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Points, Miles & Credit Cards

Award Flight Availability: How to Search

Kurt Adams

Kurt Adams

February 26, 2024

11 min read

You know that airlines release award availability around 11 months before the date of the flight, but how do you search for award flight availability?

Now that you understand why to start looking early, let’s talk about the best ways to find seats. Airlines notoriously make this difficult, but here are some strategies to help. 

This guide walks you through search methods, tools, and best practices. 

Strategy 1: Start searching with domestic US carriers

In general, the legacy US airlines (American, United, and Delta) have the best search engines, so they are good places to start your search. They allow you to filter your search by cabin (such as economy, business, or first) and number of stops (such as nonstop only). 

Airline alliances

American, Delta, and United’s search tools often display their partner airlines, too. So if you wanted to fly Air Canada, it should appear on United’s calendar. However, if you want to book on Air Canada using Aeroplan miles, after checking on United’s calendar, you should double-check on Air Canada’s search and book through Air Canada. 

The ability to cross-search like this is limited by airline alliances. So if you want to fly business class on Emirates, you’ll have more luck searching directly.

Strategy 2: Switch to monthly calendar view for maximum flexibility

In addition, American, United and Delta all also allow you to toggle from a day-by-day view to a full-month calendar view. When you’re looking to book seats with points, especially seats in premium cabins like business or first class, it’s really important to be flexible on your travel days. An at-a-glance month calendar view helps you see and compare the miles it’ll cost you. 

As you see in the example below, in January 2025 you can get a nonstop, business class seat from Philadelphia (PHL) to Rome (FCU) for as low as 78K miles. But, this price depends on the day—if you wanted to fly on or near New Year Day’s, the price for that seat jumps substantially. Depending on the day, it’s two times as much, or greater. 

american airlines monthly calendar view

By the way, notice how the calendar stops showing availability after January 15, 2025? That’s because when I did this search in mid-February 2024, that was as far out as American Airlines released award availability for this specific route. 

Strategy 3: Search for the longest leg of your journey

You’ll also notice that in this search example above, I prioritized nonstop flights only. That’s because a direct flight—one without connections—is usually going to cost you fewer miles to redeem. The best practice for finding business class seats is to search by leg of the journey. 

Let’s say I wanted to fly from my hometown of Syracuse to Paris. Syracuse is great for its salt potatoes, the OG Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and of course, the Orange, but its airport is rather small and limited in its reach. When I search for business class seats for this itinerary, I can find space—but it will cost me. It’s at least 265K Delta SkyMiles, plus a layover in JFK. 


But what if I drove from Syracuse to New York? Or took a short positioning flight to JFK, then spend the night at the swanky TWA hotel and took in some aviation nostalgia? Then, that opened me up to look for business class seats from JFK to Paris (CDG), which is a direct flight. 

On Delta, I see some direct flights to the tune of 215K SkyMiles. But then I scroll down and notice that some Air France flights are also listed. They don’t have any available business class seats available on Delta, though, so what if I check AirFrance’s site?

Strategy 4: Leverage partner airlines

After logging in, I see that on Air France I can find business class seats for around 50K Flying Blue Miles each way, or 100K total. Taxes and fees would be fairly steep (in this specific example, a lot more than Delta’s), so to be clear, this is not a perfect solution. But, if flying business class is a bucket list thing, this could be a way to do it, and maybe worth it as a one-time expense. 

The other great thing about turning to Air France instead of Delta? Several credit card points currencies transfer to FlyingBlue, Air France's frequent flyer miles program. By contrast, only one credit card points currency transfers to Delta. 


Strategy 5: Try other search tools

Does this sound confusing? I hear you. There are also a handful of third-party search tools you can use to find award availability. Here are a few of my favorites: 

  • This search engine allows you to set alerts for your desired cabins and get notified immediately when they become available. The free version allows you to get notifications by email and to search a specific date. If you opt for the Pro version ($9.99/month), you can get SMS notifications and be more flexible on date ranges. 
  • SeatSpy: This tool allows you to search and filter award availability by cabin. In order to see premium cabins, as well as search more than two months out, you’ll need to sign up for a paid version. It’s also worth noting that this service includes some airlines but is not exhaustive. (Among the included airlines: Air France, American, British, KLM, Luftansa, United, and Virgin.)
  • Point.meThis tool is subscription-only, but you’ll be able to search a much wider range of airlines and filter by cabin. 
  • Expert Flyer: You have to upgrade to the premium version to search available seats by cabin, but you can get a free 5-day trial. You’ll have to search a particular airline on a particular day to see availability.I personally find Expert Flyer to be a bit clunky and not user-friendly. Iit literally has a 15-page PDF User Guide with instructions to get started.) But if find value in it, then you do you!

Kurt Adams

Kurt Adams


Published February 26, 2024

Last updated February 26, 2024

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