Tuesday Travel Top 10: Coach Airline Award Redemptions

by on April 10, 2012 · 55 comments

in American, American Express, bmi, Flying Blue, Lan, Starwood, Top 10

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We’re going to launch a new series of posts called the Tuesday Travel Top 10, where we talk about our top 10 favorites in various categories including airlines, classes of service, award redemptions, airports, airline lounges, hotels, credit cards, perks and benefits, rental cars, travel gear and technology, and more. Have ideas of what we should cover? Tell us what you’d like to read about in the comments below.

In the meantime, for today’s topic, we thought we’d cover ten of the best coach award redemptions out there including both domestic and international options. I thought this would be relevant since I often talk about my personal redemptions in business and first class and people always tell me to focus more on economy. So here you have it! As always, feel free to share your thoughts and whether I missed any good ones.

1) 4,500 British Airways Avios + $75 for roundtrip short-haul (650 miles or less) economy flights. Most people focus on 4,500 mile one-way short haul awards, but the Cash & Miles feature stretches the value of these awards out even more because they “sell” points at 1.67 points a piece – so in this example you pay $75 and save 4,500 points. British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, American Express Membership Rewards, though now until May 31, 2012, there’s actually a 50% transfer bonus from Amex to BA, so those 4,500 miles would only cost you 3,000 Amex points and $75 – for a roundtrip flight. This can be an incredible value considering short-haul flights can be some of the most expensive. Another great aspect is that British Airways doesn’t charge last minute ticketing fees like American, who tacks on a $75 fee  if you make an award reservation within 21 days of departure. Even if you didn’t want to do the cash co-pay, spending 9,000 miles and ~$50 for these roundtrip flights is usually a great deal.
2) Southwest Yearly Companion Pass. While not necessarily an award, you earn it after 100 one-way flights or 110,000 Companion Pass Qualifying points (currently their 50,000-point credit card sign-ups do count). Once you get the companion pass, it can be good for nearly 2 years of unlimited companion flying. Check this post for more details. Southwest is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, but transferred Chase points do not qualify for the companion pass. Transferred hotel points do, however.

3) American Airlines Distance-Based Oneworld Awards. For 160,000 miles, you can fly up to 50,000 miles – more than enough for an around-the-world trip of a lifetime. You can have a maximum of 16 segments and you must travel on two Oneworld airlines, not counting American. Check out the multiple options here.

Distance based awards can be used to your AAdvantage

4) ANA Mileage Club economy awards from the East Coast to London for 38,000 miles, and since they are a Star Alliance carrier you can fly on United, though ANA does now charge fuel surcharges on United awards (as they do on another partner airline, Virgin Atlantic) and you will have to price out individual awards on their search tool or call ANA to see how much the taxes and fees on them will by. ANA is also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express

ANA Award Newark to London for 38,000 miles roundtrip

5) 24,000 LAN kilometers for roundtrip coach travel within Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Even short intra-South American flights—such as between Montevideo and Santiago, or Santiago and Easter Island—can be very expensive, so these redemptions can be lifesavers. Plus, Starwood points transfer at a generous 1:2 ratio, so 12,000 Starwood points = 24,000 LAN kilometers. There is currently a 25,000 point sign-up bonus on the Starwood Amex which equates to 60,000 LAN kilometers with the 5,000-point bonus for transferring 20,000 SPG points!

6) 25,000 British Airways Avios points for roundtrip award tickets from the West Coast of the US to Hawaii on partner airline American that would start at 35,000 MileSAAver off-peak miles plus last-minute ticketing fees if you just used American miles.

7) 40,000 American AAdvantage miles for roundtrip off-peak coach to Europe between October 15-May 15. Tip: For Europe awards American classifies Hawaii in the same region as the continental US, so you can actually fly Hawaii to any number of international hubs like Chicago, Dallas, Miami or New York and build in a stopover before continuing onto Europe. Offpeak awards can also be used on Oneworld partners; like British Airways, Iberia, and Finn Air. American is also Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner, so you would actually only need to transfer 35,000 SPG points to get to 40,000 AA miles.

Off-peak awards have reasonable taxes/fees too as long as you avoid British Airways flights

8 ) 25000 mile + £170 copay bmi coach roundtrip awards North America to Europe. That copay can cost over $300 depending on currency fluctuations, but when ticket prices to Europe really soar, as they are right now, even paying that much can save you a bundle on airfare.

9) 180,000 Delta miles for a coach class Round the World trip, with up to 6 stopovers. Since Skyteam partner availability is decent, planning these isn’t as hard as you’d think. And with frequent Amex transfer bonuses of up to 67%, those with Amex points can get this award for a mere 108,000 points. United also charges 180,000 miles for economy Round the World awards.

