Stretch Your Frequent Flyer Miles by Taking Advantage of Great Award Redemption Options (2021)

From Travel Strategies
Jump to: navigation, search

  HomeUsing Your Points for Free Travel

Every frequent flyer program has their own award chart. Many of these programs have “sweet spots”, which require fewer than the normal number of miles for tickets to specific destinations. While we’ve provided more general advice for figuring out the least expensive award option for an upcoming trip, it is also useful to be aware of some of the best available award redemption options.

Transfer Bonuses

Any frequent flyer program that has a current transfer bonus is likely to temporarily offer many sweet spots. While the program might normally offer unspectacular pricing to your desired destination, if you can get 25%, 40%, or 50% more miles from your credit card points, its reward prices might be fantastic. Make sure to check for currently available bonuses. Take Advantage of Transfer Bonuses to Get More Value from Your Reward Points.



Cheap awards for domestic flights

Normally, domestic one-way flights require 12,500 miles in economy and 25,000 miles in business. This cost is remarkably consistent across dozens of different frequent flyer programs. But there are a few sweet spots.

  • Delta and United have dynamic pricing and have done away with their award charts. While this usually means you'll pay more for your award ticket, they sometimes offer tickets for less than the normal price. This is especially true when Delta is having an award sale. American airlines offers a rotating selection of reduced mileage awards for their credit cardholders.
  • All the major US airlines have discounted prices for short-distance tickets. For more details see Fly Short Distances Using Fewer Miles by Taking Advantage of Distance-Based Frequent Flyer Programs.
  • If you are flying United, Turkish Airlines only requires 7,500 miles in economy and 12,500 miles in business. However, it can be hard to book these awards. The Turkish Airlines website doesn't reliably show United award availability. You need to search elsewhere. If available space isn't showing on Turkish Airline's website, you'll need to contact them by phone (800-847-8875) or email to make your reservation. Then you'll need to send over a follow up email with various forms and copies of your IDs, credit card, and Miles & Smiles cards to finalize the transaction. Until recently, you actually had to go into one of their physical ticketing offices to complete the purchase, so this is a major improvement. For more information, see this excellent guide from Frequent Miler.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • If you are flying Alaska, Singapore's frequent flyer program offers cheaper prices than Alaska, but not than Alaska's short distance awards. Some longer distance flights can cost as little as 15,000 miles round trip and the chart tops out at 24,000 miles. Award Chart.
    MRURTYC1Mar

Cheap tickets to Hawaii

Hawaii2.jpg

Normally, it takes 45,000 miles to book a round trip award ticket to Hawaii in economy and 80,000 miles in business. But there are ways to get there for MUCH less.

  • The most amazing deal is using Turkish Airlines miles for United flights. Turkish only requires 15,000 miles for a round trip economy ticket and 25,000 miles for business. This is less than half the normal cost. But as discussed immediately above, it can be a hassle to book the tickets.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • For Alaska flights, Singapore's frequent flyer program only requires 23-25,000 miles in economy, depending on exactly where you are flying from. Unfortunately, their prices for business class tickets aren't as good of a deal. Award Chart for Alaska.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • When you use Singapore's miles for United flights, they require 35,000 miles for economy and 60,000 for business. That's still a good price but not a crazy good deal.

  • Korean Airlines has very good pricing for Delta flights: 25,000 in coach and 45,000 in business. But they aren't transfer partners with any of the major credit card programs.
  • A more accessible option for Delta flights is Air France's Flying Blue
    MRURTYC1Mar
    . Their pricing varies wildly but they sometimes offer good deals.
  • For American and Alaskan Airlines flights, British Airways charges by distance. Coach prices start at 26,000 miles for round trip flights that leave from the entire western part of the US (any trip less than 3,000 miles each way). If your trip is longer or you need to make a connection, you'll pay more. In all cases, their business class award prices are expensive, starting at 77,500 miles.
    MRURTYC1Mar
    .

Cheap flights to the Caribbean and Mexico

Caribbean2.jpg

Most frequent flyer programs treat Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America as a different zone than the United States. Normal round trip frequent flyer tickets require 35,000 miles for economy and 60,000 for business.

However, some programs treat at least some countries in these regions as part of the North American zone and therefore offer award tickets for the normal domestic price of 25,000 miles for economy and 45-50,000 miles for business.

