically any normal airline that has good customer service. You are able to book award flights with custom routes with many frequent flyer programs, as long as the entire itinerary is within the rules of that program.
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS/Brussels Airlines
This list is by no means complete, as most airlines in fact do allow you to create custom routings on award tickets.
What Exactly Is A Custom Route?
A custom route involves any route in which you want to take control of all of your flights and don’t select what the airline presents you when searching from origin to destination. For example, you search for Seattle – New York, but want to stop in Los Angeles for a long layover (not a stopover), of under 24 hours. When you search Seattle – New York, you see NO options with a long Los Angeles layover.
You’d then search for Seattle – Los Angeles and Los Angeles – New York separately. When you find your ideal flights, ensuring that the time between the flights in Los Angeles is less than 24 hours, you can call your frequent flyer program and book Seattle – Los Angeles – New York all on one award ticket.. even if that option does not show up when you search for just Seattle – New York.
Airline call centre agents may be a bit hesitant to help you at first, but just explain you are doing a long layover of under 24 hours in Los Angeles and that the two flights should price as one award.
You can repeat this step for every flight in your itinerary and really put together some unique flight combinations.. exactly as you want them. You can also use this method for booking multi-stop itineraries, round the world bookings, and bookings with open-jaws.
How Should You Search For A Custom Route?
You would always search each flight separately on one of the airlines that shows award flight availability online and is from the same alliance. For example, let’s go with the Seattle – New York itinerary above. Let’s say I want to use my Lufthansa miles for this trip, but the option via Los Angeles does not show up.
Whenever I search for Star Alliance award flights, I always use United’s website. Remember that United’s rules don’t apply if you aren’t booking through them… therefore just use their website as a search engine. Once I have found my two desired flights with award availability on United’s website, I would call Lufthansa to book them. I’d just tell the agent the flight numbers and other information in order for them to be able to add the flights to the booking.
What if the phone agent tells me those flights aren’t available? If United’s website shows them as being available as a Saver Award (booking classes Economy (X), Business (I), First (O)), then every single airline in the Star Alliance can book them. Now, keep in mind that United’s website might not be up to date. That is, someone might have literally booked the flight you wanted to book a second ago and therefore the website still displays it, but the flight isn’t actually available. This can happen.
What about oneworld and SkyTeam? Use the British Airways website to search for oneworld award space and use the Delta or Air France website to search for SkyTeam availability. Remember that SkyTeam is not as generous as Star Alliance and oneworld, therefore it may not always be possible to book custom routes with SkyTeam.
Remember To Follow The Rules
Remember to always follow and stay within the rules of the frequent flyer program that you are using to book your flights. That is remember some key rules such as:
- the maximum amount of miles you can fly (MPM)
- if you can transit via a third region
- if your desired routing is allowed
- if your desired flights can be booked with your frequent flyer program
- if you can create custom itineraries
- if you have enough miles
While it may seem funny, that last point is important. I have clients that come to my award booking service telling me they found the perfect route and want me to book it… easy enough until I find out they don’t have enough miles! Always check the award chart first!
Hopefully some of these tips will allow you to quickly put together your dream flight award with desired airlines, layover cities, and cabins of service. Remember to familiarise yourself with the rules of your frequent flyer program and remember to not transfer any points into the program until the phone agent secures your award flights (this works well if the transfer from AMEX or Chase is instant).