10) 35,000 US Airways miles for Off-peak awards from the US to Europe between January 15 and February 28 every year. If you have  the US Airways Mastercard, they are only 30,000 and US Airways has relatively low fees on their own awards. These are not available on partner airlines or codeshares. Saver/low level awards will automatically price at the Off-peak level and you can book them online.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Craig Chu

    I might also point out Off-Peak 50,000 AAdvantage miles to go roundtrip from the U.S. to Japan, which, given the relative distance, might be an even better deal than #7.

  • Dov

    It looks like ANA does charge Fuel surcharges on UA

  • James

    The sunglass emoticon before bmi is really throwing me off for some reason, as if it weren’t a deal. haha

  • T.R.W.

    Great post, very helpful for those of us still building our accounts. I’ll look forward to every Tuesday’s top ten.

  • Chris S.

    Brian, aside from the often-discussed Lima-Cusco route, what are some of the other great bargains available under #1 (outside of the US)? I imagine there are quite a few in SE Asia, but I’m not familiar enough with the region to even begin searching for deals.

    Another great redemption, in my opinion, especially for those with lots of AA miles, is North America-Europe-Indian Subcontinent/Middle East (including Maldives) off-peak on AA + Etihad (or Air Berlin) for 80k r/t. I just finished the first part of an LAX-CDG(stop)-AUH-MLE(dest.)-AUH-CDG(stop)-JFK(stop indefinitely)-LAX-LIH trip booked for 80k AA miles per person. An even better itinerary for me would have been LAX-CDG-AUH-MLE-AUH-LHR-LAX(stop indefinitely)-LIH, but I booked less than 30 days from departure. Availability is great on EY, and pretty good on AA during off-peak season. The LHR-LAX nonstop has the most limited availability.

  • Lauren

    great idea for a series! how about top 10 starwood best points-redeeming-value hotels? Domestic and Intl series? hyatt version too!

  • Anon

    Would recommend top 10 mobile travel apps for one of your Tuesday Top 10′s

  • Peach Front

    Not interested in going RTW in Coach. Do you happen to know what or if there is a Delta RTW option likr your No. 9 pick, except in Business? Thanks…

  • thepointsguy


  • Miles Mania

    Great idea. Are you also going to do one on the top 10 best Premium Airline Award Redemptions?

  • JMSL

    I’m planning a SE Asia trip myself, and unfortunately my experience has been that there aren’t a ton of short-haul deals available in the region. Nearly all of Cathay Pacific’s (and Dragonair’s) flights in SE Asia route via HKG, so if you’re based there you can find some decent deals on flights that can be expensive at times (e.g. HKG to MNL, PNH, HAN, or SGN). But most of those flights are slightly over 650 miles, making them 7500 miles plus about $60 in fees, so not as good a deal as many of the short-haul flights on LAN or AA.

    There are a few routes that aren’t served by LCCs and for which revenue tickets are very pricey (e.g. within and between Cambodia and Vietnam). Wish Vietnam Airlines would join oneworld!

  • HT

    You should make a series: Top 10 redemptions for UA, AA, US, Delta, AMEX MR, Chase UR. Like a hypothetical holiday

  • tassojunior

    The US 35K to Rio off-peak has a long window. (30K with cc)

  • unmasked

    You refer to frequent Amex MR -> Delta promos but since that 67% and the 50% + MQM which ran concurrently towards the end of last year, there haven’t been any new ones. Given the rumored changes to the skymile program, do you think a new Delta promo is coming?

  • Rob Markoff

    I’m confused by item #1 and the example shown. As I read it, in the example it is 4500 miles + $70 + taxes and fees – for a total of $120+

    Where is the 4500 miles plus $75?

  • The Points Guy

    We definitely will, stay tuned!

  • Asfd

    ” Tip: For Europe awards American classifies Hawaii in the same region as the continental US, so you can actually fly Hawaii to any number of international hubs like Chicago, Dallas, Miami or New York and build in a stopover before continuing onto Europe.”

    AA also appears to classify all of Russia as Europe. Can anyone confirm from experience that, say, VVO-DME-LHR-DFW-HNL using S7 and AA would be the same 40,000 r/t as LHR-DFW-HNL?

  • Justin

    East Coast – LHR may be 38k for NYC or BOS, but IAD is showing at 43k. Looked it up, and sure enough IAD is about 350 miles too close to London to redeem for 38k miles. UA does have excellent availability for all dates I searched, though, with 4 daily flights in each direction, so it’s not all bad. On all 3 round trip dummy bookings I searched this summer, 3 of the 4 daily flights had availability for 2.

