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 VII, we will take a look at the importance of looking for itineraries segment by segment. This is the key to a lot of international award bookings. You would think that when searching for award, you’d just type in your origin and destination and all the options would show up. If only. It’s pretty natural to do just that, not find any options, and think you’re out of luck. That’s where searching for award space segment by segment comes in.
The easiest way to explain this method is to use an example. Since I’ve been talking about Star Alliance, I’ll use a search on united.com as an example. Let’s say you wanted to fly two people from Boston to Singapore near the Christmas holidays. I chose a date of 12/16 since it’s right around when things start getting hot. As you can see, united.com doesn’t show any saver award flights available from Boston to Singapore on 12/16.
Here’s where searching segment by segment comes in. You actually CAN leave Boston on 12/16 to get to Singapore, you just need to find the space that is out there but united.com is refusing to show. So first, start by using Wikipedia to figure out what Star Alliance airlines fly into Singapore and where they fly from.The process is pretty straightforward, just find the Singapore airport page, then click on “airlines and destinations.” That gives me a list of airlines that fly into Singapore and where they fly from. With some due diligence one can figure out which Star Alliance partners fly into Singapore and from where (Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, etc.). If you’re not sure which airlines are partners, use Wikipedia!
Once I have determined large airports in Asia that connect to Singapore, I’ll look for flights from Boston to THOSE airports (not Singapore). You can also work backwards and sometimes have to but that’s too involved for this post. A search for award space between Boston and Seoul on 12/16 yields some award space! It’s not ideal since it flies east through Europe, but award space is award space. At this point, I will jot down when the flights that are available ARRIVE in Seoul.
Now that I’ve found flights to Seoul, I need to see if I can find flights from Seoul to Singapore (my next segment). Since I’ve noted the first segments’ arrival time in Seoul, I know I need to search for a flight on December 18th. What do you know, searching for flights from Seoul to Singapore yields saver award space!
At this point, you can write down all the flight numbers from the four flights that have saver space between Boston and Singapore. It’s tedious, but if you call up United and feed them these exact flights, you WILL be able to book a saver award ticket from Boston to Singapore for two in economy. Of course, what is better is not having to call a human at all. To do that, you can try to do a multi-city search on united.com. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
If the search doesn’t work, you will have to call (and try to weasel out of the phone fee), but if it does work, you can just book the ticket online.
By the way, I also searched for Singapore Airlines award space on ANA’s award search engine (from Seoul to Singapore) but came up empty. But remember you don’t need to search for all your segments on the same search engine: when dealing with Asia and Star Alliance, be sure to check ANA to see if there is any award space on Singapore Airlines!
Searching segment by segment is a powerful tool that can reveal award itineraries that the computer (and some human agents) can’t find. It comes with drawbacks for sure – this routing isn’t necessarily ideal – but around the holidays it might still be more economical to do this than to pay cash. Now I only searched through Seoul, but you could methodically search segment by segment through all the possible connection cities – that’s what I would do if I was trying to book this award for myself or a client. With some elbow grease and a little bit of luck, you can get some really amazing redemptions!