Award Tips

Use these tips and and information to maximize the chance that you will find the best awards for your trip.

Be flexible

The most important factor for successfull award redemption is to be flexible.

Non-stop flight not available? Consider redeeming for a connecting flight (or 2-stop).

First / business class not available on a shorter flight? Take the flight in economy, so you can connect to an international flight with premium award space.

Can you leave a few days early / late? Your options would increase significantly if you can be flexible to a week, as opposed to fixing on a specific date.

Hold hold hold!

A few airline programs offer the ability to hold award for 1 - 5 days.

Whenever you find something reasonable, hold it first, even if you are not sure This way, you have time to think or make other arrangements, without fear that your found award would go away.

Here are some hold policies:

  • American Airlines (AA): 5 days hold on most awards / maybe less if close-in
  • United Airlines (UA): Cannot hold, but if you have enough miles you can book ticket then make changes or cancel for free within 24 hours.
  • Alaska Airlines (AS): Cannot hold, but if you have enough miles you can book ticket then make changes or cancel for free within 24 hours.
  • US Airways (US): 3 days hold

Hold policies sometime change. Be sure to check with your airline agent when you call.

Pick the right airline site to search

Each airline site have their own "personality" quirks. Sometimes they give some very odd, out-of-way routings, other times they do not reliably show available awards on other partner airlines.

Site Coverage Date range Web accuracy Notes
AC All Star Alliance airlines Min: 0
Max: 355*
Inconsistent
  • Sometimes, AC has been observed to not display an available award seat on a Star Alliance flight, even if that flight is non-stop and no other AC flights is available. Such hidden flights are available by calling.
  • AC has a bias toward routing you on AC and connecting in Canada, even if the routing would be faraway.
NH / ANA All Star Alliance airlines Min: 4
Max: 355
Reliable
  • ANA will allow waitlisting on purely ANA-only itinerary. Be sure to log into the ANA site for waitlisting.
  • Unlike other international airline sites, ANA will treat United domestic first class as business class award. Specify business class if you want to search for United domestic first class award.
  • ANA will not returned mixed cabin redemption. Be sure to search segment-by-segment if you are willing to travel in a lower cabin for part of the journey.
BA All Oneworld airlines + EC (Openskies) Min: 0
Max: 355
Reliable
  • Occasionally, an award seat that could be available is not shown on BA.com. You will need to call to get access to those un-shown seats (tip: ask them to waive the phone booking fee, since the site is not showing).
  • For business awards with domestic segment on AA, BA web site has been observed to offer you seats in Economy, even if domestic 2-class First is available. There are some reports that if you call BA, your business award can be booked into 2-class AA First class cabin.
CX CX/KA only Min: 0
Max: 360
Reliable
  • CX sometimes make extra awards available to its own Asia Miles member. If you see an award from CX, it is possible for it to be unavailable to other partners. Sometimes, the extra awards will become available after few hours or a few days; sometimes, they never become available.
CX (JL) CX/KA only Min: 7
Max: 330*
Reliable
  • The CX (JL) site uses the JL site to search awards on CX/KA. This is the most accurate CX availability for partner airlines, even more so than the Asia Miles site (AM returns extra awards not available to other airlines).
  • The CX (JL) site is particularly good for searching long-haul direct routes on CX, such as JFK-HKG or LAX-HKG.
  • The CX (JL) site is limited in the number of results returned (no more than 6 flights each day). If your search has connections, you should search segment-by-segment (JFK-HKG and HKG-TPE), otherwise a simple JFK-TPE search will miss some possible connections.
  • In particular, because of frequent CX/KA services to PEK, PVG, and TPE, some flights available later in the day will not be displayed (use another airline site if you need to see the later flights).
JL JL International flights only (no domestic) Min: 7
Max: 330*
Reliable
  • JAL allows waitlist for its own miles, so if you have JAL miles, log on the site for waitlist possibilities.
  • The JL airline site can only search for awards that include one or more international flights. If you need to search for purely domestic Japanese flights, use Oneworld (BA) instead.
  • Award Nexus does not show JAL waitlist availability as available, since other mileage programs cannot waitlist.
  • Award Nexus does not support all JAL destinations yet. If you see an unsupported error, but you know that JAL serves that airport, report it and I will get it added.
QF Most Oneworld airlines + AS + LY + JQ (JetStar) + many SW Pacific airlines details

Omissions: JL, S7, MH
Min: 3
Max: 353
Reliable
  • Using Award Nexus, you can search for airports not directly available on qantas.com (e.g. IND)
  • Using Award Nexus, you can search as late as 3 days in advance (qantas.com requires 1 - 7 days in advance)
  • There are reports that QF occasionally returns phantom CX, KA, AY, or IB seats, which are not actually available.
AF Most SkyTeam airlines

