It can be frustrating to redeem award miles for an overseas trip. But, keep in mind that not all hope is lost since many airline websites fail to show award space from all of their partners. This means that there are many routes with open seats available for award tickets going empty, but you may have to call the airline mileage program to find them.
Routes that tend to have more availability are often those that are not between an airline’s hubs. For example, it can be harder to find award space at the lowest level on Delta flights between Atlanta and Paris or Amsterdam simply because the airline partners with Air France and KLM to carry passenger further to other cities from those European hub cities.
Here are some tips for navigating around the largest U.S. airline route maps.
Since the 1990s, American has flown between Raleigh/Durham and London. American’s website often routes many customers looking for an award to this flight since it has really great award availability. Even if you don’t see it online, perhaps it could work to route yourself through the airport for the flight if trying to get to Europe. Economy cabin awards on this route are often easier than premium seat redemptions.
While redeeming miles on British Airways flights carries mighty fuel surcharges, there is a lot more opportunity for finding award space. The British flag carrier flies to nearly two dozen North American cities. Busy hubs like Atlanta, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Miami, and Vancouver all see BA flights, but so do other cities like Austin, Baltimore, Phoenix, San Diego, and Tampa/St. Petersburg. The latter cities are often gold mines when it comes to award space simply because there are not as many hub passengers being funneled through them, but prepare to pay big taxes.
Keep in mind that American’s partners like Cathay Pacific, Iberia, and Qatar among others are not listed on aa.com. So there may be a lot of award space left on the table unless you use a third-party search tool like Expert Flyer. Plus, there are award partners that many agents don’t even know about since they are not members of oneworld like Air Tahiti Nui, Etihad Airways, Fiji Airways, Gulf Air, and Hawaiian Airlines. Remember airline agents are interested in securing fast service times, but may not be interested in researching additional partners, so be prepared when you call.
Finnair is good with releasing award seats for American mileage redemption, especially in winter, and the Nordic carrier has a solid European route network for connecting flights. If you want to redeem Etihad awards using American miles, occasionally American agents cannot find accurate award space. Use Etihad’s website to look for a “Guest Seat,” if it shows available there, call American’s Australian call center where agents are more likely to be able to ticket it for some odd reason.
Even with American awards, there are chances for redemption that can be lower than one might expect. American’s co-branded Citi credit card comes with a unique benefit that slashes mileage required for certain award tickets. Each quarter, the airline releases a list of destinations that are eligible for the discount (available on either one-way or roundtrip flights). See if any of your travel plans qualify to take advantage.
Don’t forget that any award that cannot be booked online should not be charged the phone booking fee although sometimes you have to remind the agent on the phone.
There may not be any SkyMiles award charts online any more, but there are still some good routes to look for when it comes to flying overseas. With the airline’s joint venture partner Air France, there are a handful of Delta-operated flights from Paris to non-hub U.S. cities. These include Paris CDG to Chicago O’Hare, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh/Durham. Check these routes when all else fails as there is often decent availability.
The same goes for Boston to Amsterdam, London, and Paris. Unfortunately, Delta’s complicated routing rules mean that getting to some of these gateway cities might cost more depending upon your point of origin. Still, this could be cheaper than paying the inflated award price for making a nonstop or one-stop trip through a Delta hub city, if you live in a gateway like Boston. Some Delta business class awards can tally up to hundreds of thousands of miles (reports of a business class award for one person to Sydney was close to 700,000 miles online). So it’s always in your best interest to book the lowest level awards, even if it means taking less convenient routes, of possible.
Delta’s partner Virgin Atlantic also releases award space on many routes especially between JFK and London, which is a good option to check.
If trying to book awards on Kenya Airways, Delta agents cannot always reliably see award space. But, if you call the Singapore call center, agents often are able to ticket Kenya awards that U.S. agents cannot.
If you’re curious to see which routes might have a bit more availability than usual, try comparing those that are made available for Flying Blue discounted redemptions. These change each quarter, but can bring a lot of value in terms of saving miles to fly either first or business class. This quarter, you can save 25% of mileage awards on Air France between Houston, Miami, or San Francisco in economy class or between Chicago and Detroit and Europe in business class on Air France and KLM.
United’s website is a great tool for searching award space on most of its partners, including those not in Star Alliance like Aer Lingus. Flights to London are easier to come by because United has a lot of flight frequency there.
When booking flights on Ethiopian Airlines, united.com does not display reliable award space. It might say no business class is available, but Expert Flyer or calling the airline is more accurate. Brussels Airlines and Singapore Airlines are also known for restricting award space from appearing on United.com. Lufthansa also waits to release award space on its uber-expensive first class award flights until two-weeks out so be sure to check closer to departure for those awards.
Since United’s website is so thorough, there is less of a need to learn extra tricks.