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Using your credit card points or airline miles can be among the most frustrating things on earth. You’re not alone for thinking so. Even the most basic things with points and miles, like knowing where to search for space, or how to transfer your points is so complicated and convoluted that most people give up. Credit card points and airline miles really can unlock the most wonderful trips imaginable, and with a little bit of expertise, you can find seats with ease, all the time.

First Things First, Transferrable Points Give You More Hope…

One of the first steps in creating confusion is when you learn that each airline charges a different amount of miles between any two cities, the cash price doesn’t matter. The second thing is that seats are extremely limited when using miles. To better your chances, collecting credit card points which can be transferred to many airlines greatly improves your chances of finding space you can sit in, with at least one airline. I recommend Amex Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards as well as Starwood Preferred Guest points.

Step Two: Knowing Where To Look Is Most Of The Battle…

Some airlines have great websites to help you find space to use your miles. Others, absolutely terrible. Some airline sites are actually so good that you’ll not only find seats for flights with them, but for all of their airline partners as well. On that front, in case you didn’t know, you can use your miles for seats on partners of your airline, as well as the airline you have miles with. For searching all the OneWorld airlines, British Airways and Qantas offer the best sites to find seats on any of their carriers. For Star Alliance, United and Aeroplan are tough to beat for seats on any of their partners. For SkyTeam, Delta and Air France are pretty tops.

Step Three: Understand The Beast. Seats Come And GO…

There’s endless mythical bull***t posts about the “perfect day to find seats”. That doesn’t exist. There are patterns though. Seats using miles are generally most available when they are first released, roughly 331 days in advance, terrible again shortly after that; and better again as the date of the flight approaches. For last minute sporadic’s, availability generally reaches a new best the week before the flight or closer. Essentially, plan really early or be prepared to wing it last minute. If neither solution works, there’s a fantastic option which we’ll cover below…

Step Four: Search Like A Pro, Fly Like A Pro…

There are paid tools which can do all the work for you and they even offer free trials. AwardNexus and ExpertFlyer allow you to search for seats on almost any airline just once, and get emailed if the space ever opens. They’ll search every day for you, and if someone returns some seats, or the airline opens up space, you’ll be first to know, with a friendly email and no obligation to take the seat. These services also allow you to view up to a full calendar month of space at a time, while searching multiple airlines or alliances simultaneously. AwardNexus is very easy to use and tough to beat for many airlines. ExpertFlyer is a bit of a learning curve, but very powerful!

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