The biggest issue we all face when booking award flights is finding availability. There are two types of award seats we can book with airline miles: saver and standard. Standard availability tends to be more common, with fewer date restrictions, if any. But standard awards cost a lot more and usually cannot be booked through alliance partners. Meanwhile, saver availability is what we usually look for when traveling on points. As we explain below, saver awards are cheaper to book but have more limited availability.
Identifying Saver Awards
Airlines label their award types differently. But in the vast majority of cases, awards are broken down into “saver” and “standard” awards. Here are some examples of how airlines call these awards:
|American Airlines||MileSAAver||AAnytime awards|
|Etihad||Guest Seat||Open Seat|
|Qantas||Classic Flight Reward||Any Seat|
|United Airlines||Saver Awards||Everyday Awards|
Regardless of how the two types of awards are labeled, the main differences are the same. Saver awards are cheaper, can be booked through airline partners, and are less common. Standard awards are more widely available, may cost a lot more, and cannot be booked through airline partners.
Some airlines have additional categories of awards, like AA's Web Specials. But we won't focus on those here.
Finding Saver Award Availability
Generally, only saver awards can be booked with partner airlines. This means that to book a flight with an alliance partner's miles, you must first find saver award availability on the airline whose plane you want to fly.
For example, to fly from Tampa to San Francisco on United Airlines, we can book a flight with United miles. To book with United's Star Alliance partners like Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, and Avianca, we need to find saver award space.
To find availability, you can search directly with the airline on whose plane you want to fly. In this example, you can search with United. United will show you all the flights you can book with your United miles, whether saver or standard. If you search through a Star Alliance partner's website, like Singapore, you'll only find saver awards. If you do not see any flights available, that's because there are no saver awards available on that date for that route. Let's look at a real-life example.
Sticking with the Tampa to San Francisco flight, we found many flights on United's website, including these two:
You can see that the second result is labeled “Saver Award.” Meanwhile, the first search result is not labeled a saver award and indeed it costs more.
So if we were to search for this exact route on a partner's website, such as Singapore, we should expect to find the saver award but not the standard one. And here is what we found when searching on Singapore's website:
Now, you can book that exact same United flight with Singapore miles (as well as through Air Canada, Avianca, and other partners). Singapore miles are easier to earn since they are a transfer partner with Chase, Amex, Citi, and Capital One. In contrast, Chase is the only major bank that transfers to United.
Tips for Finding Saver Award Space
Most airlines release saver award space as soon as their calendars open a year or so out, or within a couple of weeks or a few days before departure. The toughest time to find saver award space is 2-3 months out from departure.
That said, award availability comes and goes. Just because you don't find something today doesn't mean it won't show up tomorrow or in a few days. As such, we recommend searching early and often.
Also, flexibility can go a long way. Being flexible with your departure or return dates by a day or two opens up more options for finding award space. The same goes for airports. For example, if you live New York, consider searching for award space out of another airport on the East Coast like Washington or Boston. The greater your flexibility, the more options you will have to redeem your points for flights.
A note for those in smaller cities: Folks based near smaller airports will usually have to position to a larger airport like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. “Positioning” means catching another flight, usually on a completely separate ticket, to a major airport where your award flight leaves. So when searching for availability, try searching from one of these major airports to your destination first, and then searching a separate leg from your home airport to that major airport.
Lastly, a helpful tool for staying on top of saver availability is Expert Flyer. Through Expert Flyer, you can set up award alerts for specific flights where you want to find availability.
The main draws of saver awards is that they are cheaper than standard awards, and they can be booked through the airline's partners. Learning how to identify and find award space availability is a big step of learning how to travel on points.
If you want to learn more or have any questions, make sure to join the discussion in our Facebook group!