I use united.com for most of my award searches when redeeming Star Alliance miles because it shows most Star Alliance partners’ award availability, but it does have some drawbacks. Namely, it doesn’t show all partners and it sometimes displays phantom award space–award space will show as available but in reality, it doesn’t exist.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM
Star Alliance Airlines Whose Award Space I Want to Search

The best way to confirm Star Alliance award space is using the All Nippon Airways (ANA) search tool. ANA’s tool is trickier to use, but it’s the most reliable. The website and search tool’s interface has undergone some changes since the last time I wrote about how to use the ANA search tool three years ago, so I’m rewriting that post today to clarify any doubts.

First of All, Great News!

ANA no longer restricts members from using it’s award search tool for a lack of miles in their account. Anyone can search Star Alliance availability as long as you are signed up as a member of the ANA Mileage Club— no more annoying work arounds necessary!

Using the ANA Award Search Tool: Step-by-Step Guide

1. If you haven’t already, sign up for a ANA Mileage Club account here. Though this page looks like a credit card application (no annual fee!) simply click “Apply Here” at the bottom of the screen.

ANA mileage club sign up2. After filling in your pertinent information, you will be assigned a Mileage Club frequent flyer number and a password. Once you are signed up and logged in, you can access the award search tool directly from the ANA home page, just click Award Booking in the bottom right corner of the regular flight reservation box.

ANA homepage, award booking box

3. You will then be taken to the ANA Award search tool, where you can start searching for your desired Star Alliance award. Check the bubble next to “Compare seat availability +/- 3 days.”

ana search tool

4. Checking the bubble next to Compare seat availability +/- 3 days will show you a week’s worth of availability.

LAX to Tokyo ANA

5. Occasionally a search will turn up this ugly error message, but it only means the specific day and class you searched for doesn’t have a seat available. Click Confirm and the rest of the week’s availability will display.

Mia to Bue error, confirm anyways ANA

6. Choose your dates for both legs.

LAX to tokyo, day specific selection

7. And then select your preferred flight schedule for both legs.

If you don’t have the sufficient mileage in your Mileage Club account, a box will pop up like this:

lack of mileage ANA

8. Just click Confirm and it will allow you too see all the details anyways.

Displayed will be the summarized flight itinerary, the price of the award in miles as well as taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges….

ANA itinerary, payment breakdown

…and the award type descriptions, with convenient links to the corresponding award chart/rules. The baggage limitations are also displayed. (This is only important if you are redeeming ANA miles.)

award type bagge ANA

A Common Glitch

I received this pop-up multiple times while choosing the flight itineraries for my preferred days of travel:

wonky error ANA

It seems like you can ignore the error message if the previous screen said there were flights available on the day you’ve selected.

LAX to Tokyo ANA

Try to select the date again, and you may see the space and no error message.

In my experience, even if you keep getting the error message, there is award space on the flight. (You can check this by calling United and asking the agent if the flight has award space. I did that for the example of a Business Class seat from Los Angeles to Tokyo above, and there was indeed award space available.)

Can I Plug in my City Pairs and Expect ANA to Come up With Good Itineraries?

No. ANA’s search tool has improved somewhat over the years, but searching Kansas City <-> Mumbai likely won’t yield anything usable. You should search segment-by-segment (like Newark to Mumbai on Air India and Kansas City to Newark on United.)

How do I search multiple segments?

There’s no short cut to this with ANA’s search tool unfortunately. You’ll need to search every segment separately.

This seems tedious. Any shortcuts?

Searching United.com is faster but can sometimes display false positives and negatives as previously detailed in my post about phantom award space. United’s site is a great place to get routing ideas while confirming them using ANA’s tool.

Do ANA miles have any value?

This is outside the main scope of this post, which is how to SEARCH ON ANA.COM to USE ANY STAR ALLIANCE MILES.

But yes, since you ask, ANA miles have plenty of value.

Though ANA assesses fuel surcharges on all Star Alliance partner flights except United, their chart has some great sweet spots that allow for low mileage redemptions. Check out how ANA’s chart compares to other types of Star Alliance miles here: Comprehensive Spread Sheets of Eight Star Alliance Award Charts.

