The Basics of Searching for Award Space

It is very easy to get into intermediate and expert territory when it comes to finding award space and booking awards. That can sometimes be intimidating. This is my attempt at boiling down the very basics of searching for award space

I’ll start with a couple of assumptions:

  • You know where you want to go, at least roughly.
  • You have sufficient miles.
  • I’ll use Chicago, O’Hare to Bali, Indonesia (a nice aspirational destination) as the example.

Basics of Searching for Award Space: Step 1 – Know what airlines fly to your destination

Identify the airlines that fly to your desired destination. You’d be amazed at how many times I decide to go to a particular place, only to find out that while I wanted to fly on a particular airline (or miles), they prove to be difficult because either (a) the partner airline that flies charges fuel surcharges, or (b) no partner airlines release space, or (c) no partner airlines fly to that particular airport / city (like Star Alliance abandoning Cambodia)

To identify what airlines fly to your desired destination, I recommend using OpenFlights, which I’ve written about before, but be aware that it may not make the distinction between seasonal and regular flights (or what specific days an airline flies).

Below, you can see, for example, all of the routes that you can take to get to Denpasar-Bali, Indonesia:

Basics of Searching for Award Space

Routes to/from Denpasar-Bali, Indonesia, courtesy of

Basics of Searching for Award Space: Step 2 – Know what airlines fly from home (or close by)

You’re probably noticing the trend here. I always recommend that you break your award search into each leg. The key to any award travel search is to break a trip up into its component pieces, assuming you cannot fly non-stop. Then I usually search for the over water portion first. Now this logic may not necessarily work when booking on some airline sites, like United’s new routing rules and engine. But for the most part, you’ll notice that overwater flights are the hardest to find.

So for getting from Chicago to Indonesia, you will for the most part be looking for TransPacific (TPAC) flights. 

Basics of Searching for Award Space

Trans Pacific (TPAC) options via


The exception, of course is United, which might come up with an option via Europe.

Basics of searching for award travel

United via Europe Option

Your chosen airline or alliance will limit your options—unless you have plenty of miles in various transferrable currencies). 

Basics of Searching for Award Space: Step 3 – Connecting the Dots

So now you know how you can get from Chicago to Asia, and you know what options you can connect onward to Denpasar-Bali, Indonesia.

The most logical option, if you have the flexibility, would be to focus on those one-stop itineraries, which would be:

Basics of Searching for Award Space

Chicago to Denpasar with different alliances: Blue: OneWorld, Red: Star Alliance, Gold: SkyTeam

Now, logically that’s easiest to work with. If you have to work with connections, well, now you start to run up against the risk of agents telling you that what you want is a multiple award trip. That would be leaning more toward an intermediate level. So, we’ll go ahead and leave things here.

Please, share your questions – how can I improve this first level basics of searching for awards?

2 thoughts on “The Basics of Searching for Award Space

  1. Pingback: British Airways: I am not a Robot! - Tagging Miles

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