To wrap up my series on using different Star Alliance programs to book awards, I summarize below my findings and experiences. To recap, I wanted to examine the time and effort required to book two different award tickets using eight different Star Alliance frequent flier programs:
-Air Canada Aeroplan
-ANA Mileage Club
Award 1 was a transpacific first/business class award: LAX-ICN in Asiana first class with an overnight layover in Seoul, then continuing on ICN-BKK in Thai business class.
Award 2 was a transatlantic award, ZRH-FRA in Swiss business class with an overnight connection in Frankfurt, continuing on to FRA-JFK in Lufthansa first class.
The previous posts in the series can be found at the links below.
Part 1: Booking award 1 with MileagePlus, KrisFlyer, LifeMiles and Aeroplan.
Part 2: Booking award 1 with ANA, Asiana, Aegean, and Copa.
Part 3: Booking award 2 using MileagePlus, KrisFlyer, LifeMiles, and Aeroplan.
Part 4: Booking award 2 with ANA, Asiana, Aegean, and Copa
United MileagePlus: MileagePlus remains a good program to use for simple itineraries that can be found online. The lack of fuel surcharges, an easy-to-use award search, and generally helpful phone agents make the United program one that is still worthwhile. For more complex itineraries or those that do not show up with the online award search, however, MileagePlus is useless. As agents are no longer able to piece together itineraries segment-by-segment onto a single award, creating any routing not suggested by the award search system results in the itinerary pricing out as multiple awards.
Singapore KrisFlyer: Despite the lack of an online partner award search, KrisFlyer has competent agents who speak English clearly. With both awards, agents were able to quickly find and price out the exact flights I wanted.
Avianca LifeMiles: The online award search works well for simpler itineraries, but is unable to piece together more complex routings or overnight connections, even if it finds availability on a per-segment basis. Phone agents are unable to put together complex itineraries, and communication difficulties are not uncommon. The email address I was told to contact to try to book awards did not respond, even after multiple follow-up emails. Despite the value that LifeMiles offers, I’m inclined to agree with those who advise staying away if an award can’t be booked online.
Air Canada Aeroplan: The Aeroplan online award search is easy to use and displays a good amount of generally accurate availability. Unfortunately not every possible itinerary is displayed online and calling in is required for those that do not show up. That said, Aeroplan phone agents are highly competent and the only (minor) complaint that many have voiced is that hold times can be long. In my experiences, however, this has never been a significant issue.
ANA Mileage Club: The ANA online award search has long been heralded as one of the best tools for searching Star Alliance award space, and my experience booking both of these awards provides more reinforcement of that fact. In addition to being quite easy to use, it offered the most comprehensive results out of all of the eight programs I examined. Moreover, ANA phone agents are very competent and, despite minor communication issues, are on the whole very easy to communicate with.
Asiana Club: The lack of an online partner award search plus widely variable (more bad than good) phone reps make Asiana Club a difficult program to deal with, despite some great value redemptions on its award chart. Hold times can be long, phone agents are often difficult to communicate with, and pricing discrepancies can arise when itineraries have to be pieced together segment-by-segment. Moreover, while finding flights and creating a reservation are handled by one department, actually ticketing the reservation is handled by another. Unless booking a simple itinerary, working with Asiana Club requires a good amount of patience and persistence and — in my book at least — is not worth the hassle.
Aegean Miles+Bonus: As with Singapore and Asiana, Aegean does not have an online partner award search. Supposedly there is a form online that can be emailed in to request partner awards, but I was unable to find it, and calling would obviously be a quicker option. Phone agents are easy to communicate with and agent quality is variable but good on the whole. It would be advisable to have a good idea of what can and can’t be done before calling in, as hanging up and calling again (I had to with 2/4 agents I spoke to) may be required.
Copa ConnectMiles: The easy-to-navigate online award search is able to find some itineraries, but not all. Notably, being logged in to an account increases the number of options displayed. Phone agents on the whole are easy to communicate with, but the majority refused to even run an award search, citing insufficient miles in the account. Out of the two agents who did search, one quickly came back with what I wanted at the correct price, while the other quoted a price significantly different from what the award chart lists and refused to provide further explanation. Of note, only 50,000 miles per year may be purchased, and Copa currently does not partner with any transferrable points currencies.
While my time spent working with these programs provided some good data points and insight into the relative ease of booking awards, this was hardly an objective or even remotely scientific examination. The most notable limitation is of course that I did not actually ticket any of these awards. As the ticketing process can itself present issues, I was unable to explore how each program handles ticketing problems. That said, with each award that was correctly priced out over the phone, I took the call right up to the point of ticketing with each agent, in the interest of getting as accurate a measure of total phone call time as possible. Moreover, my experiences are just a few in a myriad of data points that are already out there. While hopefully a source of useful information, what I found is certainly not definitive and I encourage those of you who have had either similar or contrary experiences to please share in the comments.