Stretch Your Frequent Flyer Miles by Taking Advantage of Great Award Redemption Options (2019)
Every frequent flyer program has their own award chart. Many of these programs have “sweet spots”, that require fewer than the normal number of miles for frequent flyer tickets to specific destinations. While we’ve provided advice for figuring out the least expensive award option for an upcoming trip, it is also useful to be award of some of the best options that exist for redeeming your points and miles.
- Cheap tickets to Hawaii. Normally it takes 45,000 miles to book an award ticket to Hawaii. But, depending on which airline has award space, and where you are flying from, you can get there for only 15-30,000 miles round-trip, the same price as a typical domestic award ticket. Flying upfront typically requires 80,000 miles, and there are several options that drop the price to around 60,000 miles, but you can fly there in business on United for only 25,000 Turkish Airlines miles round trip, or on Delta for only 45,000 Korean Airline miles. You can get a flat-bed seat using Korean miles for the same price as a coach seat using Delta miles. Best Frequent Flyer Award Redemptions to Hawaii.
- Short Distance flights (anywhere in the world). With some programs, you can fly short distances for hardly any miles. This can be a huge savings, especially for flights that would cross a regional boundary. For example, it would typically cost at least 20,000 miles to fly form Southern Europe to Morocco, because you are flying between the Europe Zone and the Africa Zone, but you could fly there for only 6,000 British Airways points, as long as you can take a nonstop flight. Fly Short Distances Using Fewer Miles by Taking Advantage of Distance-Based Frequent Flyer Programs.
- Dallas or Miami (or as far away as Nashville) to Cancun for 7,500 British Airways points.
- Barcelona to Copenhagen for 8,000 United points.
- Los Angeles to Sun Valley, Idaho for 5,000 Alaska points.
- Miami to Turks and Caicos for 11,000 Iberia points (round trip).
- Shanghai to Taipei for 8,000 United points.
- New York to Saint Thomas for 7,500 British Airways points.
- London to Switzerland for 6,000 British Airways points.
- Salt Lake City to LA, and then later LA to San Diego, for 5,000 total Alaska points.
- Sydney to Melbourne for 6,000 British Airways points
- Boston to Philadelphia round trip for 11,000 Iberia points (or 7,500 LATAM miles).
- Hong Kong to Vietnam for 6,000 British Airways points.
- Trips with Lots of Stops. If you are planning on visiting a number of different destinations as part of the same trip, you can get some incredible deals, by taking advantage of distance-based programs. JAL, Cathay Pacific, and ANA charge based on the total mileage you fly, rather than per flight, allowing you to string together many different airplane flights as part of the same award. For example, you could fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo, then Hong Kong, then Sydney, and back to Los Angeles for only 60,000 miles in economy, and 155,000 in first. This is far cheaper than just a typical round trip to Australia. See More of the World with Inexpensive Multi-destination Award Tickets.
- Getting to Europe with Promo Awards. Two of the leading European frequent flyer programs offer promotional award rates for flights to Europe, which require as little as half the normal number of miles. For example, you can travel to Europe for as few as 25,000 miles round trip (plus fuel surcharges). Flying Blue offers promotional rates for Air France and KLM (Netherlands). Miles and More offers promotional rates for Lufthansa (Germany), LOT Polish, Austrian, and Swiss. Fly to Europe Using Half the Number of Miles Using Promo Awards}.
- Cheap flights to the Caribbean and Mexico. Most frequent flyer programs treat Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America as part of a different zone than the United States. Normal frequent flyer tickets require 35,000 miles for coach, and 60,000 for business. However, some programs treat at least some of these countries as part of the North American zone, and therefore offer award tickets for the normal domestic price of 25,000 miles for coach, and 45-50,000 miles for business. Turkish Airline's program is even cheaper, allowing you to book awards on nonstop Star Alliance (United, Air Canada) flights to Mexico, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, and Bermuda for only 20,000 in coach, and 30,000 in business. Best Frequent Flyer Award Redemptions to the Caribbean and Central America.
- Cheap award flights to the Pacific via Honolulu. Thai airlines offers exceptionally inexpensive award flights from Hawaii to the South Pacific or Australia. They are a member of Star Alliance and a transfer partner of Citibank and Marriott. Round trip prices are 40,000 in economy, 60,000 in business and 80,000 in first class. Often the cheapest way to book award tickets to Pacific is to book an award ticket from Hawaii, rather than your home airport. Then you'd book a separate award (or cash ticket) to Hawaii, taking advantage of one of the program that provides discounted rewards.
- Cross-country flights on United using Turkish Airlines miles. Unless you are taking a shorter flight, it typically requires 25,000 miles for an award ticket within the United States, and 50,000 miles in business. However, there is a little known opportunity to fly for about half this rate. Turkish Airlines offers special rates for nonstop flights within a country. By taking advantage of those rates, you can book an economy award ticket for only 15,000 miles, and a coach ticket for only 25,000 miles. Turkish is part of the Star Alliance, so you can book these awards on United Airlines flights, as long as they are non-stops. Best Frequent Flyer Award Redemptions for Domestic Flights.
