In this post I will explore how to make the first steps into booking award travel. I’m assuming you have a destination in mind, though often that is one of the hardest things to pick after being at this game for a while.
Step 1 Airline Alliances for Partner Awards
Firstly, make yourself familiar with the concept of Airline Alliances so you can fly on both your Airline and its Partners, this opens up a lot of possibilities for routing. If you are unfamiliar with the Alliances please feel free to check out this introduction to them here. Once you have a basic understanding of the concept of Partner awards you can always refer back to the excel sheet on that post to cross reference.
Step 2 Learn the routes that fly to your destination by making a mock booking
Price out a revenue ticket to your destination using a site like Kayak.com this will give you a basic understanding of what airlines fly to the destination you want. Since Mrs Saverocity has just written a great intro to Japan on the Travel page (check it out when you are done here) I’ll use Tokyo as an example. What you are doing here is simply finding who flies where, to open up options for points redemption’s. For this reason rather than picking JFK-NRT (The big 2 airports) I pick NYC-TYO which includes all the other airports near JFK in the New York area, including Newark which opens up United flights as it is their hub. Also on the TYO side there is a second airport in Tokyo called Haneda that is quite useful, and there are a couple of non Stop American Airlines flights among others that I like to have as options.
As you can see, there are so many options (in fact over 3000 for just that trip) that I will pare it down, I am not interested in price at this point as I will be using awards for the ticket, so I will filter by No of Stops, and go to Non-Stop only.
Now we are down to 40 Flights offered by:
- American Airlines (OneWorld)
- United Airlines (Star Alliance)
- ANA (Star Alliance)
- Japan Airlines (OneWorld)
- Delta (SkyTeam)
There are a couple of others that run non-stop also, but these ones seem to offer the most, and already I can see that I have all 3 Alliances covered, Skyteam, Star Alliance and OneWorld.
Step 3 Pick an Airline from the options available
Next question is, which airline to fly on. This choice comes down to how points rich you are and how you like to travel. If this is a Coach trip then the airlines are fairly similar, but when you start looking at Business Class and First Class differences start to emerge. Most people tend to book their first Award trip in Coach, then once they see how easy it was they start getting greedy (like myself) and aiming for Business Class and First Class whenever they can.
Step 4 Check for Award Space
Along with what airline you would Like to fly on you have to have space on that plane for your Award Seats. It is worth noting that whilst there is often Award space on flights, it is not always in low tier awards. The difference between a Saver/Low Tier award and a Standard Award is massive, so much so that it can be sometimes cheaper to fly Business than Coach if the Business is Saver and the Coach is standard!
Another thing I have noticed over the years is that whilst there is a non stop flight, they often don’t let you book that, but will allow you to go via a less popular 1 stop route… this is annoying, but sometimes worth the effort.
Here is how these saver awards look for American and United.
Step 5 Look for Saver Awards, not Standard Awards
American Airlines – I really like AA at this time of year because they have a low season award, it is 25K in Coach instead of 32.5K for Saver. As you can see it is 65K for Anytime Award in Coach, and only 62.5K for Saver First, and the Availability is HUGE – so if you simply have to fly on a date that there isn’t an award in Saver Coach then fly First for less than Coach!
Due to coach being busy the cheapest redemption seems to be 62.5K in First on the day I want, but that is only looking at American Airlines metal, so there might be space still on their Partner JAL. To find out would likely take a call into the AAdvantage Desk to check with them. However if you were OK with spending that many AAdvantage miles I personally would call up the Desk and ask if JAL had either Coach or if not if they have space in their First Class cabin for a 62.5K redemption. Because I rate JAL as a much better airline experience and if you are spending then why not get the best?
The route back seems to have plenty of Coach space for 32.5K
But it also has plenty in Business for 50K…
and plenty in First for 62.5K! its just too tempting to fly First when there are these small gaps between the miles, but I will leave that choice up to you.
Based on the above, we are looking at 125K AAdvantage Miles Roundtrip in First Class (possibly on JAL metal if you are willing to call in and check, but at the very least on American Airlines). Or, the cheaper version by departing in First and returning in Coach for 95K AAdvantage Miles.
Step 6 Compare with another airline to see if they have more Saver space
Lets check what United has to offer. We are going to use the same approach of NYC-TYO as if we limit to just United’s hub Newark then we miss out on their Partner ANA from JFK. United is better at showing Partner award space in general but American is catching up on this.
United has a nice calendar which quickly shows you whether you can get Saver Coach, Business or First and on May 7th, there is only award space showing in Coach – the Standard Business for 150K (One way) is not going to fly… incidentally if this was in Saver Business it would be 60K.. but the 32.5K for a nonstop from Newark is a good looking flight.
The return leg is also only available in Coach for a Saver ticket – so if you want to fly United you can go roundtrip for 65K miles, coach each way. Also, you can fly on either United OR ANA on the return, it costs the same in terms of both Mileage and Tax.
So right now, between United and American you can route your Non Stop flights to Tokyo, and decide which one you prefer. Personally, due to the miles that I have I would take the flights in First Class and try to see if I can get on JAL, failing that would fly on American Airlines for 125K miles, which you can earn by Credit Card signups, Debit Card spending and Online Shopping Portals quite easily.