Insights > How to Find Award Flights

How to Find Award Flights

14 minute read 07 April 2024
greek islands
Written by: Jimmy Yoon

Earning points and miles is fun, but whether you’ve racked up millions or are just getting started, you know the real joy is in redeeming all those points for travel.

Whether you’re planning a luxury vacation to Japan or jumping a couple states to spend Thanksgiving with your family, award flights are the key to flying for pennies on the dollar.

Here’s what you need to know to search award flights and book nearly free flights to just about anywhere on the planet.

What are award fares?

In short, award fares are non-cash prices for flights. “Awards” are the option to book air travel with airline miles instead of money.

When you join an airline’s frequent flyer program, you can collect miles and points through activities like flying, spending with an airline credit card, or converting transferable points (like Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Capital One miles) to your airline account. You can then use these rewards to get airfare, in many cases, for nearly free.

The number of miles and points you need for a ticket varies based on where you’re going, the type of seat you want, and the dates of your travel. Depending on the amount of rewards you have, you might be able to book anything from a nondescript economy seat to a fancy business-class throne that converts into a lie-flat bed.

Booking award flights

Booking flights with your travel rewards is easy. The complicated part is ensuring that you’re getting the best deal.

This is because booking through a credit card reward portal generally doesn’t offer the best value compared to booking with an airline, but each airline program prices their award flights differently. For example, you may be able to fly to Europe from your home airport for 45,000 miles with one airline program, while the same trip may cost just 30,000 miles with a different airline program.

These are the kinds of headaches that can eliminate for you. The legwork’s already done, so you don’t have to research the best ways to use your points. Enter your origin and destination airports, and you’ll instantly know the best loyalty program to use for your travels, along with real-time award availability.

Still, it’s worthwhile to understand how to search award availability yourself. Here’s a quick overview of what to expect when looking for award seats on multiple airlines.

Revenue-based options vs. “saver”-level rewards

Airlines price their award tickets in one of two ways: revenue-based pricing and saver-level pricing.

The price of revenue-based awards is directly proportional to a ticket’s cash price. In other words, the amount of points you’ll pay increases as the cash price of the ticket increases, making the value of your points consistent across different bookings. 

There are a couple huge benefits to revenue-based pricing:

  • Predictable value: You’ll know exactly how much travel you’ll receive from your points.
  • Award-flight availability: Use your points for any available seat on the plane — as long as you’ve got enough points to cover the ticket’s cost.

Southwest famously uses revenue-based pricing. You’ll consistently get a value between 1.3 cents and 1.4 cents for Southwest points. For example, the cash price of a flight from Columbus (CMH) to Portland, Oregon (PDX), is $209 in October 2024.


The same flight costs 14,751 Southwest points (plus $5.60 in taxes and fees). This amounts to a value of 1.37 cents per point.


On the other hand, saver-level award prices are not directly proportional to the cash price of the flight. It’s trickier to assign a firm value to airline miles within these types of programs, because the value depends on factors such as:

  • Your specific route: Some airlines charge a fixed amount based on your origin and destination. For example, all flights from the U.S. to Europe might be the same, whether you’re flying to London or Turkey.
  • The distance you fly: Other airlines charge based on the total distance of your flight. The closer you are to your destination, the less you’ll pay.
  • Flight segments: You may be charged less when booking a nonstop flight as opposed to one with a connection.

Still other airlines use dynamic pricing, a secret algorithm that spits out a seemingly arbitrary award price that can vary by flight.

While these programs are perhaps more complicated, they’re the ones that offer astounding value. As an extreme example, a fancy business class flight from New York (JFK) to Doha, Qatar, costs 70,000 American Airlines miles (plus $7.65 in taxes and fees).

American Airlines

Meanwhile, the exact same seat has an astronomical cash price of $9,210. This gives you a value of more than 13 cents per American Airlines mile — over 9x the value you can expect to get from a Southwest point.

Google Flights

As you can see, it pays to collect saver-level rewards. can help you get the most from your miles by searching all the available flights on various airlines and through multiple different awards programs.

It’s also worth noting that award availability typically isn’t as generous with Saver level awards as revenue-based awards.

