One of our fellow Flyertalkers has a availability search engine in beta testing called Award Nexus. We got to try it out at the Ann Arbor DO this past weekend and it shows great promise. It will handle American, United and Star Alliance searches more efficiently than Expert Flyer which has a better program for Skyteam.
Wanaflyforless aka Nathan was the speaker in Ann Arbor and, as always, I always learn something from this amazing young man. He mentored me when I started in the hobby and still amazes all of us with his understanding of promos and programs. He recommended Airline Route Mapper for searching all available routings for your international awards, and checking segment by segment for availability then contacting the airlines by phone when you have all the segments plugged together.
As additional suggestions he follows my theme of diversification and saving in more than one program. When you need to get there, the more options you have the better your chances are. Nathan is also a firm believer that the best award availability is just before departure. I mean within a week of the flights which is hard for many of you, but my experience has confirmed his opinion.
And lastly, as much bragging rights as you’d like to have for saving $20,000 on that award ticket you just bought, your savings is really only what you would have paid for the ticket. If you will not buy miles at 1 cent each when they are available (and often are through US Airways), then how can you claim yours are worth more than the 1 cent you could have bought them for. That is reality, and I strongly believe his thinking. Buy Low and Redeem High, but they are only worth what you are willing to pay for them.
Personally I’m trying to acquire at less than a penny per mile. Free miles of course are the best.