How to Find Star Alliance Award Seats

Last week I posted about the value in purchasing US Airways miles for international premium cabin travel. Over the past week I’ve gotten several emails from people commenting what a great deal it is, but wondering how they can actually research award travel options on their own. Obviously you can call an airline directly and ask about availability, but rarely are they thorough or creative – instead they’ll just read you what their computer gives them, and if that’s nothing they won’t put any effort into searching for more creative routings. That’s why I figured I’d provide a few tips.

For the purposes of this post I’ll stick to the Star Alliance (consisting of 27 airlines, including United, Lufthansa, US Airways, etc.), since they seem to be the most popular for award redemptions.

It always helps to be flexible, but once you’ve decided where you want to go, the first step is figuring out which airlines actually fly there. For major destinations, like London, Paris, etc., that’s easy enough, since most airlines fly there. But for less popular destinations I’m not that familiar with I always check SkyScanner.com’s destination page to see which airlines fly there. That gives me a good a good starting point. If I want further clarification I’ll go to the airlines’ websites and look at their route network to figure out from which cities they serve a certain destination.

 

For searching Star Alliance award availability, there are generally three sites I use – continental.com, aeroplan.com, and ANA’s award tool. Usually I search in that order, for reasons I’ll explain below.

First I go to continental.com, click on “OnePass Frequent Flyer,” then click on “Use Miles,” and then click on “Start your reward flight search now.” I find Continental’s award search tool to be a great starting point, since they have a calendar view. This is good because it gives me a general idea of what availability is like. It’s good to know right off the bat whether finding an award will require a lot of work or be relatively easy, and the Continental tool is great at telling me that.

 

Continental’s award search is the easiest of the three to use. Once you’ve entered your origin and destination, look through the options they present. The website displays both saver and standard award space. The saver space shows up with a blue box, while the standard space shows up with a yellow box. You’ll want to narrow your focus to saver space, since that’s the space that all Star Alliance airlines should (theoretically) have access to. So as an example, say you want to travel one way from Los Angeles to Venice on June 2, 2012. Using the Continental search tool (and calendar) I see space on Lufthansa with a one-stop itinerary in business class.

 

If you see an option on the Continental tool, great, your search is done. Write down the flight numbers and you’ll be ready to book using the technique I’ll outline below.

But if you don’t have luck, I suggest moving on from the Continental search page, and heading over to aeroplan.com. Aeroplan is Air Canada’s frequent flyer program. They also have an online search tool, which I find slightly more cumbersome to use than Continental’s, but it’s also more thorough. To find it just go to aeroplan.com, click on “Use Miles,” and on the dropdown click “Travel.”

It has a calendar display as well, though it actually requires you to wait as it loads each individual date.

My main complaint with Aeroplan’s search tool is that if you select first/business class, it will often return itineraries with one or two segments in first/business class, and the rest in coach. I’m usually fine with that, but it often returns the short flight in business class and the long flight in coach. For example, in searching for space from Los Angeles to Nice I found the below routing, which is in business class from Los Angeles to Toronto and Zurich to Nice, but in coach on the long transatlantic flight from Toronto to Zurich.

 

If the Aeroplan tool finds the results you’re looking for, great, you’re set to go.

But most of the time it’s not that easy, unfortunately, unless you’re booking way in advance.

If you have no success with the two search engines above, it’s time to start using the ANA tool. This is All Nippon Airways’ online search tool, which requires you to first be a member of their Mileage Club program. Once you’re a member you can start using their tool to search for space. The tool can be accessed here.

While I typically just enter my origin and destination using the Continental or Aeroplan search tools, I search segment by segment using the ANA tool. This is because it’s excellent at searching individual segments, but doesn’t do a good job of searching for connections. But that’s both a blessing and a curse, since it’s more work but also allows me to search options that others might not consider.

For the purposes of this example, let’s say we’re trying to fly from Los Angeles to Venice, Italy on June 2 of 2012, similar to the example above with the Continental search tool. We found business class award space on the transatlantic flight, but let’s say we want to fly first class.

After doing my research I know which Star Alliance airlines fly out of Los Angeles and which fly into Venice.

On an award ticket, generally speaking the transoceanic segment will be the one that’s toughest to find award availability on. Therefore, since I’m searching segment by segment on the ANA tool, I’ll first search for award space out of Los Angeles to a European gateway. The most practical options with nonstop service from Los Angeles to Europe on the Star Alliance would be to London, Zurich, Munich, or Frankfurt.

After searching all four routes I come to the realization that none have first class award space (though I see the same business class segment I found above on the Continental tool). Just so you can decipher the ANA tool, the orange box means a flight is available in that class, the "x" means that the selected cabin is not available, and a "-" means that the cabin doesn't exist on the plane (in other words, an aircraft with only coach and business class would display a "-" for first class, since the plane doesn't have a first class cabin).

