Newbie Guide: Award Booking without Elite Status

Discussion in 'Newbies' started by JasonH, Feb 25, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. JasonH
    Original Member

    JasonH Silver Member

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    Here you are. Ready to book your dream award trip, but you don't have status on the airline. What to do?!

    Rules:
    1. Know your airline's partners. This will be invaluable. Not all partners are members of the alliance to which your airline belongs. For example, Delta and Alaska Airlines are partners, but Alaska is not a Skyteam member (Alaska also partners with most OneWorld members as well).
    2. Be flexible. As we progress we will need maximum flexiblity. If you are set on specific dates you might have more difficulty. One day can make all the difference in availability.
    3. Be creative. No one says you have to fly out of your home airport. Sometimes you can find availability flying out of another non-hub airport.
    4. Be persistant. Things change constantly so be prepared to devote some time to finding your ticket. No one said it would be easy! If you don't have the time there are some excellent services run by MP members that can help you for a fee. I won't plug them, but I welcome them to plug their services if they want.
    Application:

    So let's apply this to a semi-fictional trip from Denver to Paris using Delta for July-August.

    1.jpg

    The calendar shows just medium mile days. So let's apply number 1 and 3. Delta is a partner with Air France and KLM. Both of them have heavy service to Montreal (French-French connection). In my real booking this was significantly lower than flying from DEN, but in the end not low enough.


    2.jpg

    That didn't help us too much, but we aren't stopping there. Now we look at some other routes. Knowing many of the routes I eliminate backtracking to the west coast for now and look at major cities to the east. I avoid New York due to congestion issues and the cost for tickets to those gateways. Checking ORD we can see that if we initiate number 2 above and move our dates by 2 days on either end we will hit low days.

    3.jpg

    However now we run into Delta's IT failures. The view by price doesn't work (the calendar) but the view by schedule does.

    4.jpg

    Now we have to excercise number 4 above and start checking flights. I didn't like what I got choosing the first two options, so I just have to start playing with flights.

    5.jpg

    I can also call Delta and give them dates and let them do some of the search for me. Then book online while you are on the phone with them.

    For my real booking I ended up flying DEN-DTW in coach, DTW-CDG in AF Business class, CDG-MSP in coach (op-up to Biz Elite), and MSP-DEN in coach. All for 115,000 miles. Not the best, but it worked well for me.
     
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  2. Gargoyle
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    Gargoyle Milepoint Guide

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    This is great info for Delta fliers.
    Are Star Alliance and One World awards as difficult to book? If so, could some knowledgeable fliers create guides?
     
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  3. JasonH
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    JasonH Silver Member

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    Let's apply our rules from the first post to OneWorld. This leads to a corrilary of the first rule.

    • Non-Hub to Hub flights should be checked over non-hub to non-hub flights.
    We'll look at the same dates and ultimate destination. Here we need to remember that CDG is not a hub for any of their airlines. So, first look is at DEN-CDG and I don't like it.

    1.jpg

    It looks like we would have to pay 200,000 miles for DEN-CDG. Not good, but we can beat that.

    2.jpg

    Both BA and AA are hubbed in LHR. And the EuroStar has excellent service between London and Paris (into Gare du Nord in fact). So if we look at DEN-LHR we get a mix of Business and First at 112,500 miles.

    3.jpg

    Again, we had to adjust our dates by 3 days and we had to get creative.
     
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  4. JasonH
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    JasonH Silver Member

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    I gave OW a shot. Star is a tougher nut to crack due to Starnet blocking. I'll have to defer to others for that one.
     
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  5. Mackieman
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    Mackieman Gold Member

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    Perhaps do it with ANA to check availability, then call the airline where your miles are?
     
  6. JasonH
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    JasonH Silver Member

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    That's the quick and dirty. Remember though this is showing newbies how to do this. Hence my screenshots. When it comes to Star I've never done an award booking without elite status
     
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  7. well blow me down :)

    thank you very much, of course I have yet to try this but still, thank you for your efforts
     
  8. deant
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    deant Milepoint Guide

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    Let me take a first crack at Star Alliance. Please feel free to add additional information or make corrections.

