Update: ANA has partially blocked their Star Alliance search function. See either of these 2 posts for info on how to work around it:
-The Star Alliance is the largest airline alliance which gives great options for using miles on partners.
These are the 27 current member airlines:
-Air New Zealand
-LOT Polish Airlines
-South African Airways
-A great search engine is ANA.
-You need to first signup for an ANA account:https://cam.ana.co.jp/psz/amc/jsp/regist0_e.jsp
-You can then use this link to search for Star Alliance award flights:https://aswbe-i.ana.co.jp/p_per/sky_ip_per_en/preAwdSearchLogin.do
-Click "Use Star Alliance Member Airlines"
Perform the search, for example type in JFK to TLV.
-By default only nonstop flights are shown, for this route the Continental flights from EWR to TLV are shown.
Click "connecting flights" to display more flights.
Each leg will have:
- Which means that the class selected doesn't exist
x Which means awards are not available
OK Which means awards are available
-Click on the arrows above the flights to go back or more forward a day.
-Click "search again" to change the dates.
-ANA search is far from exhaustive, it does not search all possibilities. To really search all options do a regular fare search on Orbitz and find all of the Star Alliance options. Then enter in each leg separately into ANA.
For example search for JFK-IST and then IST-TLV to go on Turkish via Istanbul, or JFK-MUC and then MUC-TLV to go on Lufthansa via Munich, etc.
-If a flight is found on ANA it can be booked with the miles from any Star Alliance carrier. The only exception is United which intentionally blocks availability when they feel like it, this is called Starnet blocking. The mileage rate will be whatever the carrier you are redeeming with charges, not what the airline you are flying on charges.
-ANA is the best Star Alliance search engine, but it is worth also using Continental.com. There are definitely times that Continental.com finds an option that ANA doesn't You do not need to be logged in, just enter the cities and click "reward search."
-Once you find flights that work you need to call up the carrier on which you have the miles to book the ticket. Tell them that you called in earlier and already found flights that worked for you, and ask if you can give them the flight numbers. Sometimes they will let you do this other times they'll want to find the flights themselves.
-Many agents are unfortunately incompetent and don't know how to properly look for partner availability. When you get an agent like this just politely hang up and call again (repeat as necessary)
-Every ticketing airline has their own stopover, connection, and routing rules. They are not always enforced. Air Canada and USAirways are both pretty lenient and allow for multiple connections/stopovers. United is pretty strict.
There's lots more, but that's all I have time for now...post your own tips here!