If I want to use American miles to book a flight on Air Tahiti Nui — a partner some AA agents aren’t aware of — I’ll look up the flight availability on ExpertFlyer first. Once I find an available seat, I’ll call and ask an American agent for the specific flight and fare class I see on ExpertFlyer. If they cannot locate it, I’ll even use the airline’s two-character IATA code to help the agent find the flight I’m trying to book with miles (if you don’t know this code, see below; it’s included in the ExpertFlyer results).
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For international flights, you are talking about an entirely different situation. Much more critically than better food and drinks, first- and business-class seats in most international aircraft convert into beds that are actually pretty darn comfortable. On a flight back from Tokyo in first class a few years ago, I was actually disappointed when we began our final descent; when is the last time that happened in coach?
Setting the benchmark for ease of use and functionality, Google Flights has become a go to flight search tool for any travel that doesn’t require the advanced routing and functionality of ITA Matrix. Tracking across multiple dates, destinations, and cabins, Google Flights will let you track individual airlines or alliances, choose the number of stops, and will wrap up any changes into an easily digestible email showing which prices have dropped/risen. If you have Google Now, you can have the price changes sent directly to the app, or you can see all tracked flight in the drop-down on the left of the Google Flights homepage.
Most cash bookings can be upgraded with Avios either at the time of booking or later on, depending on availability. Only the lowest economy (World Traveller) fares (Q, O and G) cannot be upgraded with Avios at any time. There must be reward flight availability in the next cabin for you to be able to upgrade to it using Avios. You won’t be able to upgrade with Avios at the airport or on board.
Sidestep.com: In early September, Sidestep added a unique fare alert product that allows you to track a specific airfare. To use this service, you need to first search for a fare between two cities. Once that's done you'll see the option to track the fare, and you can choose to track either nonstop or connecting/direct flights over a flexible travel date period of between 7 and 30 days in either direction of the dates for which you originally searched, which is a unique feature. Sidestep does not (yet anyway) offer a fare listing service.
ITA Software Classic Matrix Tool - This tool allows you to search for fares in different sales cities so that you can accurately plan purchases in any city around the world. Additionally it has an undocumented feature that allows you to specify specific fare buckets. If you want to, for instance, search for A bucket availability on the HKG-JFK route on Cathay Pacific you would enter the search as From: HKG:: cx+ / f bc=a and To: JFK:: cx+ / f bc=a. You can substitute the "cx" with the proper airline code for the airline you wish to check, and substitute the "bc=a" with "bc=X" where X is the fare bucket you wish to check. If you wish to check multiple booking-codes and not place any restriction on the airline format the request as JFK::/ f bc=x|bc=y|bc=z to check the x, y, and z buckets. Another undocumented feature is the ability to request multiple segments on specific carriers (useful for mileage runs). If you want to travel from Los Angeles to New York and take 4 American Airlines segments, you would enter the departure city as LAX::AA AA AA AA and the destination city as JFK::AA AA AA AA. This will search for a 4 segment connection in each direction on AA. You can also force connections in specific cities. So, for instance, if you wanted to connect in STL from LAX to JFK on American Airlines you would enter the departure city as LAX::AA STL AA and the destination city as JFK::AA STL AA You can find the syntax by clicking "advanced routing codes" and then clicking on the little question mark next to the routing codes box. There is also a useful discussion of how to use this tool to the fullest on Flyertalk.
The member fares are typically specially negotiated fares — sometimes called "consolidator" fares — that are offered from time to time to various travel agents. You cannot book fares on Bestfares.com; rather you have to call a toll-free number to complete your purchase. But like Farecompare.com below, Bestfares.com provides a good barometer of where fares are at any given moment, and the fares are updated throughout the day.
This is a much debated topic! Our latest Twitter poll revealed that 86% of British travellers don’t know when they should be booking their flights to bag the best deals. By creating Price Alerts, you’ll be able to check the price of your chosen flight, and book when the flight ticket is the lowest. In general, you should be looking to book your flight no later than seven weeks before you want to jet off. However, the exact time frame does differ according to your chosen destination. To get exact timings on when to book the cheapest flights, try our The Best Time To Book tool.
This information flow can be incredibly helpful when trying to book award seats not available online or with programs that have challenging phone agents. If you wanted to redeem Etihad miles for a business class flight from Prague (PRG) to Seoul (ICN) on Czech Airlines for the amazing price of 25,610 Etihad miles, don’t rely on hit-or-miss Etihad phone agents to find space; use ExpertFlyer and have the flight number and date in hand for this one-of-a-kind award flight:
The best time to check in with airports is typically around 24 hours before your departure. You can also sign up for flight alerts, which allow you to program your flight or preferred flight for an upgrade. The alert will automatically search for open availability and let you know as soon as it’s open, giving you the best chance to scoot on up to the front.