Hopefully, you have an idea of the most relevant frequent flyer programs and their partners, and some idea of where you want to travel but how do you turn this into a real booking?
First, by knowing where to look for award seats (also known as reward seats) that may be available. If you don’t know how, or where, to look, you’ll quickly get stuck thinking you have no options on how to use your hard-earned points.
Sure, you can use as little as 54,000 Qantas Points to fly Emirates First Class but how do I know to search on the Qantas website instead of Emirates?
Why is this guide important?
There are many ways to research which seats may be available, and all have their own unique advantages and quirks, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for immediately, it is worth trying a second option.
The general rule of thumb is that, if in doubt, search for availability on the website of the program you are looking to redeem points in. So, for availability on Virgin Australia, search with them – the same goes for Qantas.
However, that’s not always going to help when you’re trying to put together an itinerary on their partners or a mix of airlines and cities, which is when knowing where else to look becomes important.
1. Qantas, Emirates & oneworld airlines
For travel on Qantas, its own search tool unsurprisingly is king. Log in using your frequent flyer number and you’ll be able to search for ‘Classic Awards’.
Qantas.com also has a usable search for many of its partners including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, American Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways and a few more, all of which make it a great first port of call if you’re trying to use Qantas Points.
Qantas does a good job at displaying mixed cabin results, e.g. Business for the first leg and Premium Economy for the second.
However, there are a few downsides to the Qantas tool. As you use it to search across multiple dates, you may quickly get frustrated with the way it displays mixed cabin results, where you’ll think a long-haul multi-city flight is available in Business Class but, actually, it’s just the short connecting flight in Business and the long-haul segment in Economy.
In terms of specific airlines, Qantas does not show Japan Airlines or China Eastern availability, sometimes has trouble seeing LATAM seats, and prioritises its preferred Gulf partner Emirates over Qatar Airways, meaning that British Airways should be used for these searches.
If you’re looking to Qantas or other oneworld airline programs such as Asia Miles, another useful site is British Airways. Unfortunately, you can only register (for free) if you use a non-Australian address, but use a friend or family member’s (or make up a believable address) and you’ll be set.
The British Airways site is useful again for almost all oneworld airlines, including Japan Airlines. Obviously, the prices it shows in points won’t match the Qantas Points requirement, but it will give you some useful indicators of availability that the Qantas site may not surface, and I especially like the counter of available reward seats.
This tool is super easy-to-use and the fastest way to access British Airways award space. It shows award space only on British Airways-operated flights across the whole calendar (almost a year from now).
You can also set up daily availability alerts (or by the hour if you get an elite membership for £3/month).
It had a two-year hiatus and is back as of mid-August 2017.
Asia Miles online redemptions are only available for Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia Airlines, Qantas Airways and Qatar Airways—all other partners need to be booked with Asia Miles over the phone.
If you are booking these flights using Asia Miles, then the availability their own website is your best indicator, as Cathay Pacific do sometimes make specific availability open for Asia Miles members.
If you are using Asia Miles to book Cathay Pacific First Class, you may see more availability on the Asia Miles website compared to Qantas or British Airways
If looking for award availability on Cathay Pacific using your Qantas Points or otherwise, the availability through either Qantas or British Airways websites is the best place to start, however, there have been ongoing problems with both sites showing ‘phantom’ availability (where the seats show as available but can’t be booked).
I don’t know of a viable workaround for that issue yet. Many times have I tried to book a Cathay Pacific award seat using a partner airline points only to be told it’s not available, but it’s showing on both sites. It’s frustrating but nothing much can be done about it.
Japan Airlines has a clunky website and you need to sign up for an account to search for award availability but it does display availability across a whole week, which is better than what the BA site does.
2. Virgin Australia and Velocity partners
The Virgin Australia website is the best place to research Virgin Australia award availability using your Velocity points. Thankfully, its search tool is pretty good.
The only thing I’d wish for is a more robust, wider calendar view of availability.
Velocity also allows you to search for availability with Etihad, Singapore Airlines (all cabins except First Class), SilkAir and Delta through their website, but other partners aren’t there.
However, they do offer a very good, supportive and easily accessible phone service. Their partner award booking team is knowledgeable and will happily look into whatever options you want.
In all cases except Singapore Airlines, Velocity should have access to the same award seat inventory that the members of the airlines’ frequent flyer programs do, so signing up for their frequent flyer programs and searching on their own websites is a good a starting point as any.
If you want to book a Singapore Airlines First or Suites Class award seat, then search on the KrisFlyer website and call Velocity to determine if they can see (and book) the same award space.
