See More of the World with Inexpensive Multi-destination Award Tickets (2021)
A few frequent flyer programs offer fantastic deals for trips that visit multiple destinations. Unlike most other programs, the number of miles they require depends on the total distance that you travel. This allows you to visit several different destinations for about the same number of miles as a regular round-trip.
Your best options are JAL Mileage Bank and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, which both work with the Oneworld alliance. ANA can also be an attractive choice, but for these types of trips, it requires that your flights travel in a single direction and go all the way around the world.
Let’s compare a few trips with JAL miles versus the same trip using American miles:
- Let’s imagine that you want to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo, then to Hong Kong, then to Sydney, and then back to Los Angeles. The total trip length is 19,371 miles. If you stuck with just JAL and Qantas flights, JAL would only require 70,000 miles in economy, 130,000 in business, or 190,000 miles in first class. If you had to take advantage of more than one partner, the cost would rise to 90,000 / 120,000 / 170,000 miles. By comparison, a simple round trip to Australia on American would be 80,000 / 160,000 / 220,000 miles; and the full trip would be 125,000 / 210,000 / 280,000 miles—around 60% more.
- For a European example, you might want to go from New York to Madrid, then Morocco, then London, Paris, and Rome, and then back home. This total trip distance is 10,857 miles. This trip would require 60,000 miles in economy and 110,000 miles in business with JAL rather than 97,000 and 207,000 with American. However, depending on the airlines you fly, you may wind up paying substantially more in fuel surcharges.
- As an extreme example, imagine a globe-hopping trip from New York to Rome, then London, then Johannesburg, then side flights to Cape Town and Victoria Falls, then nonstop to Sao Paulo Brazil, and finally back to New York. The total distance of this trip would be 22,912 miles and the JAL mileage cost would be 120,000 in coach, 150,000 in business, and 230,000 in first. The same trip with American Airlines miles would be 185,500 in economy and 325,500 miles in business.
Best programs for multi-destination trips
- ANA is the best choice for Star Alliance flights, but they require an around-the-world itinerary. ANA’s distance-based chart is only available for trips which travel in a single direction (east or west). If you are travelling to somewhere that is close to half-way around the world anyway—like India, Africa from the West Coast, or East Asia or Australia from the East Coast—this isn’t necessarily a problem. But it won’t be a good option for many other itineraries.
- There are no good options for SkyTeam flights. None of the SkyTeam frequent flyer programs uses a distance-based award chart, but a few of them have "round the world" fares that, like ANA, require you to either fly east or west.
- There are several options for Oneworld flights. Distance-based awards are something that is essentially unique to Oneworld, except for some around-the-world options with the other alliances.
- In general, JAL requires the least miles, but it can be hard to get the miles you need. Unfortunately, JAL isn’t a partner of Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, or ThankYou Rewards. They have a US branded credit card, but it has a very small signup bonus. You’ll either need Marriott points or to credit a bunch of flights to JAL.
- Cathay Pacific is your best alternative choice. If you use at least two different airline partners (not counting Cathay Pacific itself), the required mileage will be determined by their “Multi-carrier” award chart, which is based on the total distance flown. Using multiple partners is likely to happen naturally on these types of trips. If not, you can often deliberately add a short flight on an additional airline to make sure you are using the right chart.
- If you only have Ultimate Rewards points, your best choice is usually British Airways. Like Cathay Pacific, when you fly on two or more partner airlines, you use a special chart that is based on the total distance traveled, rather than paying for each individual flight. Prices aren’t bad in economy but get very expensive in business and first.
- There is rarely a reason to use the other options. Iberia doesn’t allow stopovers. And Malaysia and Qantas are usually more expensive than the options above.
The best option is theoretically Aeromexico. Tickets require 224,000 points in economy or 352,000 in business, but because Aeromexico works with kilometers rather than miles, you get a bonus when you transfer Membership Reward points. This drops the cost to 140,000 Membership Rewards points in Economy and 220,000 in Business. The problem is that it might be impossible to book a complicated itinerary due to customer service issues.
Korean Airlines requires the same 140,000 or 220,000 points but supports fewer stopovers (6-7) and isn't a partner of any of the credit card programs.
For this type of trip, you'll probably need to use JAL's multi-carrier Oneworld chart.
If you can stick with just a single partner and/or JAL flights, you can use their regular award chart.
Mileage chart comparison
This chart compares the number of miles needed for JAL, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways, as long as you are using at least two different partner airlines.
|1 – 1,000||25||30||30|
|1,001 – 1,500||25||30||30|
|1.501 – 2,000||25||35||35|
|2,001 – 4,000||25||35||35|
|4,001 – 7,500||40||60||60|
|7,501 – 8,000||40||65||60|
|8,001 – 9,000||50||65||60|
|9,001 – 10,000||50||70||70|
|10,001 – 12,000||60||90||90|
|12,001 – 14,000||70||90||90|
|14,001 – 20,000||90||100||100|
|20,001 – 25,000||120||115||120|
|25,001 – 29,000||140||130||140|
|29,001 – 35,000||150||130||140|
|35,001 – 50,000||160||150||160|
|1 – 1,000||48||55||60|
|1,001 – 1,500||48||60||60|
|1.501 – 2,000||48||65||70|
|2,001 – 4,000||48||70||70|
|4,001 – 7,500||80||90||120|
|7,501 – 8,000||80||100||120|
|8,001 – 9,000||85||100||120|
|9,001 – 10,000||85||110||140|
|10,001 – 12,000||110||135||180|
|12,001 – 14,000||115||135||180|
|14,001 – 20,000||120||155||200|
|20,001 – 25,000||150||185||240|
|25,001 – 29,000||190||210||280|
|29,001 – 35,000||200||210||280|
|35,001 – 50,000||220||240||320|
|1 – 1,000||72||70||90|
|1,001 – 1,500||72||80||90|
|1.501 – 2,000||72||90||105|
|2,001 – 4,000||72||95||105|
|4,001 – 7,500||100||140||180|
|7,501 – 8,000||100||150||180|
|8,001 – 9,000||110||150||180|
|9,001 – 10,000||110||160||210|
|10,001 – 12,000||160||220||270|
|12,001 – 14,000||165||220||270|
|14,001 – 20,000||170||250||300|
|20,001 – 25,000||230||280||360|
|25,001 – 29,000||280||300||420|
|29,001 – 35,000||300||300||420|
|35,001 – 50,000||330||345||480|
If you can limit yourself to Japan Airlines plus at most one other partner, you can take advantage of even lower mileage requirements (shown in chart form above). This is often possible on multi-destination itineraries through Asia that leave from JAL's US gateways.
If you aren’t flying on multiple partners, Cathay Pacific and British Airways switch to different pricing mechanisms that don’t work for this type of trip.
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