Scott McCartney has a decent Middle Seat column today in the WSJ on how to maximize your chances to redeem frequent flyer miles.
A couple sections particularly caught my eye:
On the airline side, road warriors suggest checking alliance Web sites—StarAlliance.com, oneWorld.com and SkyTeam.com—that show flights on partner airlines that may not be displayed on your own airline’s booking site. Those partner airlines may have award seats available, but you’ll need to call to find out. LOT Polish, for example, might offer something that doesn’t automatically show up on UAL Corp.’s United Airlines’ Web site, but you can often use your United miles to book it if you know what to ask for.
Sharon Adcock, a publicist for the entertainment industry and elite-level member of United’s program, says she usually has success using StarAlliance.com to get free tickets or upgrades even when United’s Web site says nothing is available.
"They tell me they don’t have anything and then I say, What about this one? What about that one? I manage to get award tickets the way I want," she said.
Sharon, a longtime friend on Flyertalk, makes a good point. For those flyers who may not have access to the ANA tool or ExpertFlyer, just checking the Star Alliance schedules and building up possible itineraries may guide UA reservation agents and help you to find an acceptable way to get to your destination.
I also thought this part of the column was interesting:
IdeaWorks, a Wisconsin-based loyalty-program consulting firm, did 6,400 booking queries last year to rank airlines by award availability on trans-Atlantic flights. The study looked for flights between April and November and found that Iberia had the most liberal offering among 10 U.S. and European airlines, with 83% of the Iberia queries offering award seats. Lufthansa’s program was second at 66% and British Airways third at 63%.
American out-distanced U.S. airlines with 58% of queries successful. United offered awards on only 18% of queries made and US Airways, which has far fewer flights to Europe than larger rivals, offered award seats on only 4% of the queries IdeaWorks made.
From what I’ve heard about Iberia, I can understand why they have many available award seats, but the difference between AA (58%) and UA (18%) is striking. Having never redeemed an award on American, I cannot comment about my own luck in finding AA award space. The 18% UA number does appear a bit low. It would have been nice to see the availability broken down by First, Business, and Economy.
Finding award space is a game in itself, but it can be a very rewarding sport. I just returned from a LAX-YVR-LHR-LIS//MAD-FRA-CPH-IAD-PHX-BUR award on UA and it took me ~15 phone calls to UA to finalize the itinerary. With rapidly changing availability and other diversions like StarNet blocking (On UA at least), building a suitable award trip takes patience and endurance.