We hear you; the world of award flights sometimes feels like trying to crack a secret code. Our team members at AwardFares have over 15 years of experience redeeming “free” flights across different frequent flyer programs and airlines, and it still is a challenging game. That’s why we crafted our tool AwardFares with love and strive to help fellow travelers like us with some of the issues we struggle with.
However, with the fluctuating value of miles and points, the shift to dynamic award charts, new blackout dates, and the heavy changes in airline alliances, booking an award flight and determining good versus bad redemptions is more challenging than ever.
But there’s good news. Our recent major update brings a powerful feature to help you get the most out of your points and miles. You can see and sort by award prices, identifying the cheapest redemptions, dates, airlines, and itineraries. You can also compare prices of the same award seat on different loyalty programs. Plus, AwardFares now shows you mixed-cabin itineraries and saver availability to save a few miles here and there on short-haul connections.
This guide tells you exactly how to leverage AwardFares to search and find cheap award flights across multiple frequent flyer programs and airlines. In addition, we also guide you through all you need to know to determine if you are getting a good redemption, helping you make more informed decisions when booking award flights.
In This Post
- Getting Started
- How To Find Cheap Award Flights (Step-by-step)
- How To Determine If You Are Getting A Good Redemption?
Getting Started: Pre-reads
These are optional, but if you want to get familiar with how frequent flyer programs work and how they determine the prices of award flights, check these posts.
- Demystifying Award Charts: All You Need To Know (2023)
- Ultimate Guide to Award Release Dates
- 10 Tips For Booking An Award Trip In 2023
How To Find Cheap Award Flights (In Economy, Business, and First Class)
1. Go to AwardFares
Creating an account is optional, but it’s also free, and it gives you access to more features. Make sure to sign up for one here.
2. Select your favorite Frequent Flyer Program
Tap on the Loyalty Program field and select one or more frequent flyer programs. You can choose among Air Canada Aeroplan, American AAdvantage, Alaska Mileage Plan, United MileagePlus, SAS EuroBonus, and Avianca Lifemiles.
3. Add a Route
In the Origin and Destination fields, add one or more airports to search for flights between those locations. AwardFares will search for award flights regardless of the number of stops. You can use the Stops filter to only search for direct/non-stop flights.
In the example below, we search for flights between New York City and London. Note that we use the metropolitan area codes NYC and LHR to get results to and from any airport in New York (JFK, EWR, LGA) and London (LHR, LGW).
Although this step is optional because you can explore available routes within our cached results, adding one or a few origin/destination airports is recommended to get fresh results and the latest availability.
4. Explore dates
If you have a particular date in mind, add it by tapping on the Calendar field.
Alternatively, you can use AwardFares Timeline View to explore the seat availability on different dates. The Timeline View displays how many seats are available for each day of the week/month. The bars are color-coded, so it’s easy to distinguish between cabin classes (Economy, Business, First). You can also trigger new searches by tapping the refresh icon underneath each day.
In addition, you can also tap anywhere on the flight to display more details in an expanded view, such as aircraft type, and even get the current seat maps to see which seats are free versus occupied!
5. Sort by Price
Whether you are exploring dates using the Timeline View or have selected a specific day, AwardFares will show you the available seats (with real-time data) within seconds in the result list below.
You can tap on the different header columns to sort the results by price. Use the Eco, Prem, Biz, and First class tags to find cheap awards across multiple dates, itineraries, and airlines.
Cheapest Award Flights in Economy Class
In this case, we want to understand the cheapest days to fly in Economy Class using United MileagePlus miles from New York to London.
With the Timeline View, we see there are plenty of available seats. We tap on the Eco column and sort award fights by price in Economy Class.
AwardFares will show you all available seats sorted by price, and then by date.
As we see, the cheapest flights start on November 9th, with multiple options. You can tap the anywhere on the flight to show the detailed view.
In this case, we see that a saver award in Economy is just 21.7k miles plus USD 5.6 in taxes, and there are over nine seats available.
Similarly, you can explore other options (nonstop and with stopovers) going back to the result list.
Cheapest Award Flights in Premium Economy
Similarly, you can explore other options (nonstop and with stopovers) by returning to the result list.
We can repeat the process but now tap on the Prem column. Now, AwardFares will sort results based on the prices for the Premium Economy cabin.
As we can see, this cabin’s cheapest options start on October 18th. All the options include at least one stopover, and most itineraries are mixed-cabin (which means there is at least one segment in another cabin, such as Economy).
By skimming through the results, you can quickly identify the most convenient options at this price point (50k miles).
You can also keep scrolling to find more dates or use the filters to exclude mixed cabin itineraries.
Cheapest Award Flights in Business Class
Similarly, by tapping the Biz header, flights will be sorted by price in the Business Class cabin. In this case, we see plenty of seats at this price point (80k miles) almost daily.
Cheapest Award Flights in First Class
Lastly, the hardest cabin to find and book: First. These redemptions are typically released last minute, so having AwardFares on your side can be a game changer when trying to score your dream award flight in First. Also, different programs can charge different prices and fees for the same seat. In addition, different airlines offer entirely different experiences (e.g., Lufthansa First tends to be much better than other airlines). Hence, it can be a determining factor when booking.