  • Guest

    How much are they?

  • Lauren

    Another suggestion: Tuesday Travel Top 10 on 10 Around the World Itineraries.

  • Andrew

    Do you know what availability is like on the Oneworld Award tickets? I flew RTW on a One World Explorer ticket in 2009, and had some trouble finding availability on flights (SYD-HNL, HKG-AUK). I suspect that tickets paid with miles have even less availability, which would make changing dates mid-trip difficult.

  • Mike

    In the BA example, I don’t know where you’re getting the $75 from. I understand that If one books LGA-YYZ RT it would cost 9k avios plus $58.07. Alternatively, I could use 4.5k avios and pay $70 more to book the same flight. Is the $75 suppose to be $70?

  • Alan

    Regarding the AA stopover rule at a ‘North American Gateway’, does this include cities outside of the US such as Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas and the Caribbean where a direct flight arrives from outside of the North America region. I.e. if one flies London-Bermuda-US on BA and AA, would a stopover in Bermuda be allowed? If so, one could potentially replace Bermuda with any North American (per AA definition) city where a direct out-of-the-region flight arrives or departs from (i.e. definition of a gateway)

  • BSquared

    What up Points Guy. Long time lurker on your blog. Just wanted to say thanks. I was convinced that my amex points were worthless (especially compared to ultimate rewards points), but I just booked two round trip coach tickets from DC to Chicago on American for 12,000 amex points (transferred to avios for 18,000) and $10 bucks. Tickets are selling for over $300 each. You cannot beat that! I’m very proud of myself.

  • W Brian Duncan (aka IPBrian)

    This is a really helpful article for me Brian…thanks for the post. I look forward to this on a regular basis! TOP TEN YEAH!

  • Hzg74c

    When is off peak US to Japan?

  • Mpohl

    This is not about redemption. But every year I need to fly 3 ppl from the East Coast to FRA (or anywhere nearby) in the mid of summer season. In coach that will normally start at $1,500 pp RT and up. If you are lucky!

    For two years now, I have been successfully using (an LH subsidiary); $900 RT FLL/FRA in the mid of summer!! I use miles to get from ATL to FLL for free. And still come out ahead.

    Wondering why experts such as TPG never mention those kinds of deals???? Probably no money to be made.

  • thepointsguy

    Nicely done! This game is all about getting awards that work for you. Safe travels and feel free to chime in more!

  • PJ

    a deep thank you from last class traveller :)

  • PJ

    way to go; how many times have I been trying to cheer up those Avios haters?

  • thepointsguy

    Maybe because there are no points to be used or had? What’s the name of this site again?

    I do talk about coach deals but $900 is far from newsworthy. But glad it works for your needs!

  • thepointsguy

    You are right- supposed to be $70

  • Carberrie

    It’s like getting a free one-way LGA-YYZ for only $70! :)

  • Larry

    Brian, thanks for a great feature, as well as all your other good advice.
    I’m wondering whether the BA roundtrip deal in Europe is only on BA or on any of its partner airline.
    Also, since I’m based in Thailand now, I would love to see a top ten deals from SE Asia. I believe this is a niche that no one is filling.

  • zzd

    Off-peak dates:
    Hawaii: Jan. 12 – Mar. 8; Aug. 22 – Dec. 15
    The Caribbean and Mexico: Sep. 7 – Nov. 14
    Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela: Jan. 16 – Jun. 14; Sep. 7 – Nov. 14
    Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay: Mar. 1 – May 31; Aug. 16 – Nov. 30
    Europe: Oct. 15 – May 15
    Japan: Oct. 1 – Apr. 30

  • JMSL

    Yeah, it wasn’t a great example to show. The example shown goes to Toronto so there are additional fees. For AA domestic (e.g. not Canada) flights, the fees would be $5 so the total would be $75.

  • Troy Garkey

    I did a RTW trip last October, booked in mid-July and went just about everywhere I wanted. Just have to be flexible on dates and routing and you can get pretty much anywhere. For example…I wanted to kick off the trip in South Africa, but wanted to avoid BA and its horrid fees. Iberia was booked so couldn’t do ORD>MAD>JNB instead had to do ORD>HKG>JNB (28 hours of flying with a 4hr layover in the middle). Not ideal, but they got me where I needed. Ended up paying a total of $300.37 in taxes/fees for flying 47,032 miles ORD-HKG-JNB-HKG-SGN,BKK-NRT-LAX-SFO-MIA-CUN-LIM-MAD-BRU-ORD. I LOVE American and their RTW awards…only way to spend them if you have time to take some massive vacations.