    As JasonH said:

    Rules:
    1. Know your airline's partners. This will be invaluable. Not all partners are members of the alliance to which your airline belongs. For example, United and Emirates are partners but Emirates is not part of Star Alliance.
    2. Be flexible. As we progress we will need maximum flexibility. If you are set on specific dates you might have more difficulty. One day can make all the difference in availability.
    3. Be creative. No one says you have to fly out of your home airport. Sometimes you can find availability flying out of another non-hub airport.
    4. Be persistant. Things change constantly so be prepared to devote some time to finding your ticket. No one said it would be easy! If you don't have the time there are some excellent services run by MP members that can help you for a fee.
    5. Know the mileage requirements for the trip you are planning.
    One issue with Star Alliance is that all carriers do not carry the same award inventory. This is caused by “StarNet” blocking. Specifically, United will block certain partner awards that are available to all other partners. For example, Lufthansa may have a LAX – FRA first award available on a certain date. LH, US Airways and Continental, as well as others, may be able to see and book the award seat. However, if you call United, they will say that the award seat is not available – or possibly even that the flight does not exist. So beware.

    The first place most people start is with the ANA web site ( www.fly-ana.com ). This is because most people are looking for complex awards that utilize more than just the one airline that you have points on. You will need to sign up for an ANA FF account. Unless you have miles in ANA you will not normally be able to see award availability. However, there are work arounds. The way I have found is using a “GreaseMonkey” script that fools ANA to believing that you have miles in an account. The script and instructions can be found at http://boardingarea.com/blogs/thewanderingaramean/2010/06/a-bit-of-a-reprieve-on-the-star-alliance-reward-search-problem/ The instructions on how to add scripts is at www.greasemonkey.mozdev.org/using.html


    So after you have your account information and log in, you can get to the award availability page by doing the following:
    1. On the bottom left of the page, click on “award redemption” and go down to “award reservation.
    2. Click “Go”
    3. Click on “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines

    Now you can start checking availability. Most people have found that the site does not look at too many of the possible routings, so just putting in your departure and arrival cities does not get the results you really want. But it is worth a try. After you have checked “direct” routings then start searching segment by segment. This will allow you to look at significantly more routings. An example, if I am looking to go from LAX to IST, virtually nothing shows up. However, when I look at LAX – SEA and then SEA – FRA and finally FRA – IST I get good availability.

    Once you have found some acceptable flights you will need to call your FF program to check actual availability. If they say that they cannot see availability, go to Plan 2 and check other flights.

    Again, making award reservations can, and is, very time consuming. But it pays off.

    Good luck and happy flying.
     
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  9. JasonH
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    JasonH Silver Member

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    There are reports out that US Airways is now starting "StarNet" blocking. Sadly this seems to be becoming a fact more than an outlier among the US Star Alliance carriers.


    Great point deant! And this is not just an issue with the Star Alliance. One very important tool that can help with this is to download the OneWorld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam timetable programs for your computer. Make sure you keep them up to date however and be aware things change. My up to date SkyTeam TravelDesk shows KLM flying direct MIA-AMS on a MD-11, but that route is no longer available. Still, they will give you a nice starting point.
     
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  10. Robin
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    Robin Silver Member

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    Great thread. When all else fails call the airlines, it's worth the time & small fee. Even then you need to be prepared with partner airlines info. If you get a good rep they will automatically try creative routing but not always. I once called Delta while looking at a partner airline that showed (low tier business) availability through one of their hub airports. It didn't show up on the Delta rep's computer. Once I mentioned it they were able to book it for me.
     
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  11. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    My experience has been that elite status rarely comes into play when I'm booking awards. It really only matters on "home" metal and I'm nearly always on partners because they go more interesting places, the experience is better and the availability is greater.
    In what world is 2/28 more a fact than an outlier?
    In addition to understanding who the partners are it is important to understand the rules of using those partners. When redeeming UA miles EK cannot be mixed in with other partners. When redeeming CO miles non-*A partners can be mixed in with the others (so TUN-MUC-LHR-JFK on LH/LH/VS is legit).
     
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  12. anng3
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    anng3 Silver Member

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    I used to only do award travel on Delta and am new to AA. I just finished booking an AA award ticket to Europe using some of the 75,000 points I got from my new AMEX.
    What I learned:
    1. It's frustrating not being able to see Iberias availability for award travel online. AA only shows you AA award travel
    flights. To book Iberia AA combos you have to phone AA. Phoning instead of doing your award booking yourself online costs $20 more.
    2. The flights the rep booked were terrible. 7am flights, long layovers whatever it took to get me off the phone quickly even though since you can't book online you spend a long time holding to get a rep but the minute they get you they go into process you mode.
    3. Happily found that I can get a 4 day hold on my award flights before booking and by going back on AA online I could keep looking for better connections and get them.
    4. Was shocked how many flights I was able to take using just 20,000 and 30,000 points.
    5. Was happy how I could build in a stop over both going and coming.
    6. Realized even though I can't book on Iberia I can familiarize myself with the flights on their website.
    7. Found out changes to the dates but keeping same itinery doesn't cost anything.
    8. Bottom line very happy with my flights. Took a lot of time and work. Not looking foward to coach but happy that I am on all non stops with great connections. I'm not getting anywhere new late at night or having to head to the airport at 5 am.
     
