The Free Flight Primer, Part Seven: Booking Your Award Ticket

The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.   

I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.

I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.

Booking Your Award

You’ve picked your destination, found out what airlines fly there, checked availability of flights, and earned your points.  Now you’re on the homestretch.  The only thing left to do is book your award and pack your suitcase (which I promise won’t be part 8).

Step 1:  Determine Whether You Can Book Online

For all airlines, if you are flying “metal”, which means that you are using that airline’s miles and only flying on that airline (for example, you are using AA miles to book flights and flying ONLY on AA and no partner airlines), then you can book online.  And while each airline’s booking system is set up a little different, they are for the most part, pretty straight forward.  You sign in to your account, search for availability, and click on the tickets.  Then you’ll be taken to a screen that shows how many points you have, how many it costs, and what the total out of pocket cost you have to pay is for fees and taxes.  After you enter all your personal details and payment details, you are finished.

The problem comes when you are using an airline’s miles but flying on partner airlines (using AA miles but flying Iberia, BA, etc.).  Unfortunately, most airlines DO NOT let you book most partners online and you’ll be required to call in and book.

To make it easy for you, I’ve created a chart that breaks down what you can and cannot do online for the five most popular airlines that people in the States have miles with.  I’ve also included how much the fee is to book by phone, the phone number to call if you can’t book your ticket online, and if there is a short notice booking fee.  Some airlines charge a fee if the date of booking a ticket is within a certain amount of days of your departure (completely lame if you ask me).  I’ve also linked below to their page of rules regarding award travel if you want to read more about it (thrilling stuff, let me tell you!).

United Rules

AA Rules

US Airways Rules

Delta Rules

BA Rules

Case Study:  Rob will be using AA miles but flying on Iberia, meaning he will have to call AA to book the travel.

Step 2:  Call and Book Your Ticket

If you can’t book online, then you need to call and book your ticket.  It doesn’t sound too complicated, and it isn’t usually, but there are a few tips that might help you.

Always have your itinerary figured out before you call:  Use the skills you learned in Parts 3, 4, and 5 to find flight availability.  Write down all the information for the itinerary you want or keep the window open on your computer when you call.  Don’t assume the rep on the other line will find you the right or best flight.  Don’t waste all your hard work by failing to be prepared and then finding out later you are on a different flight from the one you originally wanted.

Ask to have the phone fee waived:  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  I always just mention that I couldn’t book the ticket online because they don’t allow you to book partners online or else I would have.  If you sound knowledgeable and prepared, making the job easier for the rep, there will be a better chance you get the fee waived.  Of course, being nice helps as well.  Hey, it never hurts to ask.

Ask to put the ticket on hold:  If you have any doubts at all (about the dates, about the flight numbers, about the passenger names) then ask to put the ticket on hold and get everything in order.  This guarantees you have the tickets if you want them but doesn’t lock you in to anything at the moment.  Each airline has different rules, but AA will hold your ticket for 5 days.  Just remember to call back before the hold is up and actually book your tickets or they will be released and you’ll be out of luck.  Also, remember to write down your tracking number somewhere safe and save yourself a lot of headaches later.

After booking your ticket, you should be all set, which brings us to an end of the Free Flight Primer.  I hope that you’ve found the information easy to understand and valuable.  Based on your comments and emails, I’d consider it a success.  If you have any other questions, suggestions for future video tutorials and guides or if the Free Flight Primer has helped you book an award ticket, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


The Free Flight Primer, Part Three: Finding OneWorld Award Availability

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 

Part 2:  Determining Airline Routes to Your Destination

Finding OneWorld Award Availability

Today, I’ll be trying out a new format and I’d love reader feedback.  Instead of simply including screenshots of the entire process, I’ve decided to make a short 5 minute video that will show my computer screen as I walk you through the entire process of searching for OneWorld award availability.  I’ll also provide a write up as a supplement to the video, emphasizing important points I may have glossed over during the video.  I’m assuming that this video format is much more beneficial for readers, and that is why I’ve decided to give it a whirl.  But hey,  I could be totally wrong (I was certainly wrong in assuming that making a video would take less time than a posting screenshots)!  Watch the video below and let me know what you prefer for future installations of The Free Flight Primer.

Step 1:  Go to

Important point:  You need to be a member of Qantas’s frequent flyer program in order to search for award availability.  If you are not already a member, sign up.  It is free and takes less than 5 minutes, a small price to pay to search all OneWorld partners.  Also, you DO NOT need to have Qantas frequent flyer miles in your account to search for availability (hooray!).

Step 2:  Enter Your Preferred Itinerary

Make sure to have the tab titled “Award Bookings” highlighted and also to have selected “Qantas and Partner Classic Awards”.  This will search all OneWorld alliance members.

Insiders’ Tip:  I’ve found it easier not to select “flexible dates” even if mine are. If you choose flexible dates it bounces you back out to the calendar screen to change the date each time you want to search another date.  If you don’t choose flexible dates, you can change dates after you have a flight list up and not bounce all the way back to the calendar screen.

Case Study:  Looking for flights from Philadelphia to Rome on September 28th and from Rome to Philadelphia on October 13th gives us all British Airways tickets, not what we want at all (remember, high fuel surcharges).  Ick!

Step 3:  Enter Other Possible Itineraries

In Part Two, we already looked at possible routings for both our flight origin and destination.  Hit “start again” on the left side column and enter the other itineraries you’ve felt could work for your trip.

Case Study:  Rome is the only airport we can feasibly fly in to but instead of flying out of Philadelphia, we can fly out of New York.  There is the Iberia flight we found in Part 2 that flies from JFK to Rome via Madrid, but it has not economy availability on the 28th.  However, when I change the date to the 29th, we find an economy ticket on Iberia leaving at 6 p.m.  This is a possibility, and the only real option we’ve found so far for OneWorld.

Coming home, there are no economy flights available on Iberia on either Sat Oct. 13th or Sun Oct 14th but there is some availability on Friday Oct 12th.  Not the best option, but it is an option.

Step 4 (if necessary):  Call and Book Your Ticket

If you find the flights that you want, awesome!  Call and book your ticket.  REMEMBER, WE ARE USING QANTAS AS A SEARCH ENGINE, NOT TO ACTUALLY BOOK OUR TICKET.  Unless you are actually planning on using Qantas miles, you can not book this ticket online.  You will have to call up the airline whose miles you are planning to use and book it through them.  For our case study, it is American Airlines.  Make sure to write down all the information about the flights you want, such as all the flight numbers, the times, and the cities you’ll be flying to and from.  Then, you’ll call the airline you want to book with, tell them the information, and they should be able to pull it up and book for you.

Case study:  We did not find tickets that worked perfect for us, so for now, I’ll write down the options I’ve decided are decent (the Iberia flights) and next try searching for Star Alliance availability.

Continue to Part 4: Finding Star Alliance Award Availability



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