 

The next step would be to search for award space on transatlantic segments that would get me a two-stop itinerary. In other words, itineraries where I could fly from Los Angeles to a North American gateway, from that North American gateway to a European gateway, and then from that European gateway to Venice. Possible North American gateways that come to mind are Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Toronto, Calgary, Dallas, etc. Lufthansa tends to have the best availability (and among the best first class products), so let’s search their flights to Frankfurt and Munich.

As I mentioned above, the toughest segment to find award space on will be the transatlantic one, so let’s go through those cities in order. First searching Chicago to Frankfurt for that date, I actually see space on the nonstop Lufthansa flight in first class at 10:30PM. Score!

 

The next step would be to find award space from Los Angeles to Chicago. I go back to the search page and enter Los Angeles to Chicago. Sure enough the perfect flight is available, leaving me a 2.5-hour connection in Chicago before my flight to Frankfurt.

 

The last step is to find award space between Frankfurt and Venice on June 3. Sure enough, every flight that day has business and coach award availability (there’s no first class within Europe). Given our arrival time in Frankfurt, we’ll leave a 3-hour connection just in case there’s a delay.

 

After I have all those flights just call the airline you prefer to book with to ticket the reservation. If you used the above method you’re much savvier than the average traveler, so chances are the agent would be confused if you told them you found the availability on your own. Instead I suggest just telling the agent that you called earlier and the agent gave you those flights, and ask them if you can read them back the flight numbers you want. That should be the easiest way to do it, and within a few minutes you should be all set.

Related posts:

How to Use ANA to Search for Star Alliance Award Space

Best United Bonus Offers Available Now

Singapore Airlines Business Class Awards Bookable on United

How to Book a "Crazy" Award Routing

How to Find OneWorld Award Space

 

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Comments
Picture?type=large Jim C. commented 16 Aug 2011

This is really helfpul information. I am going to use this method to search for my next United award fly.

Picture?type=large Sandeep commented 16 Aug 2011

I am curious about the actual booking though....for instance ANA prices out a LAX-BOM r/t from me in business at 110k AMC miles on ANA. Can I just call up US Airways and give them the flight info? Does it cost 110k Dividend miles as well? That would be a steal since I cant find anything under 120k usually on any star alliance partner.

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 16 Aug 2011

@ Sandeep -- Award pricing is based on the award chart of the airline with which you have miles. So while the availability among Star Alliance airlines is typically the same (or very similar), the pricing is based on the award chart of the airline with which you have miles.

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 16 Aug 2011

@ Sandeep -- Award pricing is based on the award chart of the airline with which you have miles. So while the availability among Star Alliance airlines is typically the same (or very similar), the pricing is based on the award chart of the airline with which you have miles.

Picture?type=large Sandeep commented 16 Aug 2011

Got it! But since US airways (I am considering US Airways here since I bought there 100% bonus mile offer) doesnt typically fly this route themselves, nor do they show star alliance awards on their website, do you just pay the standard 120k miles per route? Is it always the same irrespective of date? Thats one of the things I am unable to figure out....

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 16 Aug 2011

@ Sandeep -- Correct, Star Alliance awards are only available at the "saver" level, so if there is availability it would be at the price listed on the US Airways Star Alliance saver award chart (in this case 120,000 miles).

Picture?type=large Ehtesham Q. commented 17 Aug 2011

Thank you so much for such a nice introduction for a newbie. What about one world award search? Any thoughts on that

Picture?type=large Yaswanth R. commented 17 Aug 2011
The problem I seem to keep running into is that the First Class flights I want show as available at the SaverPass level on Continental, and also show as available on ANA, and Aeroplan is down for maintenance but I'm willing to bet it's available ther as well. However, whenever I call US Airways they still insist that it's not available in First Class. Does U.S. Airways completely deviate from all the other Star Alliance partners when it comes availability or am I just doing something wrong?
Picture?type=large Sandeep commented 17 Aug 2011

Thanks Ben! Very helpful!

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 17 Aug 2011

@ Ehtesham -- Thanks, I'll post about OneWorld award searches soon!

@ Yaswanth -- In this case it's a very specific blocking that US Airways does. They block virtually all transatlantic Lufthansa first class award space. They weren't doing it for a while, but they're back to doing it once again. So yes, that issue is very common with US Airways. Other than that they're pretty good, though.

Picture?type=large Jeff G. commented 17 Aug 2011

Hi Ben,

Thanks for another great article. 

In the continental and ANA examples, if they wanted to stopover in Frankfurt, how would they do that and would it cost more money?

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 17 Aug 2011

@ Jeff -- Stopover rules vary by airline, and would be based on the airline with which you're booking. Aeroplan, for example allows two stopovers, while US Airways only allows a single stopover at a Star Alliance hub. So it really does depend. If you wanted to search an itinerary with stopovers, just search each sector individually.

