It’s important to do your own award availability research, rather than relying on your mileage program’s website or telephone agents.
I’ve always thought it was an entirely reasonable expectation that a frequent flyer program member would go online, type in their starting city and arrival city, and get presented with a list of available options for using their miles. But it doesn’t really work that way.
For instance, the US Airways website only shows flights on their own planes and American’s. Delta’s and American’s sites only show a subset of partners (and Delta’s website will often fail to show available seats on those partners that it does support).
United’s website is one of the easiest to use to find space, it has an award calendar, checks lots of routings, and doesn’t even require logging in to use. But it doesn’t show all partners, it intermittently drops partners it has shown in the past, and doesn’t warn members that not all partners are being shown.
And of course call center agents need to be walked through the booking progress and guided (gently, kindly, and with humility). See Hang up, call back.
For Star Alliance award space, the two tools I find indispensable are the Aeroplan website and the ANA website. The former shows lots more routings, comes up with creative suggestions. The latter is the most reliable in terms of showing space that’s actually available and not leading me astray.
For Skyteam space there is no one single comprehensive site, the one with the most data is Air France (airfrance.us). But if you are using Delta miles you need to confirm partner availability with them — just because a partner is loading award space does not mean Delta will book it, and my understanding is this phenomenon will get worse. Just check out the discrepancy between what Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan can book on Air France versus what Delta will let you book, the latter is a small subset of the former even though Delta and Air France aren’t just alliance-mates but even joint venture partners.
For oneworld award space I generally use the British Airways website for most partners, but it’s fairly slow, so I’ll revert to requesting data from Qantas. But Qantas is a little less reliable — both for false positives, and false negatives.
I’m reminded about the foibles of the Qantas website based on searching for award space on US Airways recently. There was space available, the Qantas site did not find it.
The first two images below are from the KVS Tool, a paid program which makes searching for airline inventory (and other information) faster.
The Qantas website sometimes shows US Airways space, but it does not always do so. Here’s a search between New York and DC where there is award space on US Airways (Washington National to LaGuardia) but all it displays is space between Washington National and New York JFK on American.
On the other hand the British Airways website is showing plenty of US Airways flights with first class award space open.
American’s website shows US Airways award space.
Of course, US Airways shows award space on their own flights (and only on their own flights and American flights). If there is the lowest award level available, you can book it with partner miles.
The seats were definitely available, but you wouldn’t find it via Qantas. That’s why it can be useful to double and triple check your research with multiple sources to be fully briefed and armed with information for your call.