  13. tipitai

    tipitai Active Member

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    Hi all, here's to my inaugural post:

    What do you know about stop-overs? I booked a reward flight (DC-Oslo) on Continental a few years ago with a four month stopover in Paris where I was completed an internship. I had to book this over the phone and was not aware of the stop-over option until I spoke with the agent. Do other airlines do this too and is this feature only available on the phone?

    Thank you all for your help!
     
  14. JasonH
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    JasonH Silver Member

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    First off. Welcome to MP. Glad to see you here!

    To answer your question, it depends on the airline. I pulled most of this off their websites. I'm sure others like Gleff or Wandering Aramean will correct me where things deviate from the stated rules. And in some cases a phone call to an airline or a partner might get you something that bends the rules.

    American - They have limited stopovers. More at http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/limits-to-stopovers-on-award-tickets.3653/

    Delta - Open-jaw travel is permitted and counts as a stopover. Restrictions apply.

    Continental - Should be the same as UA, but I'm not positive.

    United - You can include one stopover when traveling between regions on roundtrip or open-jaw itineraries; for example, between the continental U.S. and Hawaii, or between the U.S. and the Caribbean, Asia, Australia, Central America, South America, Middle East or Europe). You can have five stopovers if flying on a Round-The-World Award.

    US Airways - Open jaw travel is not permitted when an en route stopover is included in the award itinerary. Open jaw travel is defined as flying to a city and returning from a different city on a valid routing having one common city. The distance between the two open jaw cities cannot exceed the distance of the outbound or return trip. This may include certain itinerary restrictions.
     
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  15. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    CO permits one stopover and one open-jaw on award flights. UA permits either one but not both.

    Update (30 April 2011): UA now permits stopover and double open-jaw. Pretty solid, though the 15% MPM can get in the way for Australia trips.
     
  16. JasonH
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    JasonH Silver Member

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    Ugh. Do we know which direction they will harmonize?
     
  17. LXJenkins
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    LXJenkins Silver Member

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    How do stopovers generally work when traveling on more than one airline in an alliance?

    Example - MOW to JFK. I'd like to fly BA from MOW to LHR - stopping over in London for a few days. I'd then continue to JFK on AA.
     
  18. WaterSki
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    WaterSki Silver Member

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    The stopover rules of each airline are subtly different so you must be careful. In all cases the rules governing your award are the rules of the airline whose miles you are using.

    For airlines that allow stopovers on awards, stopovers are generally allowed at logical connecting cities, such as LHR in your example. In your example, if you are using AA miles, no stopovers are allowed except at the US international gateway JFK in your case). If you're using BA miles (probably not because BA's multipartner awards are generally quite expensive) your stopover would be OK because BA allows unlimited stopovers.

    US has the most unconventional rules (and most inconsistently enforced) stopover rules.
     
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  19. breakankles
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    breakankles Silver Member

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    This is great info. I just booked a trip using miles to South America for later this fall and wish I had done more research before pulling the trigger.
     
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  20. JasonH
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    JasonH Silver Member

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    Hopefully we here at MP can help you maximize those miles next time you are ready to book an award ticket.
     
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  21. Global Explat
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    Global Explat Silver Member

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    Super helpful thread. I'm well underway with the earning, but don't have too many insights on the churning front. Thanks!
     
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  22. SgtPeppers
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    SgtPeppers Silver Member

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    Great thread for sure. Learning a lot here. I think I am just going to note all this somewhere and create a instructions manual... and post it on MP.
     
  23. infoworks
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    infoworks Silver Member

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    I don't have the experience, other than I have been successful with UA, SQ and FQ over the years, but would certainly appreciate more info on on-US-centric advice as well.
     
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  24. Hi! I am Tushar Dhote from India, this is my first post on MP. Would love to interact with you all, do travel to Europe and South east Asia occasionally.
    I am an Amex member and would like advice on using miles for international travel on and as required.
     
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  25. DeltaExpert
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    DeltaExpert Gold Member

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    Great thread!
     
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