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Keys To Finding Star Alliance Awards Seats To Europe

“I’m not seeing any availability to Europe on Star Alliance! What should I do?”

Is summer coming up already? Time flies, and in summer so do a ton of people on vacation. This is peak season for most everyone in the travel industry and flight availability can suck.

But here are a few solutions for finding better availability, and making the current availability work.

The problem Isn’t International Flights

Perhaps you’re not quite aware of the real situation of why there’s no availability.

Because here’s the award calendar on a flight from Denver to Zurich:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 4.14.16 PM

 

And here’s a flight from DC to Zurich:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 4.17.01 PM

And here are flights from Denver to DC:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 4.18.08 PM

The problem here is not as much hopping the pond as it is getting out of Denver.  There are no legal flights from Denver to Europe.  But there are plenty of flights from Denver to DC, then DC to Europe. And even though there’s plenty of economy availability to DC, you’re not getting valid connections there because, I assume, the layovers are too long.

The problem here is connections. So what are the solutions?

A stopover domestically

Listen. Let’s look at this example a bit more thoroughly.

There are flights from Denver to DC nearly every weekday. And then there are flights from DC to Zurich every single one of those days, and the day after.

The problem is that stops over 24 hours (domestically) are considered a “stopover”… but wait, you’re allowed a stopover!

When I went to “Multiple Destinations” as a search function, I was able to book Denver to DC on the 15th and then DC to Zurich on the 16th (this must be done on a roundtrip, as it’s the only time United allows stopovers).

Although this is United’s search engine, the concept applies to many other airlines.

See the list of stopover rules.

Some of these airlines can have stopovers booked on their site and some of them require calling, but either way you can find them one leg at a time. Just search oneways to DC and then oneways to Zurich and piece them together on whatever timeframe you’d like, because stopovers can be as long as you want.

By the way, United’s stopover rules are so loose that if you found a direct flight from the west coast to Europe, you could probably stopover there instead. It looks like backtracking but the computer restricts flights by region on these flights.

Stopovers Internationally

The slightly more appealing choice for my vacation would be to not stop in DC, but stopover someplace internationally instead.

For a long time I was finding better availability to Europe via Istanbul. Heck, for a while flights to Addis Ababa and Cairo were slightly more abundant. Although those would be higher cost as it would be an Africa ticket, Istanbul would have been considered the same Europe price.

Either way, the concept is the same as the domestic stopover. Find a city with better availability and stopover there. Then you can fly out from that city a day or so later. This way you can pick the available dates without worrying about connection times.

Even non Star Alliance hubs, but popular cities may have availability from United or Air Canada. I saw more availability to London than Zurich, despite Zurich being the hub of Swiss.

Star Alliance Hubs in Europe

With the above information in mind, you may want to know what the Star Alliance hubs in Europe are:

Ljubljana, Athens, Zagreb, Wasaw, Dusseldorf, FrankurtMunich, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, ZurichIstanbul, and Brussels.

I bolded the major airports that I check. And I’ll add Cairo, and Addis Ababa as Africa routing options.

 

Don’t Trust The Computer

This could be taken many different ways. The computer may not show all partners, it may not show all the availability, it may not find different routes, etc…

But with United.com I tend to glance at the calendar, but I don’t trust it. If the calendar date is white, it means there is no saver award availability at all. But often I check blank days and end up finding availability despite their being marked as “blank”.

Here is an example of a calendar initially showing no availability:

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 4.39.49 PM

And then here is availability for that date:

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 4.41.10 PM

The practical application here is to actually check every date you would be willing to fly, despite what the calendar initially shows. This is more true with United than many of the others though. If Air Canada doesn’t have seats, it doesn’t show them.

The other problem is that not all partners are shown. For this reason people use the ANA award search tool. It does show Star Alliance partners more accurately, however, this tool is pretty complicated and not user friendly. So if you’re interested check out how to use ANAs award search tool by Lucky.

Further more, United.com errors out and shows nothing or times out and shows a limited number of results. The way to reduce this kind of error is to simply search one leg of your ticket at a time or at least make very basic searches and piece them together.

 

 

Releasing seats at different times

As mentioned, when looking earlier for flights to Europe, I saw much fewer options. I see a ton right now (from the east coast) simply because of someone (I think United) releasing more award seats.

The flights I was seeing were to Istanbul and Addis Ababa. This is because Turkish and Ethiopian had award seats available when no one else did.

Which means that I could have booked a ticket with a stopover in Istanbul if needed. Or turns out, I could have waited for a very large releasing of seats by United. However, this is something you shouldn’t assume or count on because United’s system is largely unknown in terms of timing for seats. Although many programs are predictable in terms of how many days out they release award seats.

