Git-R-Done Award Booking
Today we’re going to try to spell out some of what goes into award booking and family award searches. Stick with it and it just might be helpful! This is the first of what I’m sure will be a sporadically posted series on award booking for families.
Warning: this will take some time. There are no real shortcuts here, but once you dive in the challenge of award booking can be one of the most fun parts of the miles-and-points travel hobby, after the travel itself.
- Bookmark a handful of pages like United Routing Rules and Error Messages and most of TravelIsFree’s posts as well as others from Milenomics, Wandering Aramean and a bunch of other bloggers that I’m too
busy lazy to look up and list. Whatever seems relevant to you.
- Practice. A lot. You can read great posts and helpful forums until you’re numb, but you’ll learn a lot more by doing. At least we do. Pick random spots all over the globe, random dates and challenge yourself. It’ll be fun 🙂
- Start with the Git-R-Done approach. Especially with a family, expecting the perfect itinerary to be available just sets you up for failure. We look for any seat on any airline within 2 hours drive or so of the origin and destination, and refine from there.
- For dummy bookings, ignore your balances. The goal here is to find out what is out there and what is likely to be the best strategy when it is actually time to book.
- Looking for 6 seats? Start with 6, and if you only see Standard level (or peak or high or rip-off or whatever they’re calling it now) space try 5 and then 4 and so on, until Saver space opens up. There will not always be enough saver seats for family travel, but fortunately the banks are generous enough that we can overcome this.
- Work from the origin, from the destination and from the middle. Find possibilities for the longest segments and play with the routing. Most really fun itineraries require a call in anyways. On the example pictured, BGI-YUL-ORD and YUL-ORD-IAH-SAT showed up online, but the entire trip would not.
Finally the biggest one, guaranteed to teach you tricks you would never find otherwise: Figure out award bookings for other people! You can go on any number of forums, but the Flyertalk information desk has the biggest volume of requests. Click on one, old or new, it doesn’t matter, and use the data they give to book them a trip. Don’t cheat and look at other people’s answers until you’ve done what you can on your own. After that by all means look at what others have found.
Unless you have thick skin you may not want to actually post your findings, or you’ll get responses like this
How dare you suggest they fly ZG to VDX (Neverland) on a stickshift 707 when they could fly on the new VQ A395 instead which has complimentary Dom Pérignon and caviar administered by IV so you are guaranteed to sleep the whole way and arrive plastered on stupidly overpriced champagne and full of fish eggs??! Newbies like you are ruining Flyertalk – next you’ll be suggesting they fly WN!
Details have been altered to protect the innocent, but you get the picture. Some people like to be jerks online. Don’t sweat it.
Do I really need to go through all of this? Even if I live in a hub city?
Maybe not now, maybe not for some trips, but unless you only ever fly hub-to-hub this will come into play at some point.
Here’s my most recent simple discovery that happens to be very helpful to us: someone asking for help on Flyertalk thread wanted to get from Los Angeles to Rome this summer on AA miles without paying British airways
surcharges scamcharges, and there were no seats on their dates when they went to book in April. So I suggested they call AA to check on the Air Tahiti Nui nonstop LAX-CDG knowing there was little chance of that working out and dove into britishairways.com looking for seats on Iberia where the scamcharges would be more reasonable not as high, as well as on Qatar. Yes, Qatar would have required more miles because it’s two separate awards, but the goal is to find an itinerary that works, and then tweak and improve it from there. Qatar didn’t work for their dates, and neither did Iberia from any U.S. cities, but an option from Miami via Mexico City showed up! So I dropped Miami from the picture, and sure enough, their award worked on their exact dates, Alaska airlines coach LAX-MEX and Iberia business or coach MEX-MAD-FCO. There was also an all business class possibility LAX-DFW-MEX-MAD-FCO but the times weren’t as good. The first routing would probably require 2 awards since AS and IB are not partners and AA’s published fare rules get in the way, but an otherwise impossible or prohibitively expensive trip to Europe with business class for the overnight flight was available against all odds. For their dates, they were able to use United miles to return to Los Angeles without any problem.
So how did that help our family? Well, from San Antonio we have nonstop service on the Mexican low cost carrier Interjet as well as Southwest to Mexico City, and from Austin to Cancun on Southwest which is served by Air Berlin, another good possibility for Europe travel. Now I won’t forget to search from there if I’m in a bind. If I had seen the MEX-MAD flight only on this awesome comprehensive list of Oneworld North America-Europe routes rather than as part of a practice booking, Mexico City never would have really registered as a useful possibility to me.
You can see what went into our own award bookings for 2015 in this post. Next up in the series: moving from Git-R-Done to your real booking. Or some airline-specific tips. Or whatever spills out of our brains onto the keyboard.
Disclosure: Some of the pages linked in this post may contain credit card application links. And Google AdSense might have put one on this page, I don’t know. If you are currently carrying a balance on a credit card, please do not click any of those credit card links.
I’ve also had to split up the family to get around limited award availability, especially from a non-hub city. In the end, we all ended up on the same flights due to the almighty schedule change.
Also, booking identical itineraries via different partners to maximize the use of a limited number of miles. This can be more risky with schedule changes when partners don’t have the same policies.
Thanks for adding that point. Usually I look for positioning flights rather than splitting up but that’s definitely another possibility.
I totally agree that you can read about how to do it until your eyes pop, but actually trying to work out an itinerary is the way you really learn. And by all means, reach out for help. There are so many rules, and so many options that a few brains are really better than one!
You have the best “disclosure” footers!
Thanks! Maybe they’re just silly, but if they make someone stop and think before clicking on an application then I’ve accomplished something.