Today, I am starting a series called Tools I Use so that people new to Travel Hacking will have these tools in their toolbelt because it’s much easier to teach people to fish than it is to give them a fish everyday.
As we live in Canada, the most prevalent points collecting program is Aeroplan. Aeroplan allows for booking on Air Canada and Star Alliance partners so one of the first things you should familiarize yourself with is how to determine your routings using Star Alliance partners. In a previous post, I covered off airlines with low/no fuel surcharges so reference that article to find out what airlines you should fly (if cost is an issue for you).
There are two parts to finding and booking award flights. The first part is finding the right route to fly and the second is finding availability. For the purposes of this post I will not be covering finding availability but stay tuned for the next part in this series where I cover off my favorite tool to find availability.
To help you understand the best way to use this tool, I have selected a route to demonstrate the tool. That route is Calgary to Sydney, Australia.
Star Alliance Route Map
The Star Alliance Route Map found at http://star-alliance.innosked.com/ is the go to resource for finding what routes the Star Alliance flies. Because it is run and controlled by the Star Alliance, you can be sure the routes are accurate and up to date. There are other tools out there but this is my go to tool.
You will notice a few menu headings at the top of the page, Destinations, Routes and Flights. I only use the Destinations option because it provides me with everything I need to move onto my next step, which is finding availability
So here’s where you need to trust me. It may seem a bit counterintuitive but from experience the best way to move forward is to start at the end. What do I mean by that? Well, what I do is find the routes that connect to my final destination. In this example, it’s Sydney, Australia.
The first thing we do is click on Destinations and type in Sydney or SYD, the IATA code for Sydney.
Make sure you do not check the “Include Connections” or “Include Codeshares” checkbox as that will confuse the issue. Click on Search and you will get a list of airports/airlines that fly to Sydney.
While the map is sometimes useful, we are after the information in the tab labeled “Departures Results List”.
When we open that list up, we are given all the airports and airlines that fly to Sydney direct. This is an important points if you are looking to reduce the number of connections you have in your award travel (I know I do).
Now this is where experience comes into play. As a beginner, you won’t know what routes you should fly but referring back to my list of airlines that do not charge fuel/carrier surcharge is a good place to start. Look at the list that is returned from the route map and cross reference from the no/low fuel surcharge list. You then need to think geography with your goal being to get home.
What I have done below is highlight a few airports/airlines that I would use to continue my search.
I have highlighted the following routes:
- SYD-AKL – I know that Air New Zealand does not charge fuel/carrier surcharge and there is a direct route from AKL-YVR (Vancouver). I also know that there are a ton of daily flights from YVR-YYC (Calgary) and there is typically a lot of award availability.
- SYD-SFO – I know that United does not charge fuel/carrier surcharge and that there is a direct flight from SFO-YYC but award space is sometimes limited and due to the flight schedule, you may be required to overnight in SFO …. and because I love the city, I don’t mind that at all.
- SYD-HND – I know that ANA was known to charge fuel surcharge but because Japanese law does not allow for it to be collected, I am safe to use this airline. HND (Haneda in Tokyo) is also the sister airport of NRT (Narita in Tokyo) and can be reached with a bus. I also know that NRT is directly serviced by Air Canada with a daily flight and while Air Canada charges fuel/carrier surcharge, they cannot because the flight is originating out of Japan.
With this information, I would likely look for the route from SYD-HND/NRT-YYC because it offers the most direct route.
So now you have the way home, all you need to do if turn the route around and you now have your way to Sydney.
Start at the end and end at the beginning. It’s as simple as that. Again, as a beginner, you will need to experiment with the route map to see. You may be tempted to take a shortcut and use the Flights menu item in the map but the results will be limited and won’t give you the best routing especially if you care about fuel surcharge.
As you can see, if you took the shortcut, you would be left with Air Canada flights from Toronto or Vancouver (think very high fuel/carrier surcharge) or a United flight from Calgary to San Francisco to Sydney (no fuel surcharge but very questionable hard/soft product).
Let me know if you have any questions about the post above through the comments below. I’m happy to help answer your questions.