3. Singapore Airlines flights
For award seats on Singapore Airlines, there are two tiers available: those available to KrisFlyer members (generally good) and those available to partners (not so great).
As a result, we get to use KrisFlyer miles for travel on Singapore Airlines and make the most of the additional award seat availability that they don’t offer their partners.
Always search for Singapore Airlines First Class space through KrisFlyer as they release little/no availability in this cabin to their partners
The KrisFlyer website allows for award searches alongside paid fares, however, it is quite granular in the visible results it displays, with no multi-date summaries, i.e. it requires a date-by-date search for the routing you are looking into.
Once you’re logged into your account, you’ll need the ‘Redeem award flights’ checkbox checked in the search, and the available results are displayed for the day you searched for. You’ll need to look for saver level availability in the first column to get the best deal.
4. Star Alliance airlines
From 7 December 2017, you’re now able to search for and book Star Alliance partners such as ANA, THAI and Lufthansa as well as other partner award flights on singapore.com and the Singapore Airlines app, however, this feature is being progressively rolled out.
A reliable tool to find award availability on most Star Alliance partners is the United search engine. It is free and you do not need to register as a member to use it. Just be aware that United does not show award seats on Singapore Airlines; only award seats on all other Star Alliance airlines.
Also note that Lufthansa First Class is not available until it is within 14 days of the date you are travelling, which means that if you looking to travel more in advance than that, you won’t be able to reserve First Class on Lufthansa.
Aside from Lufthansa, other Star Alliance partners release their First Class awards in advance.
When searching for a multi-segment flight (i.e. not nonstop) it is best to search one flight at a time. For example, Sydney to Singapore, and then Singapore to Tokyo.
Here is a step-by-step screenshot guide to searching on United:
5. Searching for award seats through independent tools and aggregators
On top of the airline websites themselves, there are then a few aggregation and notification tools that site on top of the available award seat data and display them in more user-friendly ways.
Award Nexus is one of the most complete. For most airlines, it works by automating searches on the airline’s website itself or using other data it can get access to. It is a paid product starting at $59 USD, but well worth it for the time savings you’ll receive. If you are a member of FlyerTalk, you are eligible for a free community membership of Award Nexus.
It supports searching across both oneworld (through the British Airways, Qantas, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific sites) and Star Alliance (through Air Canada, ANA, United and KrisFlyer in beta mode).
SkyTeam is supported through Air France and Delta, with Virgin Australia available through the Delta search option. Alaska and Virgin Atlantic searches are also available.
For more on which searches to use when, check out the very informative tips page.
The best thing about Award Nexus is that you can search across multiple dates, multiple classes of travel, multiple routes, and multiple alliances/ airlines in a single search. It is very powerful, and I couldn’t have booked some of my trips without it.
Given Award Nexus taps directly into Qantas’ website for results, you’ll also get results on partners including Jetstar, Emirates and Fiji Airways.
Read more in our full guide to using Award Nexus.
ExpertFlyer is another subscription-based application for either $5 or $10 USD/month depending on how much you use it, and it fulfills a range of functions, including searches across seat maps, awards, upgrades and notifications.
It is less useful for award search than Award Nexus as there are limited airlines included, but it is useful as part of a wider toolkit to monitor seat availability and other information.
award.flights Award Finder Chrome extension
This is a handy relatively new tool to go alongside the others I use to find award availability.
It is a Chrome web application run locally on your computer, is totally free, and allows you to run a breadth of searches across multiple airlines, cabins, dates and airports.
Learn more in our guide to using award.flights Award Finder.
This tool also deserves a mention. It is an inventory search (Windows) application, rather than a website. Check it out if you want to get really advanced. Mac users can find a workaround on the website.’
Searching across multiple dates
Finding upgrade availability
Upgrade availability is a whole other beast to outright points seat availability. Each airline manages its upgrade inventory in different ways and it is hard to explain concisely how to monitor it.
About the only place to do so is using tools like Expertflyer or KVS Tool, and you’ll need to understand the specific fare codes and policies that each airline use and apply to their inventory for upgrades.
Searching for award seats is not easy. It takes patience, knowledge, and a fair bit of creativity to get what you’re looking for on many occasions.
But don’t let this put you off – you can still score one of the best uses of your points by looking hard.
Earning Points: First Principles
- Getting Started with Frequent Flyer programs
- Earning by Flying
- Buying points and miles
- Earning from Credit Cards
- Earning from Offers & Partners
- Ask Questions & Keep in the Loop
- Earning and Using Points – First Principles
Using Points: First Principles
- Who, What, When, Where and How?
- Flexible Points Programs
- Maximising Points value
- Qantas and Virgin Australia Key Partners
- Searching for points seats