If I ever apply for a job as an award ticket booker, this post will be my resume. Finding United Saver Availability for such an obscure itinerary as Venice, Italy to Des Moines, Iowa is a point of pride.
If you follow my adventures, you know that I’m a huge fan of Camp Mom: extending your trips by keeping the kids overseas for less of the cost of summer camp. So far we’ve done Camp Mom Europe, Camp Mom Asia, and Camp Mom South America.
On the off years, Camp Dad took the kids to see the Grandparents while I traveled solo for two weeks. I’ve done Panama, Tenerife, Puglia and the French Riviera.
This year we are doing Camp Mom and Camp Dad a bit differently. Instead of the entire two weeks, I’m doing half and half: sending Deal Dad and the kids ahead to Grandma’s and joining them a week later after doing my thing in a farmhouse near Venice.
I’ve marveled for years about how it costs more for me to get Deal Dad and the kids to Iowa from Washington DC than it does for me to get to Europe. This year proved to be no exception. One way tickets to Iowa cost $383. Fortunately, I found American Airlines Saver Space.
I also found lots of low-level options to get myself from DC to Venice. I decided to go with Delta because their non-stop from JFK has no surcharges and because I prefer to connect in the US rather than Europe. At 30K plus $5 I’m not gonna complain. (Hopefully JFK has improved since I last had to connect there on Delta.)
The problem arose with the extra wrinkle: I had to get myself back to Des Moines, Iowa from Venice, Italy. In August.
Time to get to work.
How I Found United Saver Availability
I’m going to lay out the steps I took one by one with an generic title, then my specific steps.
1. Evaluate The Currencies
It is always a good idea to burn the currencies that you already have. In my case I had a pretty good stash of both Delta Skymiles and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Since Chase transfers to both United (Star Alliance) and BA (OneWorld) my options were pretty open.
Note I did not go out of my way to evaluate other programs. While I like a good treasure hunt as much as the next girl, I am not a masochist. My problem here is availability rather than saving a point or two. I would rather solve that first. If you want to go crazy finding the absolute best pricing within an alliance once you find your flights, you be you.
2. Price Out The Unicorn
For a coach ticket departing and arriving on my date, United wanted 70K + $54 and Delta 50K + $180. American actually had a Saver flight listed but it required two connections, a change of airports in London, and $260 in taxes. No thanks.
3. Figure Out The Non-Negotiables
In this case I had to be in Des Moines on a specific date. I wanted as few connections as possible to minimize the chances of muck-ups.
4. Find The Flex
Here’s what I flex, in order of how I flex them:
- Departure/Arrival city: There’s good news here: Europe is full of small airports with good train transportation between them. This is a possible flex point if I need it. Des Moines doesn’t have any alternative airports so no love there.
- Departure/Arrival date: As I mentioned above I didn’t have any flex in the arrival date, but I could leave Venice anytime. Here’s another possibility for flex.
5. Find The Options
Here’s where things get into the weeds. Since I wanted to minimize possibilities for missed connections, I looked for the common airports between my departure and arrival. Obviously I was not going to find any non-stops from Des Moines to Venice. In fact, I knew I was not going to find any non-stops from Des Moines to Europe at all.
So I went for the next best option: finding where I could get a non-stop to Des Moines. To do this I used the airport’s website. Then I figured out where I could get a non stop from Venice using Wikipedia. (Search the airport name and you will find a list of destinations and airlines). Then I looked for matches.
In this case from Venice there was an American Flight to Philadelphia and a Delta flight to Atlanta that each could have connected to a non-stop flight to Des Moines. As I expected, the Des Moines non-stops just were not available to the saver level. In fact, in both cases I could have flown Saver to the gateway- adding Des Moines jacked up the price.
6. Work From The Pain Point
Note this is the opposite strategy than “get over the pond”, which is what I use if I have more flexibility.
At this point I knew the trick would be to find saver availability from anywhere to Des Moines. Using ITA Matrix I looked for non-stop flights arriving into Des Moines from Denver to the East Coast. (Select a city in the mid-west and under “nearby” select 1,000 miles to get an idea). I looked for the latest flights in the day as I figured that gave me the best chance to make a connection.
Doing that I saw United Saver Availability on a flight that left at 7PM from Houston. I ran IAH-DSM through United.com and found a saver seat. I was halfway there.
7. Fill In The Rest
Now I just needed to get to Houston, which is much easier than getting to Des Moines.
By checking Houston Airport’s website, I saw what Star Alliance non-stops from Europe were possible and found one from Frankfurt on Lufthansa. Running that flight through United.com, I found a saver seat.
The last step is getting from Venice to Frankfurt. In order to make the morning flight from Frankfurt I would have to leave Venice the evening before. It’s not perfect, but it does minimize the chance of missing my flight over the pond. Fortunately, the flight is late enough that I can still enjoy the day in Venice. There is also a new MOXY by Marriott at Frankfurt that is only 15,000 points or $69 for the night I needed.
8. Use Multi-City Search to Book (or Call United)
Now that I knew exactly which flights were at United Saver Availability I utilized the the Multi-City search tool. I was able to get the FRA-IAH-DSM to connect properly (see photo above) but when I added the Venice-Frankfurt route the price kept changing.
I verified that I was within the 24 hour stopover rule then called United MileagePlus Reservations. Feeding the flight numbers to the rep I got it booked straightaway for 30K plus $84 in taxes.
I hope this provides you a layman’s outline of how to get from point A to B when point A or B is a small regional airport. Any questions/suggestions? Fire away in the comments.