Picture?type=large Jeff G. commented 17 Aug 2011

Thanks Ben!

Picture?type=large Brendan B. commented 17 Aug 2011

I find Aeroplan to be hugely helpful, but its lack of co-terminal searching for New York-area airports is rather annoying.  While Co.com will search JFK/EWR/LGA when one enters NYC, one needs to search each area airport individually on Aeroplan.  An area in which Aeroplan excels is connections that arrive and depart on different days within 24 hours of another.

User_avatar_default Ashwin B. commented 17 Aug 2011

Ben,

What did you enter for each field on the skyscanner.com destination page in order to get the list of airlines that fly to Venice (as shown in your first screenshot above)?

I'm getting a results page that looks entirely different, so I might be doing the search wrong.

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 17 Aug 2011

@ Ashwin -- Let me suggest a different way. Google "Airlines that fly to [insert city]" and the SkyScanner page for that airport will be the first result.

User_avatar_default Ashwin B. commented 17 Aug 2011

Got it. Thanks Ben.

Picture?type=large Jorge L. commented 17 Aug 2011

I'll be waiting for the Oneworld tips as well!
One question: What should we (as newbies) have as essential tools for all this? I mean, I already have one frequent flyer account for every one of the big three alliances and I am already focused on the one I fly the most.

But I've seen that you need to be member or ANA to use their tool and I think it happens with BA as well. Things get further complicated if we want to take advantages of promos and deals to transfer miles an so on. Do you have any advice as to what are the essential memberships we must have in order to take advantage of all this? I think you can make an article out of it if you organise it into levels (basic, mid-level, advanced, pro, etc.)

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 17 Aug 2011

@ Jorge -- For the most part there's no cost to having a frequent flyer account, so I'd say sign up for all of them. But for Star Alliance the three tools outlined above are the best. For OneWorld, Qantas and BA are the best. And for SkyTeam ExpertFlyer is very useful. Sounds like a great topic for a future blog post!

Picture?type=large Bret A. commented 17 Aug 2011

I'd love to see one of these step-by-step how-to posts for oneworld and skyteam too.

Picture?type=large Jenny H. commented 17 Aug 2011

Hi Ben, are ALL flights that show up in Aeroplan's search tool bookable using US Airways miles?  I don't see different redemption categories on Aeroplan like Continental has with "SaverPass" categories.

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 17 Aug 2011

@ Jenny -- US Airways blocks quite a bit of Lufthansa first class space that shows up on Aeroplan, but other than that it should be more or less the same.

Picture?type=large Jenny H. commented 18 Aug 2011

Thanks Ben.  I'm trying to book a trip using US Airways miles from San Francisco to Taipei through Seoul (in March).  Aeroplan's tool shows availability on Asiana, but Continental's tool does not show Asiana's flights as an option.  I'm not sure what this means.. is it available or not using US Airways miles?  Thanks!

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 18 Aug 2011

@ Jenny -- You'll want to call US Airways to find out. Occassionally there are discrepancies in availability, so it could go either way.

Picture?type=large Jenny H. commented 18 Aug 2011

Thanks Ben!

Picture?type=large Max K. commented 19 Aug 2011

Hey Ben!

I live in Germany and want to travel to Australia in the next year.

I've already read up on the US Airways Miles Bonus and thinking about buying (still wrestling with the tax issue)

Anyway, you mentioned US Air blocks Lufthansa first class on the transatlantic route.

Is that a problem that I would run into with an itinerary like FRA-SIN-MEL?

Also, can I schedule my flight in a way that allows me to experience as many first class cabins as possible?
I'd like to try out Lufthansa and maybe Swiss (I'm obviously biased ;), Thai and Singapore Airlines.

Is the latter even an option?

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 19 Aug 2011

@ Max -- The first issue is that you can forget about Singapore first class award space, as they don't release any. So focus on Thai, Swiss, and Lufthansa. But yes, you can sample multiple airlines on a single award, and shouldn't run into too many blocking issues. You can always call first and ask about availability. US Airways lets you hold a ticket before buying the miles, so that might be the best route to go for you.

Picture?type=large Max K. commented 19 Aug 2011

Well that was quick!

I also have some 20000 Skywards miles? Would they be any help for this?

Can you tell me how I can find out about fuel surcharges an the award ticket for that itinerary?

Thanks in advance, night owl indeed.

Well, it 2:22 am here... XD

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 19 Aug 2011

@ Max -- Those miles wouldn't help, unfortunately. There are no fuel surcharges on US Airways awards.

Picture?type=large Nathan K. commented 19 Aug 2011

Ben -

Have you done a similar commentary on SkyTeam and OneWorld searches? If not, that would be very valuable as well. As a Star Alliance member I've gotten good at using ANA, Aeroplan, and CO.  But when it comes to other alliances, my skills are shaky and I've got 500,000+ miles on the other alliances.

