Free or near free travel is the goal here, and not just getting place to place for almost nothing, but doing so in classes of travel we wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. Now that the earning side of things has become almost second nature to me, the one thing I'm still adjusting to is setting up flights using awards.
If you are new to this, as I am as well, then you may find that award space is a pain to handle... exactly why there are paid services for booking these flights. One of the issues that I recently ran into was trying to figure out my return booking for Emirates, with a stopover in Dubai. I didn't actually properly figure this out in advance, thought I thought I had. Due to that error, I had to switch directions to get my desired flight on Emirates in first class.
So how should you be booking your flights on Emirates? Well the upfront question is fairly easy to answer, make use of Alaska Airlines miles for this. Alaska Airlines is an awesome value for Emirates flights costing only 90,000 miles in first class to the Middle East, and only an additional 10,000 miles to Africa. Knowing this, I searched for award space, found some where I wanted it and then moved miles around to the proper place in order to get the flights. Since Dubai was being planned as a stopover point in the trip, this requires Alaska Airlines to be called as a stopover supposedly cannot be booked online... at least that was the advice from other online.
After attempting this, quickly it became apparent that the award space that was shown was not how things were going to pan out for me. When searching for award space, I had looked at it incorrectly come to find out and the Alaska Airlines employee helped me out here. Looking at my schedule, I had searched a through flight to find business class award space out of South Africa, then looked at a separate trip to US from Dubai to find the first class award. Now on some level I was aware this might not work since there was no separate business class award space from South Africa to Dubai only... but I tried my luck anyways.
What was learned? Well the best way to actually search was to set this up as a single trip but a multi-city trip. This does require you to go into Alaska Airlines advanced search, look for the "All Search Options" link at the bottom of the reservations area. Once through the the advanced search, you can set things up as a multi-city trip. This will give you the actual award availability, and likely this will allow you to be more confident about the booking. Also, this may alleviate the issues of having to book over the phone as well, though I did not have a chance to try.
Since this did not go the way I had hoped, the thought here is that Emirates may open up additional space in the future, as that date I may try to get them to switch my flights around and take the additional 10,000 miles. This would save me over 40,000 American Airlines miles that would be better used for another trip. Easily worth the $150 fee to put those points back into my account. For now we are booked, but I'll keep my eye out for a better itinerary that would save me points overall.