  • Shorter flights on American and Alaska Airlines can cost very few miles. British Airways
    MRURTYC1Mar
    , Iberia
    MRURTYC1Mar
    , and Cathay Pacific
    MRURTYC1Mar
    charge based on distance. Fly Short Distances Using Fewer Miles by Taking Advantage of Distance-Based Frequent Flyer Programs
  • For example, round trip flights from Miami to the Cayman Islands only require 11,000 Iberia Airlines miles in economy or 22,000 in business. You can fly round trip from south Florida to anywhere in Central America for only 15,000 British Airways miles in economy and 30,000 miles in business. The same is true from the Southeast to Cancun. From New York City to most of the Caribbean costs 22,000 British Airways miles in economy and 44,000 miles in business. And 26,000 British Airways miles pays for a round trip award on pretty much any non-stop flight between the United States and Mexico.

  • Once again, Turkish Airlines has incredible prices to a couple of countries. You can book round trip awards on Star Alliance to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for 15,000 miles in economy and 25,000 in business. Round trip flights to Mexico and Bermuda are only 20,000 miles in economy and 30,000 in business.
  • For Alaska Airlines flights to Costa Rica and Mexico, Singapore Airlines only requires 24,000 points. This award is only available on round trip flights. Business class prices are not very good. Award Chart for Alaska.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • Flying Blue often offers great deals on Delta and Aeromexico (SkyTeam). They treat both the Caribbean and Mexico as part of the same region as the US. But with their dynamic reward pricing, there is no official price.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • American Airlines has cheaper-than-normal off-peak rates of 30,000 for economy and 50,000 for business. To see the relatively small set of available dates click on the "Details on award travel" link towards the top of America's Award Chart.

Aegean Airlines only requires 25,000 / 42,000 miles for Star Alliance flights and Korean Airlines only requires 25,000 / 45,000 for SkyTeam flights to Mexico, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. But neither partners with any of the credit card programs.

Cheap flights to Europe

GreekIslands.jpg

If you can fly on American, Delta, United, or Air Canada you can usually avoid the often-expensive fuel surcharges added by European airlines. You'll just need to avoid one-way flights on Delta that originate in Europe and using British Airways points to book American Airlines flights. You can also avoid fuel surcharges by flying on Aer Lingus to Ireland.

Unless you can avoid these surcharges, it is hard to get good value from your miles, especially for economy class seats, where you are getting less "face-value" from your points.

Economy class

A typical round trip economy class award ticket to Europe requires 60,000 miles. There are opportunities for much cheaper awards, but mostly during off-peak travel times.

  • The overall least expensive awards are for off-peak Aer Lingus flights. During much of the year, it only requires 26,000 British Airways
    MRURTYC1Mar
    or Aer Lingus
    MRURTYC1Mar
    points and no fuel surcharges to fly round trip to Ireland the North East or Mid West, or 32,500 points from West Coast and Florida. During peak season, prices rise to a less remarkable 40,000 or 50,000 points. Peak season consists only of the summer and Christmas and Easter holidays. Aer Lingus Award Chart.
  • Unfortunately, connecting to a different destination in Europe increases the cost of the awards. But award and cash prices from Ireland can be inexpensive.

