People have different opinions when it comes to booking award tickets with frequent flyer miles. I, for one, love booking award tickets and enjoy the challenge that comes with doing so. Booking award tickets are like puzzles to me and I love solving them. Other people hate booking award tickets, consider them too much of a hassle, or even go so far as to believing their frequent flyer miles are completely worthless. I’ve decided to put a guide together for those of you who fall in between – people who want to book award tickets themselves but feel like they need some pointers. This guide will assume some basic knowledge, namely, that you know how to log in to your frequent flyer account and check your mileage balance. Other than that, the guide is here to help you through the process – hope you find it useful! Feel free to refer to the index at the bottom of the page for other entries.
In Part III of the series, we’ll review what airline alliances and partnerships are and talk about why they are important to understand for award bookings. This is the last “background theory” post, after this we’ll get to some of the more practical tips, so if you’ve been bored just bear with one more post!
What are airline alliances?
Simply put, airline alliances are large partnerships between groups of airlines. Airlines will have codeshares, reciprocal elite benefits, all to increase options for their customers in order to keep them loyal. The three major air alliances are the Star Alliance, Oneworld, and Skyteam. I have written some thoughts on the major alliances here so I won’t rehash them.
Why are alliances useful for booking award tickets?
If you were only able to use United miles on United flights, that would severely limit where you could go. But through airline alliances and partnerships, you are able to redeem your miles for travel on partner airlines which really opens up a lot of options. As a US based flyer, the odds are you aren’t going to rack up miles in Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program or ANA’s Mileage Club. But since Cathay Pacific is in the Oneworld alliance, you can use AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios to redeem award tickets on Cathay Flights. You can redeem on ANA’s Mileage Club using United miles or US Airways miles (until they leave Star Alliance at the end of March).
Not all alliances are created equal, but they each have their benefits. Star Alliance is by far the largest and has good coverage all over the world, although I find them to be the most useful for Europe and Asia. Oneworld has the best coverage in South America due to LAN’s extensive networks (also the best planes), while Skyteam has decent coverage around the world but can be a real pain to redeem (but the redemptions are worth it if you put the time and effort in!)
The most important thing to know about alliances
It’s impossible to know all of the airlines in each alliance by heart (though over time you get to know most of them). But the most important thing to know is that very few airlines make it convenient to search for partner space. Take US Airways for example. You can’t search for ANY partner award space online. United.com prevents you from searching for Singapore Airlines and Brussels Airlines. AA.com can only search for a few of AA’s Oneworld partners. Delta.com……let’s not even go there.
The thing is, if you know that your airline isn’t showing all partner space, it gives you a reason not to give up once your initial award search comes up empty. And of course, it’s important to know where to look. I’ll go into detail about how to do so in future posts in this DIY series, but for now, I’ll just list my favorite methods for searching for alliance award space.
Oneworld: British Airways
Skyteam: Air France
Note that you’ll need to sign up for an account to use these search engines, but otherwise the information is free. Also, here is a link to all the partners of the different alliances, thanks to Wikipedia.
This is a pretty simple post, and probably information most people know. Airline alliances exist and they give you access to a lot more flights than your award miles would be able to unlock otherwise. The key is knowing your airline’s partners and finding the space. Finding the space is the real trick and we will be getting to that soon, I promise! Next time, we’ll take a look at how there is more than one way to get from Point A to Point B, and how Wikipedia can show you how to get there.