This is the twenty-fifth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go. Previously Using Expert Flyer to Redeem Delta Miles.
In an ideal world if you had United miles and wanted to fly to Phuket, you’d go to united.com, type in your dates and find your trip. In the real world, often no award comes up, and you have to be creative. How can you get creative with what possible routings exist?
For me, the two best places to get routing ideas are kayak.com and wikipedia. If a client for my award booking service says he wants to go from LAX to Phuket, Thailand with United miles, I don’t instantly know all the routing possibilities.
My first thought would be that the last leg will probably be Bangkok to Phuket on Thai Airways, since I’m sure such a flight exists. But I want to know all the possibilities to figure out the best routing in terms of duration, layover quality, and airline quality.
So first I would search “phuket airport wiki.” Every wikipedia page for an airport contains a section entitled “Airlines and destinations,” which I scroll down to.
In this example, I’ve specified using United miles, so I’ll scan the list for all Star Alliance partners. If you’re not sure about an airline’s alliance, here’s a list of airline hubs and alliances. You can also click on the airline, and its wikipedia page will list its alliance.
Once I’ve noted all the ways to get there on the Star Alliance–on Air China, Asiana, Austrian, and Thai– I’ll move on to kayak.com. At kayak.com, I’ll search LAX to HKT for one passenger in economy near the dates my client wants. I’ll make sure to search +/- 3 days, so I can catch routings that are only possible once a week because of non-daily flight schedules.
I sort the kayak.com results by alliance and duration.
Such filtering allows me to see that the shortest itinerary bookable with United miles is LAX-ICN-HKT on Asiana.
Now ideally I’d then be able to go and book a short, comfortable itinerary. But if I run into trouble, I’ll go right back to wikipedia.
Say I can’t find any simple one stop itineraries between LA and Phuket. If I’ve found space from Seoul to Phuket, I would go look at the Seoul-Incheon page to see how I can get to Seoul.
Or I might go to the LAX page to see how I can get to Asia from LAX. Then I’d go search LAX to Asia flights or flights to Seoul for award space.
I constantly check wikipedia for information on where airlines fly–major airlines have an article listing all their destinations that is linked to the airline’s wiki page–and where it’s possible to fly from an airport. It’s an incredibly helpful weapon when booking awards.
Wikipedia an Kayak are the free tools I use on almost all of my award bookings to plan routings.
Continue to Using Seat Guru to Pick the Best Award.