- Discounts to Southern South America. Most frequent flyer programs divide South America into a Northern and a Southern zone. Normal award prices for a round trip to Argentina, Chile, or other spots in the southern half of South America, require 60,000 miles. A few frequent flyer programs, like Korean Airlines, treat the entire continent as a single zone. Because they need to set an average price for the entire continent, they only require 50,000 miles, regardless of where you fly. For similar reasons, Flying Blue is sometimes a good option for these flights, but with their dynamic award pricing, the required number of miles varies wildly.
- Bargain Awards to Europe. Other than taking advantage of award sales, the trick to low-priced awards to Europe is to book a ticket on an airline that doesn't charge fuel surcharges, and use a program that requires fewer than the ordinary number of miles. For reference, a typical round trip award ticket to Europe costs 60,000 points in Economy, and around 115-125,000 points in Business. The most exceptional bargains are:
- Flying nonstop on Aer Lingus with British Airways or Aer Lingus points. Economy class tickets during Iberia's expansive non-peak season require only 26,000 miles round trip from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto, and 32,500 miles from Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle. You'll need to pay additional miles, or make your own way from Ireland, to your final destination. British Airways is a partner with Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and Marriott.
- Flying nonstop on Delta with Virgin Atlantic points. Economy class tickets during non-peak times only cost 20,000 Virgin Atlantic points from the East and Central parts of the US, and 30,000 points from the Western part. These seem like one-way prices, but are actually the round trip cost. This isn't as good of a deal for flights to the UK, as Virgin Atlantic will add surcharges, even though Delta doesn't normally charge them themselves. Virgin Atlantic is a partner with each of the major transferable point programs.
- Flying business class on Delta with Korean or Alitalia points. You'll only need to pay 80,000 points for a round trip business class ticket. And with Korean, you can use a free stopover to visit two different cities for the same price. Alitalia is a partner with Membership Rewards, and both airlines are partners with Marriott.
- Flying business class on United with Asiana points. As with using Korean or Alitalia points with Delta, you'll only need 80,000 points. Unfortunately, Asiana is only a partner with Marriott. If you have Membership Rewards, you'd have to pay 88,000 points using ANA.
- Flying First Class with Asiana miles. Along with charging 80,000 points for business class, Asiana only charges 100,000 points (round trip) for a true first class ticket. If you fly United, you won't have to pay fuel surcharges. But, it may be worthwhile to pay some extra money in fees to enjoy's Lufthansa's superior first-class experience.
- Any long flight using JAL miles. JAL is a distance-based program that is an exceptionally good value on longer-distance awards, especially in business and first class. Even better, they charge based on the total miles flown, so you won't pay more (or much more) if you have to make connections, or want to add a few additional stops. Whenever you need to travel a long way, JAL tends to be your least expensive option. For example:
- To Australia. American Airlines would charge 80,000 / 140,000 / 180,000 miles for economy / business / first class round trip tickets between New York and Sydney. With JAL, you would need as little as 60,000 / 100,000 / 155,000.
- To India. American Airlines would charge 70,000 / 130,000 / 170,000 miles for round trip tickets between New York and Delhi. JAL would require 60,000 / 100,000 / 155,000 miles.
- First Class on Cathay Pacific to Africa. Getting to Africa usually requires a lot of points. Typical economy class tickets require around 80,000 points, business class tickets around 150-160,000 points, and true first-class tickets between 200-300,000 points. If you want an incredible flying experience, you can take advantage of a slightly unusual option by flying to Africa via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. You'll get two long flights with one of the world's best first-class experiences, for only 140,000 Alaska miles, less than the cost of a typical business class award. However, it does take little bit longer, especially if you aren't leaving from the West Coast.
- Cheap flights on ANA / JAL to Japan. Award tickets to Japan typically require 60-70,000 miles in economy and 120-140,000 in business. However, both of Japan's airlines offer special award deals when you fly on their own aircraft. You can fly round trip for 40,000 points in coach during the non-peak season; or 75-80,000 in business (and with JAL, 110,000 miles in true First Class), on certain days of the week. JAL departs from Boston, Chicago, Dallas, LA, NYC, San Diego, San Francisco, and Vancouver, and partners with SBG.. ANA departs from LA, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, DC, NYC, Chicago, Houston, and Vancouver, and partners with Membership Rewards and Marriott.
- Flights within South America. For flights from anywhere in South America to anywhere else in South America, Singapore Airlines only requires 12,500 miles in economy, and 20,000 miles in business class. Korean Airlines offers the same pricing, but requires a round trip purchase.
- Getting to India via Asia or Europe. Flights all the way to India, or other spots on the that side of the world, normally require about 80-100,000 miles in coach, 150-200,000 miles in business, and well over 200,000 in first. Although, as described above, there are a few bargains, if you can book an award on ANA or JAL through Tokyo. The other way to get there for fewer miles is to make your own way to Europe, or closer destinations in Asia, and then take advantage of award chart sweet spots for the rest of the journey.
