Crash Course on Booking Award Tickets

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Crash Course on Booking Award Tickets

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I’m going to outline my process for searching and booking award flights. This is just a primer, but feel free to add your thoughts below.

Don’t let your miles or award availability (the amount of seats that can be booked with miles) determine where you want to go: go where you want to go based on your interests.

Step 1: Use Google Flights to determine who operates the route you’re interested in flying.

So you want to fly from New York to Paris? Sounds great, but there’s lots of options:


A bunch of connecting flights, and at least four carriers (Air France, United, Delta, and American) fly direct flights. Let’s focus on those direct flights.

All of the major U.S. carriers fly this route directly, so as long as you have airline miles or transferable miles in one of those airlines, you should have a better chance of finding seats. There’s never a guarantee of award space, but diversifying your miles will help you find the space on the route you want.

NOTE: Southwest and many low-cost carrier flights do not show up on Google Flights.

Step 2: Searching for the award space across the alliances. 

Groups of airlines make airline alliances. The three major airline alliances, with some of their corresponding partners:

OneWorld Alliance – American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Air Berlin

Star Alliance – United, Lufthansa, Austria, Singapore

Skyteam – Delta, China Eastern, Air France, Alitalia

This is very important because if you have miles with a corresponding alliance partner you can book an award with your desired airline.

Let me show you an example with our New York to Paris route flying American Airlines, but using British Airways miles:

Using British Airways Avios on American Airlines flights
Using British Airways Avios on American Airlines flights

See how we’re on the British Airways site, using British Airways miles but pulling up American Airlines award flight?

So if you have British Airways Avios you can book American Airlines awards (and many other OneWorld alliance awards).

Don’t see any flights that have space or times that work for you? Check United and Delta.

Here’s an example of the same route, using Air France miles to book a Delta flight:

Using Air France miles to fly Delta
Using Air France miles to fly Delta

The above examples are both straightforward , but it gives you an idea of what alliances are and how useful they can be.

Step 3: Being mindful of fuel surcharges and taxes.

Surcharges, huh? Yes, yes. While there may not be a fee to redeem your miles, airlines will pass on the fuel surcharges (and taxes) that are normally part of your paid ticket, onto the award flight.

We see this in our Air France New York-Paris example. The Air France flights are charging more than the Delta flights. Why is that? In this case, Air France charges higher fuel surcharges/taxes than Delta does on that particular flight.

Are paying the fuel surcharges worth it? You’ll have to decide for yourself, but generally, if you can, avoid them!

$400+ to fly Lufthansa business?! Try again. Book this same award flight on United and pay $80
$400+ to fly Lufthansa business?! Try again. Book this same award flight on United and pay $80

Here’s a quick rundown on fuel surcharge pricing/taxes and how to avoid them:

  • Flights originating the U.S. on U.S. carriers will have minimal fuel surcharges, but will always include 9/11 Security tax which is $5.20 per direction of travel
  • Flights originating in Europe will incur high fuel surcharges
  • Avoid departing out of London, particularly London-Heathrow as the city has a very high fuel surcharge for flights.
  • United does not impose fuel surcharges on award tickets
  • American and Alaska mainly impose fuel surcharges on partner British Airway and Iberia award tickets.
  • Delta is a mixed bag—generally, if you depart from the U.S. the fuel surcharges a minimal; one-way Delta awards from Europe will levy significant surcharges.
  • Many countries in South America have banned fuel surcharges, making it a nearly free award travel destination.


One can search every airlines site, but in my experience, step #1 will save you the most time and give you an idea of the best place to start. After you’ve found the best routing that works for your travel needs (and your mileage balance), be sure to take into account the price you’ll pay for fuel surcharges.

-The Miner

Next time, on Mining for Miles “To Pay the Fuel Surcharge, or Not to Pay”

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