Best ways to book award flights within North American

American Airlines

American Airlines uses the “dynamic pricing” model for its awards. You won’t know exactly how much your flight will cost unless you conduct an award search for the specific route and date.

Sprinkled throughout the year, American Airlines routinely offers confusingly low prices for its routes. Chances are that you can find domestic economy award flights from your home airport for 6,000 miles or less each way. For example, here’s award availability between Phoenix (PHX) and Baton Rouge (LFT). Flying 1,000 miles away for just 6,000 American Airlines miles is a steal.

American Airlines

These deals are easy to spot with the American Airlines award map. Just type in your home airport, travel dates, and the amount of miles you’re willing to spend, and the map will show you where you can go.


Delta also harbors extremely low award prices for flights around North America — but they’re peppered among nightmarishly high award prices. 

For short hops, you’ll often pay less than 9,000 miles. There’s also the odd fire-sale seat to a desirable location. Here’s a random award search from Cincinnati (CVG) to San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU) — just 7,500 miles one-way.


Delta miles aren’t particularly handy for travel across the ocean, but they can be an excellent value closer to home.

British Airways

British Airways partners with American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, allowing you to use British Airways Avios points to travel just about anywhere around North America.

For nonstop flights, British Airways often delivers the lowest price. That’s because the airline prices its awards based on two things: the distance of each segment you fly and the dates of your flight. The farther your trip — and the more segments on your itinerary — the more you’ll be charged. For example, nonstop flights from Charlotte to Cancun cost 11,000 points, but flights from Charlotte to Cancun with a connection in Miami cost 19,250 points.

Best ways to book award flights to Europe

United Airlines

United Airlines isn’t exactly known for incredible award prices to Europe, but it’s a go-to for many U.S. travelers because it serves dozens of European destinations.

United also doesn’t pass along fuel surcharges, which are a penalty that some loyalty programs charge in addition to airline miles. Fuel surcharges can tack on potentially hundreds of dollars in fees, so using United’s loyalty program can be a big money-saver.


Avianca is a Colombian airline, but it’s wildly helpful for booking flights on its Star Alliance partners, such as United Airlines, SWISS, and Lufthansa. It’s an excellent way to get to Europe on the cheap.

Transatlantic flights typically cost between 20,000 and 30,000 miles, though it’s possible to find them cheaper. For example, here’s an award search for a one-way economy flight on United Airlines between Chicago and London for just 17,500 Avianca miles.


Avianca also doesn’t pass along fuel surcharges.


Iberia offers competitive award prices to Europe from most of the country — though it does charge by the distance you fly, meaning those on the West Coast will be charged more.

The best use of Iberia Avios is to fly on Iberia. The airline serves many major U.S. hubs, such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, New York, and Miami. Depending on the city, you can fly to Madrid or Barcelona in economy for as little as 17,000 Avios each way. Just note that taxes and fees can be a bit high for some routes.

Check out this award search for flights between Boston and Madrid; 17,000 miles in economy (and an incredible 34,000 Avios in lie-flat business class!).


Even if you aren’t interested in visiting Spain, Europe has a vast network of low-cost airlines you can use to jump over to your actual destination, often for less than $50 each way.

Best ways to book award flights to Asia

American Airlines

Using American Airlines is an easy way to book (nearly) free flights to Asia. Award prices for routes to North Asia can be very competitive, while routes further south are nothing to write home about. Here’s a flight between New York (JFK) and Tokyo (HND) for 35,000 American Airlines miles.

American Airlines

American Airlines partners with carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Malaysia Airlines, giving you ample choices when booking awards to Asia.


ANA is the largest airline in Japan. It serves a handful of U.S. hubs itself (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, etc.), and it also partners with carriers like United Airlines, China Airlines, EVA Airways, and Asiana Airlines to give you loads of options when it comes to Asia travel.

ANA has some excellent award prices to Asia, particularly in business and first-class seats. But there are two big caveats:

  • You can only book round-trip (one-ways aren’t allowed).
  • You may find yourself paying cringe-worthy fuel surcharges.

For example, a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Taipei (TPE) will cost a reasonable 60,000 miles — but you’ll also pay $278 in fuel surcharges.