Bottom Line

ANA’s search tool is the final word on Star Alliance availability. If united.com displays the space but you don’t see it on ANA’s site, the award isn’t bookable.

The only requirements to use ANA’s search tool are a Mileage Club membership and a little bit of patience to do the segment-by-segment searching. Once you find award space on ana.com, you can book it with the Star Alliance miles that offer the cheapest award price to where you’re going. Find that out here.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

Updated 1/29/16 to reflect new Aeroplan award prices effective for awards booked 12/15/15 or later.
Updated 10/6/15 to reflect new ANA award prices effective for awards booked 10/15/15 or later.

In the last few weeks, I have published some comparative charts of Star Alliance award charts. I’m putting all of those charts into this post for easier reference.

You can use any type of Star Alliance miles to book almost any Star Alliance flight. (Swiss, Lufthansa, and Singapore hold back some premium cabin award space for their own members. United gives extra award space to elites and United cardholders.) The 27-member alliance has more than a dozen frequent flyer programs, many of which offer good or great deals on some routes.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM

I’ve taken the time to make a comprehensive spread sheet of eight programs’ award prices from North America:

  • United (on United flights and on partner flights)
  • Copa
  • Asiana
  • Singapore (on Star Alliance partner flights)
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Lufthansa Miles & More
  • ANA

These programs were chosen because they all have at least some awards that are really cheap. And other than Copa and LifeMiles, Americans can easily get all these miles through transferable points programs:

  • United: Ultimate Rewards
  • Copa: no easy way to get the miles yet, but the program is brand new
  • Asiana: SPG
  • Singapore: ThankYou Points, Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, SPG
  • LifeMiles: buy miles for 1.5 cents each
  • Aeroplan: Membership Rewards, SPG
  • Lufthansa: SPG
  • ANA: Membership Rewards, SPG

There are other Star Alliance programs into which Americans can transfer miles–Citi ThankYou Points transfer 1:1 to EVA and Thai miles–but their charts don’t offer any value compared to the eight I’ve selected.

Of course, the charts below only captures one part of an award: its mileage price. The routing rules and fuel surcharges matter too. Here are a few big things that applies to all charts:

  • United, Copa, and LifeMiles never collect fuel surcharges. All the others collect fuel surcharges on most awards.
  • All programs allow one way redemptions for the prices listed on the charts except ANA. It only allows roundtrip redemptions for double the price on the chart. I used its fictitious “one way price” that you can’t actually book just to more easily compare to the programs that do allow one way bookings.

For specific information on fuel surcharges to each region and other important routing rules, click on the individual posts where I really analyzed awards to each region.

Searching and Booking the Awards

A truism of miles is that–with few exceptions–award space is equally available to all partners. One corollary is that you can search any award search engine that displays an airline’s award space, and if space is there, you can book it with any partner.

All Star Alliance partner award space is searchable on aeroplan.com. Here’s how to search for award space on aeroplan.com. All the award space you find there is bookable with all the miles discussed in this post. Ignore the price quoted on aeroplan.com. You will pay the price on the award chart of the miles you’re using.

To book, call the airline whose miles you’re using (or go to their website to book online if you can.) Feed the agent the award space you found on aeroplan.com.

The Charts

Below the award charts show the one way price in thousands of miles from the United States mainland to the region listed for the eight types of miles listed. For information on slashes, click the links above to get more information.

Within Mainland United States and Canada

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.42.55 PM

Alaska

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.44.14 PM

Hawaii
Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.44.25 PM

Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.29.00 AM

Northern South America

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.29.12 AM

Southern South America

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.30.52 AM

EuropeScreen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.31.05 AM

Middle East

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 4.28.47 AM

Africa

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 4.29.08 AM

North Asia

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 7.41.47 AM

Southeast AsiaScreen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.30.44 AM

Indian SubcontinentScreen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.30.58 AM

Australia and New Zealand

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.33.06 AM

Oceania

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.33.16 AM

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

2

Turkish Business Class flat bed award space is wide open to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Indian Subcontinent for Summer 2016. You can book award space for 2-8 people in Business Class on routes from America to Turkey and beyond with United miles, LifeMiles, Aeroplan miles, Asiana miles, and many other Star Alliance miles.