  • Another incredible off-peak bargain is flying Air France or KLM using Virgin Atlantic points. A round trip costs 24,000 miles from the East coast or 30,000 from the rest of the country. On the surface, this looks cheaper than the Aer Lingus flight, but with Virgin Atlantic, you'll need to pay fuel surcharges. During peak travel dates prices jump to a still good 44,000 or 50,000 miles.
  • Off-peak flights on Iberia can cost as little as 34,000 points and peak rates start at just 40,000 points, with fuel surcharges around $100, as long as you use Iberia miles. Flights of over 4,000 miles rise to 42,500 miles off-peak and 50,000 miles during peak season.
    MRURTYC1Mar
    .
  • Off-peak travel on American requires fewer miles. American Airlines only charges 45,000 miles. But prices drop to only 40,000 miles if you use Etihad's program. Etihad Award Chart.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • Peak awards on some Star Alliance flights with Avianca only cost 40,000 miles and Avianca won't add any fuel surcharges regardless of the Star Alliance partner you are flying. This lower rate only applies on flights from their US 1 region (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and oddly Washington State) to their Europe 1 region (Great Britain, Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland). To see the Award Chart and the exact region definitions, click on the "Review here" link in the redeem section of any of Avianca's partner pages. Be aware that actual award pricing on Avianca is erratic and won't necessarily follow the published chart.
  • Some off-peak flights to the UK require significantly fewer than the normal number of miles but have high fuel surcharges. Sometimes the mileage savings can be worth it, especially if you don't have any suitable alternatives. All these awards require additional mileage or a separate cash ticket to connect to another destination in Europe.
    • British Airways requires as little as 26,000 miles for off-peak flights to London. Prices rise to 40,000 miles during peak season. Non-stop flights from the West Coast are 32,500 miles off-peak and 50,000 miles during peak season.
      MRURTYC1Mar
    • Virgin Atlantic only requires 20,000 miles for their own off-peak flights to the UK from the Northeast, 25,000 miles from Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando, and 30,000 miles from the West Coast. However, fuel surcharges will be around $450. Peak season rates aren't nearly as good. Virgin Atlantic Award Chart
      MRURTYC1Mar
    • When you fly on Delta airlines to the UK, Virgin Atlantic's prices rise to 30,000, 35,000, and 40,000 miles depending on which part of the US you are flying from. And Virgin adds on the same surcharges they would charge with their own flights (even though Delta doesn't add them to their own tickets). When you fly Delta elsewhere in Europe, you won't pay these fuel surcharges, but you will need to spend the full 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles. Virgin Award Chart for Delta

Business class

Normal prices for a round trip award ticket to Europe in business class are around 115-125,000 points. There are several options for paying considerably less. For business class, it is sometimes worthwhile to pay fuel surcharges to access award space or the enhanced business class experience on foreign airlines.

  • Flying on Delta (or other SkyTeam airlines) using Alitalia miles. Alitalia only requires 80,000 miles and won't add any fuel surcharges for Delta flights. Alitalia Award Chart.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • The same is true with Korean Airlines' miles, but they are no longer partners with any of the big credit card points programs.

  • Flying on United with Asiana or ANA miles. As with using Alitalia or Korean with Delta, you'll only need 80,000 miles. Unfortunately, Asiana
    MRURTYC1Mar
    is only a partner with Marriott. Depending on the types of points you have, you may need to settle for paying 88,000 miles using ANA
    MRURTYC1Mar
    or 90,000 miles using Turkish Airlines
    MRURTYC1Mar
    .
  • For flying Star Alliance airlines that charge fuel surcharges, you are often better avoiding the surcharge by paying 120-126,000 miles with Avianca
    MRURTYC1Mar
    or 120-140,000 miles with Air Canada
    MRURTYC1Mar
    .
  • Along with charging 80,000 points for business class, Asiana only charges an amazing 100,000 miles (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 Lufthansa's superior first-class experience (if you can book it). Asiana Award Chart
  • Flying on American with Cathay Pacific or Etihad miles. While it is not an amazing deal, Cathay Pacific
    MRURTYC1Mar
    and Etihad
    MRURTYC1Mar
    only require 100,000 miles and won't add fuel surcharges to American Airlines flights. JAL can be much cheaper but isn't a partner with any of the big point programs.
  • There are some options that are available on just a few specific flights. Round trips on Brussels Airlines or Royal Air Maroc can be booked with only 88,000 Etihad miles.
Promotional Awards

The two biggest European frequent flyer programs offer promotional award rates for flights to Europe. Their promotional awards cost 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 in economy and 50,000 miles in business (plus fuel surcharges). Fly to Europe Using Half the Number of Miles Using Promo Awards}.

  • 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.

Short distance flights (anywhere in the world)

Some distance-based frequent flyer programs let you 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 from Southern Europe to Morocco because you are flying between the Europe zone and the Africa zone. But you could fly there for as little as 6,000 British Airways points. Fly Short Distances Using Fewer Miles by Taking Advantage of Distance-Based Frequent Flyer Programs.</li>

British Airways
MRURTYC1Mar
is the most famous, and often the cheapest, option for short-distance flights. Award flights start at 6,000 points in economy and 13,000 points in business. But depending on whether you are flying non-stop or on connecting flights, whether you are flying one-way or on a round trip, and what type of points you have access to, Iberia
MRURTYC1Mar
, Cathay
MRURTYC1Mar
, or JAL
MRURTYC1Mar
may offer an even better deal for Oneworld flights. For Star Alliance flights, United Airlines
MRURTYC1Mar
offers an 8,000-point short-distance award for flights up to 800 miles within a single world region (but not within the US).

