The Free Flight Primer, Part Two: Determining Airline Routes to Your Destination

The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.  We’ll start at the very beginning of the process and work our way through every step, from picking a destination all the way up to booking the ticket.  In between we’ll talk about tips for figuring out how many miles are needed for a certain flight, how to earn those miles, how to find seat availability, and much more.  I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.  It will be broken in to multiple sections and multiple posts, which will make it easier to read and easier to use as a reference at a later date.  I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.

Part 1: Intro and Taking Inventory of Your Points 

Determining Airline Routes to Your Destination

In Part 1, we picked a destination (you have picked a destination by now, right?  If not, do it.  Now.  Stop reading, write it down.  Ok, good.  Now let’s continue).  We also took inventory of our current balance of points and looked in to possible transfer partners, thereby determining what airline alliances we can consider.  Now it is time to see what airlines can get us to our goal destination.

Case study:  Rob wants to fly from the Philadelphia area (NYC is ok, but not as ideal) to somewhere in Italy.

Finding OneWorld carrier routes

Some people go to a basic flight search engine, like Kayak, type in their two cities, click the little “add nearby airports” and think they’ve done all they can do.  There are two problems with that:

1.  It does not break up the flights by alliance, meaning you have to know what airlines are part of OneWorld and then sift through the result which include all types of airlines and combinations.

2.  It does not take in to account your specific situation.  Maybe Baltimore is closer than New York City for you, but for whatever reason, New York is more convenient.  Maybe EWR is much more convenient than JFK.  With the OneWorld tool, it is completely customizable.

Step 1:  Go to the OneWorld Interactive Map homepage.

Click on OneWorld Interactive Map under Links in the bottom left.  This will open up the map interface.


Step 2:  Search your most desired route

In the top left corner, under “search for” you can choose destinations, routes, or flights.  For today, we want to use routes (although destinations is a fun, fun way to kill hours on end!).  Enter where you wish to leave from and where you want to go.  You can also narrow the search further by picking an airline, picking nonstop, etc.

Case study:  First, I’ll enter Philadelphia to Rome.  From the map I can see that there are two routes:  Philadelphia-London-Rome or Philadelphia-Chicago-Rome.  At first, Philadelphia-London-Rome seems like the no brainer choice, but it’s on British Airways, which charges HUGE fuel surcharges (something we’ll discuss later), making that option not really an option at all.


Step 3:  Search using other airports you can leave out of or fly into.

Pick what else is convenient enough for you not to be too inconvenient and customize your search.  This is where the OneWorld tool kicks Kayak’s butt.

Case Study:  Rob told me New York City would be ok to fly out of, and also that he simply wanted to fly to Italy.  So first, I checked to see if we could fly out Philadelphia to any other Italian airport.  I searched for PHL to Florence, Naples, Milan, Turin, and Venice.  Each one had only one possible route, which was going through London on British Airways.

Then, I looked at options from New York City to Rome.  This had 4 possible routes;  direct flight from JFK-FCO (Rome), NYC-London-Rome, NYC-Madrid-Rome, and NYC-Chicago-Rome. JFK direct to FCO is a great option.  Through Madrid is a new possibility that didn’t exist out of Philadephia, and is maybe a possibility.  The other ones were simply rehashes of what we could get out of Philadelphia so they make no sense since Philadelphia is much more convenient for Rob.

For OneWorld, it seemed our best options were either to fly AA direct from JFK-FCO or to fly from PHL-FCO through Chicago.

NYC-FCO gives us 4 routes: direct, via Chicago, via London, and via Madrid

Finding Star Alliance Routes

With OneWorld out of the way, our next step was to search Star Alliance Routes.  There route map tool they have is confusing, bulky, and pretty much a major pain so if you find yourself on the main page, DON’T click on the map.  Click on the Flight Search button.  I’m linking you straight to the Flight Search page, so I’d recommend bookmarking it for future use.  I’ve spent way too much valuable time trying to get back to the Flight Search page to deal with that headache again.  It’s not as cool as OneWorld, but it gets the job done.

Step 1:  Go to the Star Alliance Flight Search page.  

Step 2:  Enter your preferred to, from and dates.  

Case study:  Hello, GOLDEN TICKET!!!:  A non-stop flight directly from Philadelphia to Rome on USAir!  If this is available (remember, these are just flights that are happening, not necessarily available), we’d be money!  Another good thing about Star Alliance is that there are so many combinations of flights flying out of Philadelphia (since PHL is USAirway’s main East Coast hub) that we don’t even have to consider NYC if we decide to fly Star Alliance.  With so good options, we are bound to find something available that fits.

Tons of options available, including a non-stop flight from Philadelphia. Score!


Step 3 (if necessary):  Search using other airports you can leave out of or fly into.

Enter other airports you feel comfortable flying out of or in to.  Star Alliance is a larger alliance than OneWorld, which makes it more likely to have more flights out of your preferred airport than OneWorld, so this step might not be necessary.

Case study:  There are plenty of options out of Philadelphia to Rome, which is our preferred route, so there is no reason to look for flights out of NYC or to any other places in Italy.

Continue to Part Three:  Finding OneWorld Award Availability


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