Where Turkish Flies

Turkish will soon fly from nine American cities to Istanbul.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.17.52 AM
Atlanta begins May 16, 2016

From Istanbul, you can connect to over 100 countries. Turkish Airlines has destinations in more countries than any other airline in the world.

The Product

Turkish’s long haul flights feature flat bed Business Class on 777-300ER aircraft in a 2-3-2 configuration. That configuration is far from ideal since no seat has both aisle access and a guarantee that no one will climb over it during the flight. However a fully flat bed and great catering should overcome that moderate inconvenience.

Award Space

Award space is excellent in May and June 2015 from most Turkish gateways in the United States to Istanbul and vice versa for 2+ people in economy and Business Class.

Chicago to Istanbul: 2 people
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.20.36 AM

Atlanta to Istanbul: 2 people (route starts 5/16/16)Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.19.55 AMLos Angeles to Istanbul: 2 peopleScreen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.17.00 AM

The one exception I see is New York to Istanbul where Business Class award space is not available.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.19.07 AMOn many of the flights with two award seats, there are actually 8+ award seats. Here is Los Angeles to Istanbul in May and June with 21/61 days having 8+ Business Class award seats available.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.15.29 AM

Best Miles to Use

Any Turkish award space you see on united.com is equally bookable with any Star Alliance miles. Here are the cheapest Star Alliance miles to Europe:

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 2.01.14 PM

Turkey is the more expensive 52,500 Aeroplan miles each way in Business Class. Asiana, Singapore, Lufthansa, and ANA collect fuel surcharges on Turkish award flights. The other types of miles don’t.

I’d look to use Asiana miles (SPG transfer partner) or Aeroplan (Membership Rewards transfer partner) to book a Turkish award to Europe.

If you want to book the Turkish space to somewhere outside of Europe, check out this comparison of Star Alliance award charts to all regions of the world.

United, ANA, LifeMiles, and Aeroplan display Turkish award space on their websites. If you want to book with another type of miles, search united.com and call the airline whose miles you want to use in order to book.

Example Award

In 2011, I flew from Los Angeles to Entebbe/Kampala, Uganda on Turkish, then returned from Nairobi to Los Angles with a stopover in Istanbul. This was a cash ticket in economy, and the flight from Los Angeles to Istanbul was the most painful of my life because I couldn’t fall asleep despite exhaustion.

You could book the same trip with miles in Business Class at the moment.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.23.25 AM

 

It would be 160,000 United miles + $84 or fewer miles with other types of miles.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.23.17 AM

Bottom Line

Turkish Airlines award space is wide open from the United States to the rest of the world in May and June 2016. Book it with any type of Star Alliance miles.

Hat Tip One Mile at a Time

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

8

ANA is devaluing its award charts for bookings made October 15, 2015 or later. This is all the notice they’ve given. (Hat tip @saianel on Twitter.) To beat the devaluation, book by October 14 for travel through mid-September 2016.

This devaluation affects you because you “have” ANA miles in the form of Membership Rewards and SPG Starpoints, both of which can be transferred to ANA miles. I track ANA’s award chart because ANA miles can book any Star Alliance award space that United miles, for instance, can book.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM

The devaluation affects awards from the United States to Asia 2 and South, Latin America. Here are the old and new roundtrip award charts:

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.26.03 AM

 

Remember that ANA Star Alliance awards must be booked roundtrip and include fuel surcharges every time an equivalent cash ticket would have fuel surcharges, except that United flights booked with ANA miles have no fuel surcharges.

Asia 2 is Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, the Maldives, Mongolia, and the ‘stans.Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.26.54 AM South, Latin America is what you’d expect. It does not include Mexico, which is in North America on the ANA award chart.
Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.27.14 AM

I included ANA’s award chart in my Comparison of Eight Star Alliance Award Charts, and there are some sweet spots on the award chart, most of which were not touched. For instance, the great deals to Europe, Middle East, Africa, North Asia, and Australia remain untouched.

ANA awards to Central America, the Caribbean, and Northern South America get pricier on October 15, but that doesn’t matter much because they were already terrible deals.