As seen by VFTW here, airlines first release seats generally about 330 to 360 days out.

  • Air Canada – 355
  • Austrian Airlines – 355
  • EgyptAir – 355
  • Lufthansa – 349
  • United – 337

This has nothing to do with whose miles you’re booking with, but who you want to book your flight on. What this means is that Lufthansa doesn’t release its award seats to its partners until 349 days out. At that time you could use United miles, or Air Canada miles to book a Lufthansa flight.

The problem is that they continue to release seats to partners based on how many tickets they’ve sold. That is overall unpredictable but this first release is predictable.

If you wanted to be alerted about seats opening up, you could use ExpertFlyer to set up an alert set for a number of partner airlines on desired dates/seats.

 

Conclusion

  1. Try starting from a hub close by.
  2. Try a stopover in a US hub, like Chicago or Newark.
  3. Try a stopover in an international hub like Istanbul or even Cairo.
  4. Try checking back at different times.
  5. Actually check every date you’re willing to fly rather than trusting the initial calendar.
  6. Search by oneways or separate segments to see true availability or possibly different routing options.

Sometimes, there’s a secret sauce – try flights via Istanbul. But right now, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s mostly a matter of piecing together the right route.

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14 Comments

  1. Some additional tools:
    1) The Star Alliance Anywhere too. Pick a ‘from’ or a ‘to’ city and it will calculate all routes and space. At the wandering Aramean site, have to register to use: http://wandr.me/Star-Alliance-Anywhere-Award-Search/
    2) Open up the Aeroplan search engine and work that at the same time you are working the United site.

    Reply
    • Good tips. Bummer about Wandr.me’s issues with United tho.

      Reply
  2. I only have enough miles for a one-way to Europe in economy. Can you tell me the connection rules for one-ways? On the website, it says stopovers are allowed on RTs only, but doesn’t mention open jaws or layovers for one-ways. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Layovers internationally are less than 24 hours. I believe you can only have 3 segments in this case. And no open-jaws allowed.
      Hope that helps.

      Reply
  3. I have gone PDX-SFO-EWR-ZUR staying over night in EWR on a one way ticket. I assumed since my flight was international, I was able to stop in EWR for longer than 4 hours but less than 24. Of course, I was not able to find anything PDX-ZUR but I had to search segment by segment…..

    Reply
    • Sorry GVA instead of ZUR above.

      Reply
    • Sorry, the info I had was confusing about layovers. You can had a layover of 24 hours on an international ticket.

      Reply
  4. I haven’t found routing via Istanbul/Turkish reliable. I agree it used to be easy to find, but maybe since November a ton of their award space seems to be missing. LAX-IST was a route I had advised several people on out of my home city; of course when it comes time for me to book, it’s nowhere in sight for weeks. It seems like the main ways to get to Europe this summer are United, Lufthansa, Air Canada. Scattered SAS and Turkish are available, and I haven’t looked for LOT so much, that could be around, too.

    FWIW- Air Canada DOES have a decent economy product, quite tasty meals and wine. Last summer they had this “film festival in the air” thing which provided me with a lot of cool flicks to watch. Worth considering…

    Reply
    • Yea, not but a few months ago there was a freaking ton of flights through IST. Now nothing. Hopefully it’s not a sign of reduced availability.
      LOT is hit miss. Not around very often, but you can find some routes.

      Reply
  5. wh: Not stopovers are allowed on one-ways. You should be able to book a connection with a layover of up to 23 hours/59 minutes on an international one-way trip.

    Reply
  6. In your example that a layover more than 4 hours is considered a stopover, but a real stopover, in terms of how it prices your award ticket, would be for any stop over 24 hours, so if you landed in DC on the 15th and left on the 16th, less than 24 hours later, it would only be considered a layover and you could still use your stopover somewhere else. I have done this, so I know its true, and I feel like you have mentioned this many times before, so I am a little confused why you presented the information in a way that makes it seem as if you will be using your stopover in DC. Obviously if you stayed longer you would, I guess I just wanted to verify I wasn’t misinterpreting your logic.

    Reply
    • Sorry the info I had was confusing. Shouldn’t have had any info about domestic trips having a 4 hour layover on a post about tickets to Europe. Anyways, you can have layovers up to 24 hours. Thanks for posting so I could clarify in the post.

      Reply
  7. I am looking for 4 award seats in Y to FRA over christmas. I have zero flexibility. So I booked MEX-MUC on LH for 35K each. USA to FRA is 30K. In theory, can I add a SAT-MEX leg and avoid my positioning flight costs AND reduce my mileage requirements by 5K to 30K? I also would like a day or two in MEX. Can you confirm that that could work?

    Reply
  8. Do you get much availability out of “Wasaw” and “Frankurt”? 😉

    Reply

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