Depending on what airline you book with ANA miles, the fuel surcharges could even be significantly higher.

For many other sought-after destinations, such as Southern Africa and Australia, ANA is often the cheapest option. It’s not difficult to find round-trip economy flights to Australia for 70,000 miles — or to South Africa for 65,000 miles.


When it comes to the Middle East, American Airlines is a famously good option, thanks to partners like Royal Air Maroc (the flag carrier of Morocco), Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, and Oman Air. Again, the prices are competitive, though not often enough so to write home about. But they’re easy to find and book.

Best award flight options by airline alliance

The “best” award flight options aren’t necessarily most valuable. Travel rewards are supposed to make your travels cheaper and easier. Don’t overly stress about getting the absolute best return for your miles — use them in a way that will make you happy.

To that end, it’s worth knowing how to uncover as many flight times, routes, and dates as possible. When you search for award flights, the options you see on whichever airline website you’re using may not be comprehensive. Many airline loyalty programs don’t show all partner airlines. In fact, some airlines require that you actually call to book for a specific partner airline. Inconvenient, to say the least.

Generally speaking, you’ll find the most partner-airline award availability when booking through the following loyalty programs.

For Star Alliance partner airlines, use:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • ANA
  • Avianca
  • United Airlines

For Oneworld partner airlines, use:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Qantas

For SkyTeam partner airlines, use:

  • Air France
  • Delta

These sites are far from perfect, but they’re often superior to competing sites to find award availability.

Other tips for finding award space

Flexibility is the key to finding award space. But no matter how much of a pro you are at redeeming miles and points, sometimes there just isn’t any (reasonably priced) award availability. In this case, there are three things you should try.

1. Be flexible with your origin airports

Search for award availability from airports that are not your home airport. For example, if you live in Oakland, you can check for flights from San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), and even Sacramento (SMF) to your destination.

If you’re looking for an international flight, you should also search for flights from major U.S. hubs to your destination. Flights that start in major airports (think Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, etc.) can be significantly less expensive than flying from your nearest airport. It can even be worth booking a separate flight to one of these airports to catch a cheaper award flight.

2. Be flexible with your destination airport

If you can’t seem to find award availability to the specific city you’d like to visit, search for flights to nearby cities. In many cases, it’s very cheap to take a short hop to your final destination. For example, if you can’t find a reasonably priced flight between your home airport and Paris (CDG), search for flights to Barcelona (BCN), Dublin (DUB), and Milan (MXP) instead. It’s not difficult to find a sub-$50 flight to Paris from any of these cities.

Beyond that, you can find screaming bargains by letting the deals dictate your travel. Explore is one of the best award-search tools for this very purpose. It tells you the cheapest award flights from your home airport. You can filter by continent or country — or, if you’re truly a free spirit, you can simply choose “Anywhere.”

3. Be flexible with your travel dates

If all else fails, you’ll need to be flexible with your travel dates. This isn’t always possible; some folks have rigid vacation days. But just know that even minor flexibility can exponentially improve your odds of finding the perfect award seat.

4. Search and book in the optimal time window

Award seats are released nearly a year in advance and, if there’s additional availability, a few weeks before departure, so the best time to book is typically 11-12 months in advance, or around two weeks before your trip.

Using to find the best deals and award availability

The award search tool distills the complicated award charts, frustrating blackout dates, persnickety routing rules, obscure travel partners, and all the other annoyances of researching and booking award travel down to one simple award-search box. As long as you know your origin, destination, and travel dates, you can instantly find the best award flights for your trip — even if you’re a total newbie.

As you can see, you’ll also need to specify the number of passengers, the class of travel you want to fly (fancy or regular), and whether you’re looking for a one-way or round-trip flight.

After you’ve entered this info, you’ll be taken to a long list of award search results, which you can filter by your preferred airline or loyalty program. You’ll also have the option to view only the results that you can book with the points and miles you currently have (you’ll just need to add your points balances to

Additionally, you can sort the results by the shortest duration, lowest price, or a healthy balance between the two (called picks).

The search-results page will display your best flight options, along with scannable information regarding which rewards you can use to book.

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