Awards to Southern South America, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent go up in price October 15 also. Southeast Asia and Indian Subcontinent aren’t a huge deal because most such itineraries would have fuel surcharges making them a bad deal.

The biggest blow is on those awards to Southern South America, which have no fuel surcharges and were very cheap. They get 10% more expensive. Asiana and Copa awards (on Copa metal) are now cheaper in economy, and Asiana awards remain the cheapest in Business Class.

Here are the affected award charts. Remember that all of these programs allow one way award bookings for the price listed except ANA, which requires a roundtrip award for twice the price listed. Fuel surcharges vary by program, so get more information on those here.

Central America and the Caribbean

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.29.00 AM

Northern South America

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.29.12 AM

Southern South AmericaScreen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.24.59 AM

Southeast AsiaScreen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.30.44 AM

Indian SubcontinentScreen Shot 2015-10-06 at 12.30.58 AM

 

 

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

3

ANA’s “First Square” is one of the nicest First Classes in the world.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.05.09 PM

The fully enclosed suite featured on ANA’s 777-300ERs is a top of the line hard product, including a fully flat bed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.04.31 PM

In addition, it comes with–from the reports I’ve read–typical, excellent service you would expect from a top Asian airline and fancy touches like caviar.

ANA has announced schedule changes that put the 777-300ER on new routes this year.

  • Tokyo-Narita to Houston starting June 12
  • Tokyo-Narita to Singapore starting March 29
  • Tokyo-Narita to Seattle starting May 6
  • Tokyo-Narita to Frankfurt starting May 7

The only one of these flights that I consider accessible with miles is Tokyo to Singapore. On that route, you can get seven hours of one of the world’s nicest First Class products for 60,000 United miles + $22.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.25.54 PM

Award space is wide open on the flight with many dates having two First Class award seats.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.26.49 PM

United charges more for partner First Class than its own mediocre offering, but in this case, not much more. United’s First Class on the route is 55,000 miles.
Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.26.31 PM

You can even get the Tokyo to Singapore leg for only 50,000 AviancaTaca LifeMiles or 25,000 LifeMiles + $375.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 12.28.00 PM

Unfortunately LifeMiles are not easy to earn and basically need to be purchased for 1.65 cents each.

United States to Asia

Of course, you can fly from the United States to Asia on the 777-300ER, but that starts to get prohibitively expensive.

United charges 110,000 miles one way in First Class from the United States to Japan and 130,000 to Singapore.

LifeMiles charges 90,000 miles one way in First Class from the United States to Japan and 99,000 miles one way to Singapore.

Air Canada charges 105,000 miles one way to either in First Class, plus fuel surcharges.

For these reasons, I’d be inclined just to book the seven-hour daytime flight from Tokyo to Singapore with United or LifeMiles. You’d get to enjoy all the service and relax in luxury for a manageable 50,000 to 60,000 miles.

I’d probably make the flight part of a much larger trip hopping around East Asia, and I’d consider using American Airlines miles for the flights to and from the United States. The AA award chart is much cheaper, and they partner with Cathay Pacific, which has just as nice of a First Class product.

Bottom Line

ANA’s schedule changes make getting in the First Square affordable for 50,000 to 60,000 miles one way.

Hat Tip One Mile at a Time

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

This is the twentieth 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 flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics of several international airline programs which are transfer partners of one or more of the following types of points:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints
  • Citi ThankYou Points

I think of these international airlines programs as niche programs. Most of their redemption options are terrible because of fuel surcharges, but a few redemptions with each program are great because of no fuel surcharges or a super cheap miles price.

Know the great options in each program to save yourself miles and cash by maximizing these programs:

  • Singapore KrisFlyer (UR, MR, SPG, and TY)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (MR, SPG)
  • Lufthansa Miles & More (SPG, also the only one of these programs that offers a big 50k sign up bonus on an American credit card every few months)
  • ANA Mileage Club (MR, SPG)
  • Air France Flying Blue (MR, SPG)
  • Korean SkyPass (UR, SPG)

Why Collect These Miles?

Most of these programs have a sweet spot that lets you book the same flights for fewer miles than if you used United or Delta miles. For instance, pay 30,000 Singapore miles each way in First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii instead of 40,000 United miles.

