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Six tools for finding award-seat availability online

SmarterTravel

One of the most frequently uttered complaints in the world of frequent flying is “I can’t use my miles because there’s no award availability.” The elusive mainland-to-Hawaii award ticket is turning into a kind of Holy Grail among travelers, and frustrated frequent flyers even find themselves staging elaborate quests for free tickets on more mundane routes.

Several airlines have created pages on their websites listing routes that have good award availability during specific time periods. While these tools won’t help every traveler, they are perfect for flyers who just want to use their miles for a free flight and aren’t picky about destination. If your intended route happens to be one mentioned, these tools can be quite useful in determining which dates could be better for your award travel.

Here’s what you can find on each airline:

American

American has the most comprehensive award-availability tool of all six major airlines. Its AAdvantage HotSpots tool highlights featured destinations—domestic and international routes with high availability that change weekly—and the most requested destinations for 12 major U.S. cities. For each route, you can see a color-coded five-month calendar that indicates which dates have high, medium, or low award availability. If you’re hoping to book an AAdvantage award for travel within the next five months, this tool will give you a very good sense of which dates might be better than others. Even if your specific route is not listed, you can look at similar routes and figure out where the patterns are.

Continental

Continental doesn’t list routes with high availability, but it has another tool for would-be award travelers. When you try to book an award online and one or both of your dates has no award availability, Continental will show you a calendar with dates highlighted in various colors to denote availability of standard economy-, first-, or business-class award seats. You can scroll through a year’s worth of months to find dates that work for your route rather than continuing to guess at which dates have availability.

Delta

Delta’s award award seat availability tool is less comprehensive than American’s or Continental’s. It lists a few routes for each state and for international destinations, and indicates in which of three months there is high award availability. The tool does not list which dates in those months have availability, and currently the site is out-of-date, showing availability for the summer months.

Northwest

Northwest, like Continental, does not have a list of easy-to-book destinations on its website, but it does include several helpful features in its award reservations process. To use it, you must log in to your Northwest account, then go to the Northwest homepage to start the award reservations process. Once you’ve done a preliminary award search, the results page will display a calendar showing which dates have standard and Rulebuster (nonrestricted) award availability for the route you’ve chosen. You can also choose “More Search Options” and look for award availability from your home airport to beach/sun, ski, or golf destinations, or choose a flexible option to look for alternative travel dates.

United

United’s Miles Away! page is similar to Delta’s tool. It lists domestic and international routes with better-than-average availability for the current month, plus routes with high availability for the coming month. Like Delta, United does not list specific dates with better availability.

US Airways

US Airways’ Award Travel Suggestions is more comprehensive. It lists domestic and international routes from its Charlotte and Philadelphia hubs that have high availability for this month and next month. If you don’t live in a hub city, you can check availability from your home city to Charlotte or Philadelphia first. Unlike Delta and United, US Airways checks off which days of the week are better than others. You won’t know the specific dates with many award seats, but you’ll be able to make an educated guess based on the days of the week that usually have the most seats. Another helpful feature: The site also lists travel tips for each international destination region (Caribbean, Central America/Mexico, and Europe).

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