In this case, from New York to London, we sort by price by tapping on the First column header. Then, we see that there are seats for October 21st. Both are mixed-cabin and require stopovers. But at the same price (121k miles), Lufthansa offers a convenient flight on an Airbus A340, with a quick stop in Munich.
6. Book with the Airline
Once you have identified the flights you want (or built an itinerary using our Journey Planner), go to the airline’s website and make the booking. Remember that some of these itineraries are not bookable online for specific programs (e.g., mixed-cabin awards on SAS EuroBonus). In those situations, you will need to call their service center.
How To Determine If You Are Getting A Good Redemption?
Traveling on award flights is a rewarding experience, but not all redemptions are the same, particularly with most programs switching to dynamic award charts. Some offer significantly better value than others.
So, how can you be sure you’re getting a good deal with your hard-earned miles or points? Here are a few things to remember that will help you determine the worthiness of an award flight redemption.
The Cent-Per-Mile (CPM) Calculation
To determine if you’re getting good value, you can use the CPM calculation:
CPM = (Cash Price of Ticket - Taxes and Fees) / Number of Miles Used
The same applies if your program uses points instead of miles (1 mile/point). For example, if a flight costs $500 or 25,000 miles plus $50 in taxes and fees, the calculation would be:
CPM = ($500 - $50) / 25,000 = 1.8 cents per mile
Generally, a CPM above 1.5 cents (USD/EUR) in Economy Class and higher in premium cabins is considered good, but this can vary by airline and route. It also varies depending on your currency.
But beyond the absolute value, you can use this metric to compare different redemptions within the same program. If you are getting a 0.3 cent per point value on a fight between Stockholm and Frankfurt but a 1.1 cent per point on a flight from Stockholm to Miami, it might be better to aim for the latter one, even if you need to rack up more points unless they expire soon, of course.
Quick CPM Calculator
Use the mini tool below to calculate the CPM of your award flight. You can enter the price in any currency ($/€/£/SEK/NOK/DKK).
Consider the Cash Price
Before redeeming miles, always check the cash price of the same ticket. If it’s low, paying cash and earning miles on that flight might be more economical, saving your accumulated miles for a pricier ticket in the future. This strategy can also be an excellent option to help you earn points faster and qualify for elite status, getting better benefits in the long run.
Recognize the Value of Premium Redemptions
Using miles for premium cabins such as First and Business Class can often provide higher value, especially for long-haul flights. While the miles required might be significantly more, the experience, comfort, and amenities can make it worth it.
Airlines tend to have aggressive deals and discounted fares for Economy Class tickets and less for premium cabins. This means you will likely get a higher CPM value on premium cabin flights and a better return.
Of course, it ultimately depends on what kind of travel you want (short or long haul), which destinations, and your travel group (solo, couple, family, etc.).
Beware of High Taxes and Surcharges
Some airlines have hefty fuel surcharges on award tickets, which can diminish the value of your redemption. Always calculate the total cost, including fees, to determine the true value.
Always check and compare the same route served by different airlines. Onboard service and the experience you get are one thing to evaluate (some airlines have better planes, cabins, and service than others), but they can also charge heavy fees and surcharges.
For example, the route from Frankfurt to Los Angeles is served by Lufthansa, American, and United, but United charges $12 in fees to book the award, while Lufthansa charges $136. That’s a 10x difference!
Compare Across Loyalty Programs
The same flight can be available in more than one program! For example, you could book the same seat using Aeroplan Miles or SAS EuroBonus points while having different prices. Before booking, check which program has the same price and evaluate if you can book.
This trick only works if you collect points in multiple programs, or if your points are transferrable. For example, a ton of credit cards (like American Express) allow you to send your points to a specific program.
With AwardFares, comparing the prices in different programs is extremely simple. Simply click on the Expand icon (+), and you’ll see if the seat is available in other programs and for how much.
Understand Seasonality and Demand
Awards during peak travel times require more miles. Travel during off-peak seasons for better availability and value.
Some programs offer different rates for high and low seasons, and they call it saver and non-saver. AwardFares shows this information clearly in the detailed view.
Set Up Alerts
AwardFares can help you monitor and find the best award flight opportunities. Setting up alerts ensures you’re informed via email as soon as a good redemption pops up. We have a full tutorial here.
We are already working on feature requests, such as price-based alerts, so you only get a notification when a given seat becomes available at a certain price point. Stay tuned to our updates, and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get all the latest information!
Remember the Intangible Value
While the CPM calculation is handy, sometimes the value of an award booking is more personal. It could be the ability to attend a special family event or a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Not all good redemptions can be measured in cents per mile.
Determining the value of an award flight isn’t solely about mathematics; it’s also about personal value and the experiences that travel brings. Always weigh the quantitative and qualitative aspects to choose your travel needs and wishes best.
Get started, and stay tuned
With our Gold and Diamond tiers, you can access premium features such as unlimited daily searches, alerts, seat maps, flight schedules, and more!
Make sure to also check these posts out