Korean, Singapore, and Lufthansa miles allow the booking of mind-blowing First Class products you can’t book with Delta and United miles.

  • What airlines can you fly with these miles?
  • What are the routing rules for these awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special deals in each program?
  • What about fuel surcharges?
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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

Lufthansa First Class is no longer bookable using LifeMiles.

For the past few years, Lufthansa has only released first class award space to its Star Alliance partners 15 days before flight departure. LifeMiles, which is in the Star Alliance, used to be an excellent program with which to book these last-minute luxury flights.

2380_50_0037

Recently, however, Lufthansa first class award seats have not been showing availability on lifemiles.com. When I called and talked an LifeMiles agent, he was also unable to find any Lufthansa first class availability.

This is another significant blow to the value of LifeMiles. Lufthansa first class is a great product, and enjoying the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt is on many frequent travelers’ bucket lists.

  • What’s so great about Lufthansa First Class?
  • Why is losing the ability to book Lufthansa First with LifeMiles such a big deal?
  • What other mileage programs can be used to book Lufthansa First?
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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

Here’s how I got United to “manually sell” me award seats for an itinerary. While this technique is not possible in most circumstances, in my case, it turned no award into my dream award!

I was in the midst of constructing a simple roundtrip itinerary from the US to Europe when I ran into some big trouble.

United’s online award calendar displayed Austrian award space on the only day I could return to the States. Unfortunately, when I clicked to select those flights, I was met with a message saying the seats were no longer available.

Rapid Partner Availability

I used other Star Alliance search tools to discover that the seats were actually available to all partners, but United agents simply couldn’t see them.

The only thing left to do was request that United ask Austrian for the seats directly, often called a manual sell. Agents are extremely hesitant to do this, and often cite the company rule book in declining to do so. It usually takes some serious convincing to pull it off, but if you are calm, confident, and polite, it can be done. It’s critical to know how to pull this off, especially if you think your preferred flights have award space while a phone agent insists they don’t.

After a lengthy call, I finally convinced a United agent to manually request the unavailable seats. By requesting the manual sell, the flight I wanted instantly became bookable with my United miles. The segment was added to my itinerary, and I got the perfect set of flights for a summer trip to Europe.

How did this problem occur? Is this a phantom award space issue, or something completely different? What is a “manual sell”? How do you get a United agent to manually sell partner award seats?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

12

This review is a continuation of my fun US Airways redemption that I wrote about back in this post. I reviewed Turkish Business Class: Washington DC to Istanbul and Cathay Pacific Business Class: Tokyo to Hong Kong already.

I was extremely excited for my nonstop flight from Tokyo to Washington-Dulles on ANA. About two months before our scheduled departure, we had an equipment change and would be flying their Boeing 777-300ER featuring ANA’s “new” flat bed business seats.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We took a Cathay Pacific redeye back from Hong Kong to Narita where we had a long layover before our final flight home in the late morning. Both the ANA lounge and flight delivered in every way. The inflight experience was fantastic, especially the service and seat, so I can’t wait to fly ANA again.

How was the seat, bed, food, service, and entertainment in ANA’s new Business Class configuration? Was the ANA lounge a good place to relax for a few hours?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

All Nippon Airways (ANA)–a Japanese Star Alliance carrier–launches a new route between Tokyo-Haneda and Vancouver from March 30, 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 10.45.48 PM

Saver award space is excellent on the route in economy and business class. You can book the space this week–by January 31, 2014–with United miles at pre-devaluation rates. You can also book the award space with US Airways miles until March 30, 2014 when US Airways leaves the Star Alliance, which will end its partnership with ANA.

How good is the award space? Where does ANA connect to/from Haneda? What Star Alliance flights fly into Vancouver?

CKANbanner_300x250_v6b

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

There is currently gold mine business class award availability on US Airways flights from the US to southern Europe for this summer.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 1.21.50 AM

Award space on US Airways flights is especially advantageous because it means that you can book the space at favorable mileage rates (and no fuel surcharges) with:

  • US Airways miles
  • American Airlines miles
  • United miles (until March 30, 2014)
  • Ultimate Rewards (until March 30, 2014)
  • Membership Rewards (until March 30, 2014)

What are the routes? How good is the space? How good is US Airways Business Class? What is the cheapest way to book it?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

While booking a family of four to Australia through our popular Award Booking Service, I ran into a  vexing problem with Star Alliance award space.