For flights within the United States, there are several useful options, most notably only 5,000 points for short flights on Alaska Airlines.

A few examples of the many, many possibilities:

  • 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 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.
  • 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 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.

Other sweet spots

  • Many flights on Delta using Virgin Atlantic miles and on American using Etihad miles. Both of these foreign frequent flyer programs generally require fewer miles than the airline's own program. Whenever you are flying internationally on either airline (or domestically on American), it is worthwhile to check their award charts.
  • 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 or Chile require around 60,000 miles in economy and around 110-120,000 in business.
    • A few frequent flyer programs, like Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic, treat the entire continent as a single zone. Because they need to set an average price across the entire continent, they require fewer miles to southern destinations (and often more miles to northern destinations). Virgin Atlantic
      MRURTYC1Mar
      charges 45,000 points for a round trip flight on Delta Airlines and 60,000 in business or first. Flying Blue
      MRURTYC1Mar
      doesn't have fixed award prices but often provides good value.
    • Even though Asiana splits South America into two parts, they have incredibly cheap award prices for Star Alliance premium class travel to Southern South America, only requiring 70,000 miles round trip in business and 90,000 in first. Economy class flights are also a good deal at 50,000 miles round trip. Award chart.
      MRURTYC1Mar
      .
    • If you are able to travel off-peak, you can fly for 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. Etihad reward chart for American Airlines.
      MRURTYC1Mar
    Pantagonia.jpg
  • 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.
    Unfortunately, they don't partner with any of the three big credit card programs.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • First Class on Cathay Pacific to Africa. Getting to Africa usually requires a lot of points. Typical economy tickets require around 80,000 points round trip, 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. Alaska award chart.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • CathayFirst.jpg
  • Cheap premium-cabin tickets to Japan on JAL and ANA. Award tickets to Japan typically require 60-70,000 miles in economy, 120-140,000 in business, and around 160,000 in first.
    • The most consistent way to get to Japan with fewer miles is to use Virgin Atlantic miles to book nonstop award flights on ANA. Business class requires 90,000 miles from the Western US or 95,000 miles from the Central and Eastern US. First class only requires a few little more: 110,000 or 120,000 miles. And you can now use half as many miles to book one-way tickets. Virgin Atlantic award chart for ANA.
      MRURTYC1Mar
      .
    • 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 economy 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. ANA partners with Membership Rewards, JAL miles are harder to get.
    • 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 the normal 140-180,000 miles.

    Tokyo.jpg
  • Flights within South America. For flights from anywhere in South America to anywhere else in South America, Singapore Airlines
    MRURTYC1Mar
    only requires 12,500 miles in economy and 20,000 miles in business class. Singapore Award chart. Korean Airlines
    MRURTYC1Mar
    offers the same pricing but requires a round trip purchase. Korean award chart for South America.
  • IguzaFalls.jpg
  • 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 economy, 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 East Asia and then take advantage of 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.
      MRURTYC1Mar
    • Through Tokyo. With JAL
      MRURTYC1Mar
      and ANA
      MRURTYC1Mar
      , 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 Alaska
      MRURTYC1Mar
      offers an even better one. 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 needing to fly nonstop on JAL and ANA). Alaska award chart.
    • 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.
    India.jpg
  • Getting to Australia via Asia. Often the cheapest way to get to Australia is to book a separate award ticket or inexpensive cash ticket to East Asia and a separate award ticket from there to Australia. Not only can this save you points, it greatly increases the number of possible options for finding 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
      MRURTYC1Mar
      or Alaska miles
      MRURTYC1Mar
      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. It is sometimes possible to travel to those islands by routing through Australia or New Zealand (without paying the higher cost for Australia tickets). As a result, you can save points by booking a trip to an "Oceania" destination, leaving the airport in Australia, and never bothering to take your final flight.
  • 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.

  • Africa via Senegal on South African Airlines. 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. Virgin Atlantic award chart for South African.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • From there, you could fly round trip elsewhere in Africa for only 30,000 ANA miles in economy or 55,000 in business.
    MRURTYC1Mar
  • Flights between Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. Turkish airlines only requires 15,000 miles in economy, 25,000 in business, and 35,000 in first to fly between any of the countries of Oceania or Australia / New Zealand on Air New Zealand. Turkish award chart.
    MRURTYC1Mar



Send comments or suggestions to editor@travelstrategies.com or leave a comment below.



blog comments powered by Disqus