- Through Hong Kong. You can use Cathay Pacific miles to fly from Hong Kong to India for only 25,000 Alaska miles round trip in economy, 45,000 miles in business, and 55,000 in first.
- Through Tokyo. With JAL and ANA,you can fly from Tokyo to India for as few as 25-30,000 miles round trip in economy, 55-60,000 in business, and 80-105,000 miles in first. That is a great deal, but it can be an even a better deal with Alaska Airlines miles. Alaska only requires 30,000 miles in coach, 50,000 miles in business, and 60,000 miles in first, to fly JAL round trip from Tokyo to India, year-round. You can combine these flights with any well-priced award or cash price to Japan (without having to fly nonstop on JAL and ANA).
- Through Europe. If you can pick up a good bargain to Europe, you can save miles by buying a separate award ticket from Europe to India, the Maldives, or other central Asian locations.
- Getting to Australia via Asia. Often the best way to get to Australia is to book a separate award ticket, or inexpensive cash ticket, to Eastern Asia, and then book an award ticket from there to Australia. Not only can this save you points, it greatly increases the number of possible options for award space, and lets you take advantage of the often fierce price competition on flights between the US and China,
- From Hong Kong. You can fly round trip from Hong Kong to Australia for only 35,000 United miles in economy, or 60,000 United or Alaska miles in business.
- From China or Korea. You can fly round trip from China to Australia for only 40,000 United miles in economy, or 80,000 miles in business.
- Hidden city ticketing to Australia. Many frequent flyer programs require fewer miles for trips to the Pacific islands, than to Australia or New Zealand. However, it is sometimes possible to travel to those islands by routing through Australia or New Zealand, without paying any extra miles. You could book a trip to an "Oceania" destination, leave the airport in Australia, and never bother taking your final flight.
- To South America via the Caribbean or Central America. United only charges 12,500 miles in coach, and 20,000 in business, each way, to get to Northern South America, if you leave from Caribbean or Central America, and 15,000 / 25,000 miles if you leave from Mexico. This probably won't save you any miles, if you simply combine it with a typical separate award ticket from your home airport to one of these departure regions. However, if you can get to one of these other locations very cheaply, or want to visit both as part of a single trip, this can be a very good deal.
- Africa via Senegal on South African Airlines. class-africa-50000-miles-round trip/ Frequent Miler points out that you can take the South African Airlines flight from D.C. to Senegal for only 40,000 Virgin Atlantic points round trip in economy, and 50,000 points round trip in business. Compare that to a typical cost of over 100,000 miles to fly business class to Africa. From there, you could fly round trip elsewhere in Africa for only 30,000 ANA miles in economy, or 55,000 in business.
British Airways is the most famous, and often the cheapest, option for short-distance flights, with flights starting at 6,000 points in coach, and 13,000 points in business. But, depending on whether non-stops are available, whether you are flying round trip, and what type of points you have, Iberia, LATAM, Cathay, or JAL may offer an even better deal.
For Star Alliance Airlines, United Airlines has an 8,000 point short-distance option that you can use for flights up to 800 miles, within a single world region (but not within the US). For flights within the United States, there are a number of useful options, most notably only 5,000 points for short flights on Alaska Airlines.
A few examples of the many possibilities:
Lufthansa also offers good rates, however premium cabin rates are higher than Thai's program and Lufthansa isn't transfer partners with the main credit card reward programs. Another well-priced option is flying Qantas, round trip from Honolulu, for 52,000 British Airways points.
Even though Asiana splits South America into two parts, they have incredibly cheap award prices for business class travel to Southern South America, only requiring 70,000 miles round trip, rather than the more typical 100,000+ miles.
But, if you are willing to travel off-peak, you can fly for an even fewer miles. Etihad only charges 40,000 miles for round trips on American Airlines. Even better, "off-peak" includes Christmas break (and the southern summer), as well as early summer vacation.
Because Etihad did not revise its award chart for travel on American Airlines (after American's recent devaluations), they often offer less expensive awards than American itself. This is just one example. Etihad reward chart for American Airlines.
On both airlines, lower than normal priced awards are available when transiting through Japan to other destinations in Asia. For example, you can fly business class on ANA to Singapore or even India, for as little as 105,000 miles, rather than a normal 140-180,000 miles.
Another excellent option for premium cabin awards to Japan is to use Virgin Atlantic points to book nonstop award flights on ANA. First Class is 110,000 miles from the Western US, or 120,000 miles from the Central and Eastern US. Business class is 90,000 or 95,000 miles.
For example, you could use 30,000 Flying Blue miles to book a trip to New Caledonia that connects through Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Auckland. Or you could use 15,000 United Miles to fly between Asia and the South Pacific, connecting through New Zealand.
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