On a certain Air Canada route, Air Canada’s own Aeroplan members  had access to more award seats than its Star Alliance partners. That’s not a surprising practice on the surface. Air New Zealand never releases transpacific space to Star Alliance partners. Swiss Airlines restricts first class cabin redemptions to its own members.

The anomaly here is that United also has access to Air Canada premium cabin award space that other Star Alliance partners don’t.

What is the route? How did I discover this? What does this discovery mean for award bookers?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

I’m undeterred by battery issues and constantly on the lookout for ways to fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. One Dreamliner route with fantastic award space is the All Nippon Airways (ANA) route between Tokyo-Narita and San Jose, California.

These can be turned into fully flat beds.

The daily flight is bookable with United or US Airways miles and may be your best gateway to Asia for the next three months.

image from gcmap.com

How can you book the flight? What’s ANA’s business class product? What’s the award space picture?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

I recently booked a family of four an economy award from Miami to Buenos Aires with their Membership Rewards. It was an interesting award that I think demonstrates the complexities and fun of booking with American Express points.

I won’t talk about that award specifically, but I’ll use it as a jumping off point for discussion since it illustrates a typical Memberhip Rewards situation. Imagine you have a family of four trying for an economy roundtrip from Miami to Buenos Aires for two weeks in October with 300k Membership Rewards.

Membership Rewards are awesome because they can be transferred to any of the three airline alliances, so you can use them to book on almost any airline in the world.

But Membership Rewards are frustrating because they transfer to programs with which you may be unfamiliar like ANA or programs with major drawbacks like British Airways’ fuel surcharges.

I would approach an award like this looking first at the flying options, then at the transfer options. I know if I could find award space, I can probably find a transfer partner with access to that space. And if I find several ways to get to Buenos Aires, I cancompare the transfer options to see which is the best deal with Membership Rewards.

From checking the Buenos Aires international airport’s (EZE) wikipedia page, I know there are direct flights to/from Miami on American, LAN, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Of course, United and Delta also fly to Buenos Aires from their hubs.

Aerolineas Argentinas

Aerolineas Argentinas is the state-owned flag carrier of Argentina. I haven’t heard too many kind words about it, but it does have a direct flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The best way to search for the space is on ExpertFlyer.

ExpertFlyer only displays economy award space on the airline. The space that Aerolineas’ SkyTeam partners like Delta have access to is T class space.

Aerolineas Argentinas flies twice daily between Miami and Buenos Aires–its only US route–once in the morning and one redeye. Up to seven seats are widely available on each!

The return is also wide open.

This was a promising start!

American

American has direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires also. The best place to check for space on those flights is aa.com.

I can look at the whole month of October in just a few seconds with AA’s awesome calendar view. Unfortunately there is no MileSAAver outbound space–the low-miles-price space open to partners– in October, though there is some space on return flights.

Outbound: No Saver Space
Return: Some Saver Space

LAN

LAN is another oneworld airline with direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires. I go to ba.com to check for LAN space to Buenos Aires, since aa.com doesn’t display LAN space.

I ca’t find any LAN space on ba.com, though it did pick up the same American Airlines space I’d seen on aa.com.

ba.com not finding any LAN space
…but it did find the same space on American Airlines

Delta

Yes, it seemed like a complete longshot that Delta would have space for four from Miami to Atlanta to Buenos Aires at the low-miles-price because Delta has putrid availability to South America, but I checked anyway.

Green shows low-miles-price itineraries. There actually are some returns possible.

While oneway tickets with Delta miles are a huge mistake since Delta charges the roundtrip price for all awards even oneways, I kept the returns in mind because AMEX has some transfer partners like Flying Blue that can be used to book oneway Delta awards reasonably.

United, TACA, Copa

The final place I checked was united.com to see what United, Copa, or TACA award space there was that I could snag with a transfer to a Star Alliance partner.

Green and yellow days have an award with four economy seats.

I found a few more possible awards to add to the bounty.

