Home Points & Miles Why You Can Find A Flight Award With One Frequent Flyer Program But Not Another

Why You Can Find A Flight Award With One Frequent Flyer Program But Not Another

by joeheg

Learning how to book airline tickets with frequent flyer miles is like learning math. Every few years you find out that everything you learned before isn’t actually true but a simplified version of what’s actually happening.

The same process happens when learning about booking airline awards. First, you earn points in a program and use those points to get free flights on that airline. Then you find out that there are transferrable points that you can send to any number of different programs. With those points, you can take advantage of alliances and partnerships to use the points from one program to book a flight on a different airline

If you don’t take some time learning to crawl before trying to walk, you’ll eventually end up falling on your face. But enough with the metaphors. What I’m trying to say is that many people who are new to booking awards get confused when booking with partner airlines. The post usually goes along the lines of, “I found award space on the ‘partner X’ website but when I go to book with ‘partner Y’ miles, I can’t find the same flight.”

It’s easy to understand why people would be confused when one airline is offering an award ticket while another isn’t for the same flight. The problem is usually that the initial search is done on the airline’s website but when you look at the partner website, the flight is missing.

This brings us to the “Saver Space” lesson.

You don’t need to understand how airlines classify fares into different categories to realize that an airline is only going to sell a set number of tickets for the lowest price on each flight. In fact, they might sell zero tickets at the lowest fare if they think people will pay a higher price. The same goes for award tickets.

Airlines can set aside a number of low-priced award tickets to get people to use their miles to book certain flights which are in lower demand. In the old days, you’d either be able to book an award ticket on a flight or be out of luck if all of the award space was sold out.

The tickets that airlines are willing to sell for the lowest number of miles are called “Saver Space.”

While the system worked for airlines when frequent flyer programs were mainly used to sell seats that might otherwise go out empty, airlines eventually learned an important lesson. Members in their program are willing to pay more miles, sometimes significantly more miles, to fly on the flight they want. Programs started to offer fare-buster points redemptions for flights that had no more available saver awards.

This eventually led to every airline going to a dynamic pricing system where the number of points needed for a flight more closely matched the demand. However, this didn’t mean that “Saver Space” went away.

When an airline gives its partners access to awards, they’ll usually only allow them to book saver space tickets. This means an airline might be offering award tickets to members of its own program but you’re not able to book those same seats when looking to use the miles in a partner program.

Here are some examples of looking for domestic economy award tickets, which are still the easiest ones to find.

Orlando-San Francisco with United

United flies non-stop between the two cities and they’ll charge between 12.5K and 31.1K MileagePlus points for that award ticket.

12,500 miles used to be the set price for a one-way award ticket in economy class, and it’s the saver price for this cross-country flight.

Note that United says right on the website that the 12.5K mile price is a “Saver Award.”

But maybe you’re like me and have points with Singapore Airlines, which is a Star Alliance partner with United. I was able to find the same two flights searching on Singapore’s website.

However, if I look for a flight using Singapore KrisFlyer miles on the day before, which United is selling for 17.1K miles, I get a message that there are no available flights because those aren’t saver awards.

Orlando-Dallas with American Airlines

Searching for American Airlines’ space is even more confusing than looking for space with United. This is because American offers web-special fares which are lower than the price for usual saver space but still might not be bookable with partners.

AA’s calendar for August shows many days available for 11.5K miles.

However, if you look at Alaska Airlines MileagePlan, a OneWorld partner, the calendar looks quite different.

While many days, AA charges 11.5K miles, Alaska charges 12.5K miles plus $19 in taxes (which I’d like anyone to explain why they charge more than the $5.60 fee like every other US airline.) At least they have access to the same award space.

Unless you have an endless supply of Alaska miles, I’m sure it’s better to book with American. That is, unless you have access to Avios. The same flight is bookable with 9K Avios + $5.60 through British Airways.

However, it’s not always evident from looking at AA’s calendar if a flight is available to book with partners. There were several days available for 11.5K AA miles with connecting flights which were not bookable with either Alaska or British Airways points.

Final Thoughts

After reading this post, I hope you have a better understanding of why you may be able to find flights when looking through one award program but not with another. The problem usually arises when you’re doing the initial search with the same airline as the flight you are planning to take. If you do the initial search with a partner airline, it’s going to be easier to see which days are available and which ones are not.

However, programs are now offering award flights to their members that are not available to partners, for only a few thousand points more. If you’re able to take a non-stop flight at the time you want, it might be worth paying the extra miles.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

4 comments

Neil May 7, 2022 - 7:43 pm

Helpful, but what explains inventory showing for one partner, but not another? For example, a Latam flight showing for Aeromexico, but not for Delta.

Reply
joeheg May 7, 2022 - 11:08 pm

That’s a question for the advanced course, and while I can think of several reasons, I don’t know the actual cause.

Reply
JP May 7, 2022 - 11:05 pm

Alaska charges a partner award booking fee of $12.50. That’s the cause for the difference.

Reply
joeheg May 7, 2022 - 11:06 pm

Thank you. I’ve only booked Alaska flights with my miles so I never noticed the partner fees.

Reply

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