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 VI, we’ll take a look at the best indicator of Star Alliance award space – the ANA Mileage Club award search tool. It’s a little bit cumbersome to use; that’s why in general I use united.com to search for Star Alliance award space. But United’s website doesn’t show all partners and sometimes displays phantom award space, so when I need to be 100% sure an award seat exists, or whenever I am double checking space, I turn to ANA.
If you’re going to use ANA, you need to sign up to be a member of ANA Mileage Club first. It’s free and you can do it here. After you’ve done that, you should bookmark the ANA award booking page. If you have miles in your ANA club account, searching for space is fairly straightforward and I’ll let you work that out yourself. If you DON’T have miles in your ANA account, however, you need to jump through some hoops to search Star Alliance space (though you can search for ANA space quite easily). I’ll walk you through jumping through those hoops below.
Searching for Star Alliance space on ANA when you DON’T have miles in your account
Like I said above, the first thing you should do is bookmark the award booking page. If you’re like me, you’ll be using it fairly often and it’s worth the shortcut. After you log in, you’ll be brought to a search page (Fig 1).
When you don’t have miles in your ANA Mileage Club account, the “Use Star Alliance Members” option is greyed out. But there is a workaround! Start by clicking on “ANA International Flight Awards”. Then, put in your dates of travel – but NOT your origin and destination. Instead, use an origin and destination that ANA flies – I generally use Hong Kong (HKG) and Tokyo Narita (NRT). The website has no problem letting you search for this itinerary (Fig 2).
At this point you’ll be presented with a bunch of options for flights, but of course you don’t care about those because you’re not flying from HKG to NRT. What does matter is that if you notice, “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines” is no longer greyed out (Fig 3). If you click this, you’ll be brought to the Star Alliance award search page.
If you look at the new search page (Fig 4), you’ll see it’s a “Partner Search” web page, not just ANA. When you first get there, your old cities (HKG and NRT) will be in there. All you need to do is replace those codes with the codes for the airports you are actually looking for and you’ll be able to search for Star Alliance award space on that route!
Now, the website will display both results from ANA and from partner airlines. As you can see, in my search for award space between Boston and Munich, there is award space in both first class and economy on the 4/1 outbound flight. “OK” means there is award space, “X” means there is no space, and “-” means that class of service isn’t available (Fig 5). You can use the “day before” and “day after” buttons to search different days.
Other ANA award search features
ANA won’t show you a full calendar of dates like united.com will, which makes it more cumbersome to use. Still, if you are searching a direct flight between two cities, you can click on “7-day availability” and you will get a short one week calendar (Fig 6). It will only show you one class at a time so you’ll need to change the class of service manually. As you can see, there is first class award availability on Tuesday and Wednesday of that week.
You can also choose only one airline to search with. You can click on “Use the Single Airline” from the page in Fig 3. I don’t find this all too useful but I guess it could be good when I’m looking for a very, very specific flight.
ANA’s award website is a lot more accurate than United’s, but much less user friendly. Still, it’s important to know how to use it in case you need to confirm award space. You have to trick the website a bit into letting you search for Star Alliance space, but once you get the hang of it, it’s just more time consuming than difficult. Now that I’ve reviewed how to search for Star Alliance space, I’ll run through a mock ticket search later in this series. I’ll make it a slightly difficult search since the easy ones you should be able to handle yourself using either united.com or ANA. Until then!