Search Results

I found space in both direction on Aerolineas Argentinas’ two daily flights. I found space in both directions on connecting United and Copa (via Panama) flights. I found return space on American Airlines and Delta, but no outbound space. I found no space on LAN.

Transfer Options

Delta

We can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta to book the Aerolineas Argentinas space and/or the Delta space. Delta charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Argentina in economy class whether you fly it or one of its SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas.

Although Delta does charge fuel surcharges for awards on a lot of its partners, it does not collect fuel surcharges on Aerolineas redemptions.

That means a transfer to Delta would mean the transfer of 240,000 Membership Rewards to 240,000 Delta miles. American Express charges $7 per 10,000 miles transferred to US-based airlines, with a maximum charge of $99, This transfer would incur that $99 charge. The award itself would have government taxes of around $75 per person, meaning a total cost of 240,000 Membership Rewards and approximately $400 for four people.

In return for that outlay, the family could get direct flights in each direction or could sub a one-stop itinerary on Delta on the return if they really didn’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas.

Flying Blue

Air France’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is not always the best option because it levies heavy surcharges on several partners. But it doesn’t levy surcharges on Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. And it’s price from the US to Argentina is 25,000 miles each way.

I’m not sure why the taxes collected exceed those collected by Delta by $15 per person, but that’s a minor concern. Flying Blue costs 25,000 miles each way, and it can be used to book oneways, which is a far better deal than Delta’s 60k miles roundtrip, which is the price whether you book oneways or roundtrips.

That means for 200k Membership Rewards and $360, a family of four could get on the same flights as with Delta miles: Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas flights.

British Airways

We can transfer Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, but that would only enable booking the return leg in this case. Avios can be used to book American or LAN flights. We found only space on American, and only on the return.

The good news is that it’s only 25,000 Avios from Buenos Aires to Miami.

That means the return would be 100k Membership Rewards and $300.

ANA

I recently sang the praises of All Nippon Airways as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. ANA has a distance based award chart. You add up the distance of all the segments and see how many miles that trip will cost. Here is the economy chart.

Miami to Houston to Buenos Aires roundtrip is just over 12,000 miles. That works out 60,000 ANA miles (60,000 Membership Rewards) roundtrip. That’s not fantastic or awful.

But Miami to Panama to Buenos Aires is under 9,000 miles, meaning it is only 43,000 ANA miles roundtrip. That’s the lowest miles total we’ve seen.

image from gcmap.com

In neither case would there be fuel surcharges. ANA never charges fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights, and Copa doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this routing.

No fuel surcharges on Copa from Miami to Buenos Aires, so ANA won’t collect any.

That means ANA miles used to fly Copa would be 172k Membership Rewards and about $480 in taxes.

Transfer Options Summary

To summarize:

  • All the options here receive 1:1 transfers from Membership Rewards and incur only government taxes–no fuel surcharges.
  • Transferring to Delta is a bad idea. Why pay 60k Membership Rewards for a roundtrip when the same flights are 25k each way via Flying Blue? Total: 240k + $400
  • ANA is the cheapest option overall at 43k roundtrip if we route through Panama on Copa. Total: 172k + $480
  • British Airways and Flying Blue are the cheapest direct options at 25k each way. Total: 200k + $300

If you really value direct flights, take the Aerolineas Argentinas flight one direction for 25k Flying Blue miles and return on the American Airlines flight for 25k Avios.

If you really value the cheapest flights or want a free stopover in Panama, look for Copa flights for 43k ANA miles.

Recap

Membership Rewards have awesome versatility, which also means it’s more work to figure out the best deal. For a simple Miami to Buenos Aires roundtrip, all three alliances are possibilities.

Because some transfer partners have region-based charts, some have distance-based charts, some charge fuel surcharges sometimes, and some never do, you have to investigate every option for the best deal.

For Buenos Aires to Miami roundtrip, the best deals are with ANA miles on Copa to take advantage of the distance-based chart of a combination of Flying Blue miles and Avios to take advantage of their partners’ direct flights.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

Searching for award space can often be an exercise in frustration. The dates you want don’t have availability and premium cabin seats are often scarce. There is nothing in the world, however, more frustrating than phantom availability. You think you’ve found your dream trip only to have the rug yanked out from under you.