Omissions: FM
Min: 1
Max: 360
Reliable for AF/KL, inconsistent on other carriers
  • The SkyTeam (AF) site does not support First class award search.
  • The SkyTeam (AF) site can search for Delta domestic first class using the business cabin selection.
  • Awards in premium cabins will be shown only if all segments have premium awards available. Because of this, you are advised to break your search into long-haul and regional connection, to avoid the long-haul flight premium seat not showing, because the regional flight has no premium cabin.
  • The SkyTeam (AF) site does not seem to support CAN-LAX and CAN-YVR on CZ (China Southern).
  • The SkyTeam (AF) site does not seem to support JFK-KIX, TPE-HNL and NRT-HNL on CI (China Airlines). However, the direct/through flight JFK-(KIX)-TPE is supported.
  • The SkyTeam (AF) site will show KE availability on select, but not all, routes.
Manual Input (Beta) All Airlines Min: 0
Max: 366
-
  • The Manual Input airline site is a special option that allows you to manually enter award availability.
  • The Manual Input airline site allows you to collect award availability by your own methods, whether it is by phone call or other airline site. You can even enter other flight availability, such as higher mileage-level awards, low-cost carrier flights, or cash fare flights.
  • By entering your own flight numbers, flight times, and cabins, you can apply the powerful Award Nexus web viewer, with features including the month-long calendar view, advanced filtering, and our patent-pending premium ratio filtering, to your own source of award data, including a few airlines that Award Nexus does not currently support, such as Etihad, Hawaiian, Krisflyer, or Asia Miles.
  • The Manual Input airline site is currently in limited beta. Please check back soon for more information on how to obtain early access.
Coverage
Some airlines may support additional non-alliance partners (e.g. UA may display certain QR flights).
Date range
Due to roundtrip search requirement, on some airline programs, Award Nexus may only be able to display up to 2 days before the maximum date (e.g. for AC, Award Nexus can only search up to 355 - 2 = 353 days in advance). Those programs are marked with a *.
Web accuracy
Some airlines sites may sporadically not show available partner award seats online. Note that this is not blocking - you just need to call to check and to book those seats. A program that is reliable can be relied on to confirm whether a seat (on a non-stop flight) is available or not. On inconsistent programs, a lack of available flights displayed may still mean that some flights would be available by calling, checking with another program, or checking later.

Search segment-by-segment

To maximize your chance of finding awards, you need to build your own connection manually.

The Search Builder in Award Nexus can help you manual connections (click to use it).

For example, suppose you want to fly ORD-SIN (Chicago to Singapore) on your Star Alliance. A naive search on ORD-SIN will not return all possible ways to travel from ORD to SIN. Instead of searching:

  • ORD-SIN
Knowing that Star Alliance have hubs at ICN (Asiana), NRT (ANA, United) and PEK (Air China), you should search:
  • ORD-ICN
  • ICN-SIN
  • ORD-NRT
  • NRT-SIN
  • ORD-PEK
  • PEK-SIN

This is just an example. Star Alliance have additional connections in BKK (Thai Airways), HKG (United), which you can add to your search.

Generally, first do a simple search to discover what is available. If you cannot find what you want, then invest the points to do a segment-by-segment search across all en-route airline hubs, to see if better award flights may be available.

Do not insist on many seats on the same flights

Generally, award seats do not come in big bundles, especially on competitive routes, and especially with premium business or first class awards. If you do a search for 4 first class seats in peak seasion for a popular route, be prepared to be disappointed.

When you are planning award trip for multiple people, you should always be ready to separate some of them. This way, everyone can enjoy an award ticket, even if not on the same exact flights.

Sometimes, you can first ticket multiple passengers on different flights (or dates). As time goes on, monitor the flights for emerging award seats, and you may be able to merge the group back on to the same flight.

Try searching only 1 / 2 seat, if 3+ people are traveling

A few airlines (such as Singapore Airlines), on select routes, have been observed to only release one or two seats at a time. Usually, if you book one of the seats, another seat is immediately released.

If you are planning travel for multiple passengers and you cannot find anything with a 3 or 4 seat search, try searching for 1 seat first, then call the airline to hold or book the seat. The carrier may then release another seat and you can repeat the process until all passengers are booked.

Search separately for domestic first class

2015 Enhancement! Award Nexus has been enhanced to automatically include domestic first class results for business class award search! This means that if you are only interested in business class awards (not international first class), you no longer need to select first class separately.

In North America, many carriers like to call their premium cabin "domestic first," even though the service is otherwise business class. This complicates award redemption, because some mileage programs allows the use of business award for domestic first, while others do not.

For example, AA calls most of its 2-class premium service domestic first. If you are redeeming AA miles, your business class award can be booked into the domestic first cabin. However, if you use another program such as BA, you may be charged the first class mileage amount (check with your program to be sure).

This discrepancy also makes award search difficult. For example, if you are searching on BA for business awards flying on AA NRT-ORD-STL, you need to break out the domestic portion. The NRT-ORD leg can be searched for business as normal, but the ORD-STL leg will depend on what program miles you use. If you use AA miles, search for ORD-STL in First. If you use BA miles, search for ORD-STL in Economy (because BA may not allow you to use business award to fly in "domestic first class").

On domestic flights with only two cabins, UA, AA market their domestic premium cabins as "First" and you need to specify for "First class" when searching:

  • American Airlines (AA)
  • United Airlines (UA)

Copyright 2014 Award Nexus LLC | Patent-Pending
Access subject to Terms of Service July 11, 2014

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