  • Sehgalv23

    I was wondering if you could explain how to book number 1) with cash and points. I recently booked a flight using all avios, and would like to try and change it if possible?

  • Jason

    Thanks TPG, I have and will continue to tell everyone I meet about your blog! Anyways, I was looking to go to Maui (from San Diego) this May, and currently have 220k AA miles, and 95k MR points, all thanks to you. Any thoughts on what would be the best plan of action? Thanks in advance!

  • Stavros

    Hey Points Guy, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I keep on learning really valuable stuff, so thanks for all you do. This 4500 short haul Avios redemption is going to provide me so much value as I had 50k MR points that I had no clue what to do with. That being said, I can’t figure out how to do the points and cash option, am I missing something? Do you need status or something to take advantage of it?

  • Chris S.

    I’m not Brian, but I’d utilize the current AmEx transfer bonus to convert your points to BA Avios. As he wrote under #6, using Avios to book flights on AA is a great deal, so check availability (either on BA or AA’s websites), and get planning!

  • thepointsguy

    No status needed- when you are getting an award it will offer the cash & miles option at the very end. Just note that some partner awards, like Cathay Pacific, don’t offer cash & points.

  • thepointsguy

    Agree that MR to BA using the 50% transfer bonus is your best bet. The only risk is that then you are putting a lot of your eggs in Oneworld and you wont have as many Amex points to use on Star Alliance/ Skyteam awards

  • alcw

    10) 35,000 US Airways miles – took advantage of this to go to London for a week this year!

  • Mike

    Thanks for the reply. Anyway, great post. I definitely love these posts to spur my creativity.

  • Adambsimon

    I am having a hard time figuring out how to use the #1 example. I am looking to travel from Washington D.C to RDU or ORD both are under 650 miles. Both options give me 9000 AVIOS booking with $5.00 in fees. I am open to this option but I was wondering where I can find the 4500 + $75.00 roundtrip option?

    Thanks for the post!


  • Adambsimon

    I got to the payment page and no option for cash and points:

    Image of people to illustrate passengers. Mr Adam Simon
    Outbound – Friday 04 May 2012
    Image of plane to illustrate flights. 05:45
    04 May 06:55
    04 May Baltimore (MD) (Washington DC)
    USA O’Hare International (IL) (Chicago)
    USA AA4260 Economy
    Inbound – Sunday 06 May 2012
    Image of plane to illustrate flights. 06:40
    06 May 09:20
    06 May O’Hare International (IL) (Chicago)
    USA Ronald Reagan National (DC) (Washington DC)
    USA AA0496 Economy
    Payment summary
    Total for flights 9000
    Total price $5.00 (USD)

  • Adambsimon

    Bsquared – Did you have trouble finding flight availability on Fri/Sat/Sun?

  • Sehgalv23

    so after doing some research I have found out that certain flights do not give you the option to use avios and cash. So for example a flight from chicago to rochester, NY which i booked has no option to use cash so I just booked it with 9000 avios, which is still great considering flights were like 350 dollars, and it only cost me 6000 amex points.

  • Nate

    I would really enjoy seeing this as well as this is the ultimate goal one day…..

  • Mpohl

    With all due respect. But you find me another $900 Coach RT fare in the midst of summer (June), w/ the Olympics going on, to FRA or anywhere in Europe!!! I challenge you.

    And the name of the airline site is (a Lufthansa subsidiary!)

  • Christian

    The sweet spot for BA cash&points is always where the cash part jumps higher, i.e. in your example it’s at 6300 points where you then end up buying points at 1.481 cents.

  • JMSL

    Like Stavros, I am also having trouble finding a Cash & Points option on many flights, even when going all the way through to the payment page. Just tried out several routes between DCA, JFK, LGA, ORD, LAX, etc. and never saw Cash & Points options. Then tried LGA-Toronto as shown in the example, and I did see the option that time. Is it possible they do not offer Cash & Points for domestic flights? Glitch? Either way, it may be worth noting in the post.

  • I Love Study Abroad

    Can two people apply for the Chase credit card then one person transfer to hotel points then to someone else’s hotel account then to Southwest ultimately netting 100,000 points and only 10,o00 away from the companion pass? Thanks!!

  • Optimike

    I lived in SE asia for over 2 years, and flew at least once a month, but accrued no miles, because the low cost carriers were just too good to pass up. Jetstar/tiger/airasia/cebupacificair had incredible deals, especially the buy 1 get 1 jetstar deals. And air asia routed through KUL would get you a lot of places for ~$100. And if you’re adventurous, Garuda Indonesia sometimes had good deals.

    Jetstar was nearly always the carrier of choice though, for strictly SE asian flights.

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