We recently received a request through the Award Booking Service where this came into play. A family of four was looking to travel from New York to Johannesburg, Africa in July using their US Airways miles. This was going to be a tough award to book, and it wasn’t made any easier by the phantom award availability on united.com.

What do we mean by “phantom”? We decided to look for Star Alliance space to Africa using united.com. For more information, make sure to check out Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: Star Alliance Award Searches on United.com. At first glance, we would have no trouble finding space from the East Coast to Africa. There were dates with plenty of seats!

We were suspicious, though. That’s quite a few dates with four premium cabin seats to Africa. To find out out if July 10th really had four open seats, we verified the award space All Nippon Airways (ANA) Star Alliance search tool. The ANA tool is more accurate in displaying award space. The drawback? It’s more cumbersome to search than united.com.

We plugged in the individual New York -> Cairo -> Johannesburg segments into the ANA search tool. The initial results were promising! The EgyptAir JFK -> Cairo segment had at least four business class seats (indicated by the “OK” under the business class box).

 We weren’t so fortunate with the Cairo -> Johannesburg leg unfortunately. That segment was showing “X” in both business and economy, meaning there weren’t four award seats in either cabin.

This wasn’t an isolated incident either. We checked other dates on ANA that united.com displayed as having four business class seats. They simply didn’t match up. We couldn’t trust united.com for this route, especially using Star Alliance partner EgyptAir. We decided to look elsewhere.

Scott, who is currently in Argentina, had some success booking an award from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg (and beyond) using US Airways miles. For the complete breakdown, make sure to check out his incredible post, Anatomy of an Award: South America, Africa, Europe, and North America in Biz for 100k.

US Airways has very liberal routing rules. Scott and I both know that first hand. I was able to book a business class trip to Asia routing through Europe. For the breakdown of that trip, check out my post, Anatomy of an Award: US to Asia via Europe in Business Class for 90k Miles.

We decided to think outside of the box yet again. Perhaps routing this family of four from New York to South Africa through South America was the best option. South African Airways, another Star Alliance partner, has nonstop flights from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Johannesburg. We plugged in this segment and searched united.com. There were plenty of dates with business space again!

Or were there? We went back to the ANA tool to verify, and unfortunately, we were greeted with dreaded X’s from ANA’s search results.

Even if we tried to connect to Brazil using Star Alliance carrier TAM Airlines, we were met with phantom award space! We found a direct flight from New York to Rio de Janeiro on united.com on several July dates…..

But we were met with X’s on ANA’s search tool.

Which Star Alliance carriers have you seen phantom availability on united.com?

I have personally encountered this problem with Austrian, Brussels, EgyptAir, South African, Lufthansa, and TAM. There are reports that even United itself are also displaying seats that aren’t bookable. Proceed with caution!

If united.com displays the availability, shouldn’t United and US Airways agents be able to see the same seats when I call to book an award?

No. They are not going off of what you see on united.com. If a seat shows as available on united.com, but it is not available on the ANA search tool, a phone agent will not be able to book it.

Can I verify the space with ExpertFlyer?

Unfortunately, no. ExpertFlyer is pulling its data from United.com. For example, here are the results from our previous Sao Paulo -> Johannesburg route on South African Airways. (ExpertFlyer now gives yes/no answers on Star Alliance searches.)

Make sure to check out Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: Using experflyer.com to learn more about searching for awards on the site.

If ExperFlyer isn’t reliable, what do I do about this issue?

Always check ANA’s tool before booking a Star Alliance award. Their site seems to mirror what phone agents can actually see and book, so you will save yourself time and anguish by doing a cursory check before calling in to reserve your award tickets.

Recap

United.com is a great place to start a search for Star Alliance award availability, but it’s only a starting point. Not all queries will display bookable award space. Unfortunately, united.com can sometimes act as a mirage: availability seems great when in reality there are far less seats for award tickets.

This story has a happy ending. We were eventually able to route the family through Vienna and Istanbul to Johannesburg and back. The search process, however, was much more complicated than expected.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, free airport lounge access worldwide, and your fourth night free on hotel stays. Why I got the card.

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