Just a thought for future articles!

Keep up the good work!

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 19 Aug 2011

@ Nathan -- Stay tuned for next week!

Picture?type=large Max K. commented 20 Aug 2011

Ben thanks for the information.

Just one question: Did you pay regular fare for SQ (you mentioned their satay) or did you find another way?

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 20 Aug 2011

@ Max -- Singapore exclusively releases first class award space on the New York to Frankfurt sector within a week of departure. Not earlier, and not on routes to Australia.

Picture?type=large Bradley S. commented 24 Aug 2011

Ben:  I signed up for ANA mileage program and even managed to transfer one SPG point to an ANA mile to have some balance.  However, while they let me search for ANA flights, they are not letting me search for Star Alliance flights.  Any idea why or suggestions?

Picture?type=large Dutch A. commented 31 Aug 2011

Hi Ben Great site BTW,

We bought some usairway miles (160.000) and booked a great trip to Asia via Frankfurt (first class lounge LH ) then of  to  Bali .Do you know what hapens if they sell my fist class  seat and i get bumped off the flight or to econemy.what can i ask for a free ticket ,miles etc?

hope you can help me?

Best regards Chanan

 

Picture?type=large Dutch A. commented 31 Aug 2011

Hi Ben Great site BTW,

We bought some usairway miles (160.000) and booked a great trip to Asia via Frankfurt (first class lounge LH ) then of  to  Bali .Do you know what hapens if they sell my fist class  seat and i get bumped off the flight or to econemy.what can i ask for a free ticket ,miles etc?

hope you can help me?

Best regards Chanan

 

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 31 Aug 2011

@ Dutch -- There's no reason they would bump you, as it's not a common occurence. If they do, you would be entitled to the difference of miles and downgrade compensation based on the region you're departing from. But I've never heard of that happening.

Picture?type=large Aric W. commented 08 Nov 2011

Ben, I registered for the ANA Milage Club.  When I go to search for award travel (from the link to the search tool you provided), it tells me that, "The Partner Flight Award search function is only available for passengers who have a certain level of mileage."  Do you know what the mileage requirement it?  Thanks -- Aric.

Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 08 Nov 2011

@ Aric -- There's a workaround to that, as follows:

1.go to ANA International Flight Awards
2.Enter an ANA operated route
3.Click Next
4.at the bottom click on Use Star Alliance Members Airline (2nd blue button from
the bottom)
5.in the near future credit something small to ANA to avoid having to do 1-4

Picture?type=large Aric W. commented 08 Nov 2011

Awesome.  Thanks!  United's reward booking site also gave me some good results. 

Picture?type=large Prachya P. commented 08 Dec 2011

Ben, I registered for ANA Mileage Club and logged in. On the top, click on Mileage Club, then click on "Use Miles" > "International Flight Award" I can not find any where I can do a flight search in there. I tried searching for many area in their website but still can not find it. I followed along your instruction for BA, it works... and I am pretty familiar with CO, AA, Aeroplan, Awardnexus, etc... but can't get this ANA to work. Would you mind explain more about how to get this to work???

Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 14 Dec 2011

Prachya, sorry for the delay, but hope that today's post, How to Use ANA to Search Star Alliance Award Space, will help. We have a lot of screenshots to illustrate how to get to it, it's certainly not the most intuitive site.

Picture?type=large Prachya P. commented 16 Dec 2011

Thanks Hilary, for writing the article, it's very useful!

Picture?type=large Paula G. commented 23 Jan 2012
Thanks a lot - this is very helpful indeed. I have a quick question: Now, I found a flight flying first class from LAX to BOM on Continental using the route: LAX --> Haneda, Narita --> BOM BOM--> BKK --> PVG --> LAX Now, my miles are with United and I am 1K with them. This route does not show up in the United site. When I call the Award travel desk at1K, wont they see the same data that we do for award booking or can I just tell that I was given this availability from Continental (which United owns now). Thanks
Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 23 Jan 2012
@ Paula -- United should have access to the same seats if you call them (their website only displays a limited number of partners). That being said, in your shoes I would book through Continental (you can transfer your miles from United for free) since you'll have a lot more flexibility to make changes later when booking through them, even as a 1K.
Picture?type=large Paula G. commented 23 Jan 2012
That sounds like a good idea, Ben - let me try it out and post the outcome. Question: So when I transfer my miles from United to Continental, do they also respect my status of 1K at Continental even though I dint earn it with the? Or its all based on my United Card - thx
Picture?type=large Ben Schlappig commented 23 Jan 2012
@ Paula -- They do when you link your accounts and match your status, which is free and usually is processed pretty quickly. You'll be matched to Platinum status with Continental, which gets you the same fee waivers.
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