Award Space Series | Part 1 - Introduction to Maximizing Your Miles Through Airline Alliances

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Award Space Series Index

Part 1  |  Introduction to Maximizing Your Miles Through Airline Alliances

Part 2  |  Maximizing Your Miles Through SkyTeam Alliance

Part 3  |  Maximizing Your Miles Through Star Alliance Part I

Part 4  |  Maximizing Your Miles Through Star Alliance Part II

Part 5  |  Maximizing Your Miles Through OneWorld Alliance

Whether you’re a rookie or an experienced mile and point chaser, it is vital to understand how to use those hundreds of thousands of miles that you amassed through rewards credit cards

In order to maximize your miles, you need to consider which airline(s) serve the cities you reside in the most. Secondly, you also need to understand which alliance the airline is a member of---Star Alliance, Skyteam and Oneworld. These are the three major alliances, sometimes referred to as “The Big Three.”

All member airlines in these alliances allow you to book award seats on their alliance partners using the member’s miles and vice versa. Routing rules and award charts, however, will vary from airline to airline so make sure you understand those before accruing thousands of miles with one airline.


Non-alliance airlines such as Alaska Airlines also provide great value since they partner with a diverse set of airlines who primarily fly within each award zone region. For example, Alaska partners with Cathay Pacific (hub in Hong Kong) to serve the Asian routes as well as Qantas (hub in Sydney) for Australian, and LAN (hub in Santiago) for South American routes. Here is a complete list of Alaska’s partners.


Why do Alliances Matter for award bookings?

To put it simply, if finding award seats is a tedious task now, without alliances it would be nearly impossible for the average person to dedicate enough time to call and find open seats, let alone be able to fly to anywhere in the world using one airlines’ miles.

In reality you should be able to find any award search searching the airlines website that you have airline miles with, however it is not always that straight forward. Airlines have have a tendency to only show their own corresponding flights and sometimes block other alliance partners’ flights. Some airlines also need a minimum amount of miles in order to use their search engine and not all of us have a few thousand miles sitting around just to be used as a search engine bait.

In every alliance there is at least one airline that allows you to search every single members’ award availability on a somewhat user friendly website.

  • Star Alliance has a the best award search options with United, Aeroplan and ANA.
  • Oneworld award searches are best performed by Qantas and British Airways' search engines.
  • Skyteam, however, is solely dependent on Air France’s search engine (I’m not considering Delta because of the numerous workarounds required but I will demonstrate its uses in a future post.)

To put this in perspective, you can use any of the listed Star Alliance search engines to find award space on Asiana Airlines or use the listed Oneworld search engines to find award space on Cathay Pacific.

How do I know what airlines fly to which destinations?

The most common pitfall for rookies is figuring out all the routes from the origin to the destination using only those partners of an airline who allow bookings through miles. Two powerful tools that can be used here are ITA Matrix and Kayak.

ITA Matrix

ITA Matrix is a flight search tool that has very advanced features that are used by some travel agents. Before even thinking about booking a flight, I always make sure to find the routes using ITA as it gives you the feature to skip connecting cities, search using specific airlines or alliances. It’s as if Google, who owns the software, made this for miles enthusiasts!


You can read in more detail about the ITA Matrix tool and how to use it here.


Although not as powerful as ITA, Kayak provides an easier graphical user interface (GUI) to the user to essentially filter results using alliances as well as layover cities. Let’s say I want to travel from Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Hyderabad, India (HYD) and I would like to travel on a Oneworld partner but not go through London or the Middle East. I will start my search like any other on Kayak and enter the details as needed.

The complete unsorted results are the following:


Now I will start filtering exactly how I want to route my trip.

1. Show only Oneworld flights


2. Click ‘More filters’ to unlock the ‘Layover Airports’ filter that will let me select, or in this case unselect the cities I don’t want to stop in.


3. Unselect the Airports / Cities I don’t want to travel through.


5. Sort the results for the shortest travel time and pick the flight(s) I want. (You can also sort for the longest flights which will show you the longest possible time in between flights while still being considered a ‘layover’ to maximize your miles!)


Looks like I need to get to work on the two Cathay Pacific flights highlighted above.

The downside to Kayak is its lack of ability to search multiple airports for the origin and destination in one search which can be easily done in ITA Matrix, as shown earlier. If I wanted to search multiple origin points such as San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) along with Los Angeles (LAX) then I would need to follow the same steps for all three searches which can become a bit cumbersome very quickly.

Finding award space on the flight of choice

Now that I know what flight I want, it’s time to pull up a reliable Oneworld airlines’ search engine to look for the availability. Since Qantas allows looking at an entire month at a given time, I will start there. As a general rule of thumb since these search engines have a lot of quirks, I always search segment by segment and then piece the itinerary together.(Remember, you need to open a frequent flier account with all the airlines whose search engines you want to use.)

I will first search for the LAX to HKG one-way segment and then the HKG to HYD one-way segment.

1. Go to the Qantas homepage and login. Once you’re logged in go back to the homepage (if it doesn’t automatically redirect you there) and enter the origin and destination details as needed.


2. I choose all three travel classes to see what makes the most sense and it looks like I will choose the 24th as my travel date because I really want to fly business class.


3. I do the same search in a new browser for the HKG to HYD leg and find really good availability including the 25th!


4. I was really scouting that CX885 but looks like there are no business class seats, however there are business class seats available on an earlier flight CX897.


4. Now I look to ensure the HKG to HYD leg details are what I expect and they are!


To recap the itinerary:

  • Flight CX897 departing LAX at 08.25 on Jan 24th
  • Flight CX649 departing HKG at 20.50 on Jan 25th


Quick Recap

This example of finding Cathay Pacific award availability using Qantas Airlines’ search engine illustrates why alliances are so important, but to get the most value from them you have to know how to leverage them. In this example itinerary using US Airways miles to book a roundtrip ticket in business class between North America and South Asia is only 120K is a super deal! US Airways also has a very relaxed set of routing rules which can allow for a free stopover in Hong Kong or a free one-way within the United States like LAX - JFK at a time after this journey.

Over the next few posts I will expand on several ways to find the best award availability and maximizing routings by leveraging airline alliances and award searches.

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