Booking flights with Star Alliance Miles – Part 1

Before I start, I would like to encourage readers to send me your own potential routings and ask for suggestions.

With all these ‘booking services’ popping up, it is visibly apparent that many points collectors only know how to collect the points, and not how to redeem them.  Finding flights is simple once you know how to do it, and there really is no need for an award booking service.  In all seriousness, the ‘experts’ running these services still use ExpertFlyer and KVS and united.com to find their routings for you – they just have a better knowledge of the alliance route networks.  With some simple tips, you can be just as skilled as any of those running these booking services.

In this article, I’ll be looking at the most basic component of award booking, and that’s route networks.  What I mean by this is – say you want to fly from LAX to CDG – what airlines can you take to get there, and how would you go about finding availability on these flights.

Many of us are spoiled by united.com, and think that is the solution for everything.  I’m going to pick a completely random date, August 14th, and try to find the best business class seats for 2 passengers across the Atlantic.

ImageNot much open, and the calender isn’t being too helpful either.

The next step is to find out all of the airlines that fly from either LAX to Europe, or from other gateways to Europe. A good trick for this is to use wikipedia to find out – a quick Google search for ‘CDG Airport Wiki’ gives us a section titled ‘Airlines and Destinations’ which allows us to find out quickly what Star Alliance flights go into Paris.  Quickly we can see that there is Air Canada from Toronto and Montreal, Austrian from Vienna (so that means we can check all the Austrian flights from the USA-VIE), Brussels from BRU, Croatia from ZAG, Egyptair from CAI, Lot from Warsaw, Lufthansa from all their hubs, SAS from their Scandinavian hubs, Turkish, United from ORD/IAD/SFO/IAD, US Airways from PHL/CLT, and Swiss from Zurich.  If anyone tells you there are no seats to Paris, they are surely wrong. Sure there might not be 2 seats on the SFO-CDG, which with a LAX-SFO connection would probably be the most desirable routing.

We also can add the nonstop flights to Europe from LAX, UA to LHR, Turkish to IST, Swiss to Zurich, Lufthansa to Frankfurt and Munich. These are big money flights, so there’s probably not going to be 2 seats on them during peak summer season.

What you can do next is go through these flights, and then search for the most appealing flights one-by-one.  I would like LAX-SFO-CDG most, so let’s see if it’s available.

By searching SFO-CDG on united.com and making sure the ‘nonstop flights only’ box is selected we get a no-go with the results.  Now, we need to go through the flights one-by-one to see what we can find.

Wow, the very first search has some good results.  Air Canada YUL-CDG has 2 seats available, and the calendar is much more generous than the original United.com photo.

ImageThe Trans-Atlantic flights are the most difficult flights to find, and we’ve already found them. LAX-YUL shouldn’t be too difficult to find.  If you hate Air Canada and prefer to fly Lufthansa, United, or Swiss, you can take the same approach, by searching their major trans-Atlantic routes on United.com one-by-one.

Now let’s find a flight to YUL. With the time zone changes, it will be difficult to get flights to Montreal on the day of travel.  United.com is showing two options – one in economy class on a non-stop flight to YUL, and the other in UA domestic first with a connection in Houston.  Both of these aren’t ideal, and another potential option is to fly to YUL on the 13th – stay in a hotel – and plan a <24 hour layover in Montreal (a great idea in Summer).

Anyways, I’m being lazy, so I’ll just show the options that are available on the 14th.

Image

ImageI’d probably go with the non-stop flight, even if it’s in economy.  Air Canada tends to be decent and is better than a 4-hour flight in an ERJ-170 from IAH.

How did I do this so easily?

1. I used Wikipedia to find out the flights that flew into Paris, and out of LAX so that I could start my search.  If all of these fail, the next step would be to focus on Star Alliance hub cities that offer direct connections to Paris (Think ORD/IAD/EWR).

2. I searched these flights one-by-one to find a Trans-Atlantic flight with 2 seats available, using united.com’s ‘nonstop flights only’ section.  Thankfully, Air Canada came up immediately, saving me a lot of time! I wouldn’t be surprised if I could find 5-10 options across the Atlantic in business class on the 14th.

3. I pieced together the routing, again searching for flights one-by-one.  If united.com didn’t come up with any results by searching LAX-YUL, go to the HUB CITIES! (Try LAX-ORD, then ORD-YUL – or LAX-EWR+EWR-YUL – in 2 different searches!)  Remember, you’re allowed 4 segments to get to Paris, so you’re entitled to any reasonable routing that gets you there!

Again, this is more or less how the award booking services approach it.  Sometimes it’s necessary to use software like KVS or ExpertFlyer to make it easier, but this isn’t that bad for a beginner.

Any questions? Remember – forward me your routings and let me offer some suggestions to point you in the right direction!

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One response to “Booking flights with Star Alliance Miles – Part 1

  1. This is perhaps the most coherent post I have seen on how to book award travel via Star Alliance. Thank you for demystifying things.

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