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Top 10 Airline Economy Award Redemptions

by on October 1, 2013 · 28 comments

in American, American Express, ANA, British Airways, Citi, Delta, Flying Blue, Southwest, Top 10, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic

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Miles, points and elite status are great for leveling the playing field of the “haves and have nots” in the sky because they allow ordinary people to sit in seats that they normally wouldn’t be able to afford. However, for a majority of people business and first class are either not an option (family travelers who need multiple seats) or not worth it (those who would rather go there twice instead of one time in a premium cabin). Since the focus on blogs is generally skewed towards premium redemptions, I put together a top 10 list of my favorite economy awards- feel free to chime in with yours in the comments or Tweet me at ThePointsGuy. 

1. British Airways Short-Haul Flights: Short-haul flights, especially to small regional airports, can most often be the most expensive tickets out there, which makes using British Airways Avios even more appealing as the program uses the distance of the flight to calculate how many points are needed  – and flights 600 miles or under are only 4,500 Avios each way in economy! This includes flights on partners like American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and LAN, meaning you can book some great short-haul domestic options here in the US, or use your Avios to hop around South America and Asia (or Australia, for that matter, on partner Qantas). Another great aspect of the Avios program is that there are no last-minute booking fees, like the $75 fee on American for awards within 21 days of departure.

The Avios Calculator helps you calculate how many miles you need.

The Avios Calculator helps you calculate how many miles you need.

To see how many Avios miles your flight will cost, you can use the Avios calculator (note that you need to calculate segment by segment).

Even though there can be some hefty surcharges flying into and out of BA’s London hub, it can still be a bargain to use your Avios for expensive  flights within Europe by leveraging their competitive short/mid-haul flight pricing. These awards can provide huge value – especially on expensive routes not serviced by low-cost carriers where there is little competition. Don’t forget that British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards, so if you need to top up your account, there are a lot of options.

LaGuardia to Montreal on Avios.

LaGuardia to Montreal requires 9,000 Avios roundtrip.

Just to give you a quick example, I found a roundtrip flight from LaGuardia to Montreal in October operated by American Eagle for 9,000 Avios plus 36 GBP ($57).

Screen shot 2013-09-30 at 2.53.37 PM

That same itinerary would cost you a whopping $1,108! That’s nearly 12 cents per Avios in value. For more information on how to save with BA, see my previous post: Top 10 Most Valuable Ways To Redeem British Airways Avios.

2. American Airlines MileSAAver Off-Peak: One of the best ways to get the most bang for your mileage buck is to book an award ticket using off-peak awards. Case in point, American Airlines discounts awards tickets even further from their SAAver level if you travel at the lowest season for many destinations, and there tends to be a lot more availability for them in the autumn after the summer travel rush. A lot of times, I actually prefer traveling during low season, such as my  trip to China, because there are far fewer crowds in the big destinations. It’s easier to book hotel awards as well, and you get a more authentic feel for a place. Because even if you always fly business or first thanks to your miles, elite status, or travel budget. American only offers MileSAAver Off Peak awards for coach, and while you cannot use them for travel within the continental US and Canada, you can use them to get pretty much anywhere else AA flies.

LAX-Rio with AA miles

LAX-Rio costs 40,000 AA miles and $58.02.

For example, if you want to get a taste of Rio de Janeiro before the World Cup comes to town next year, an economy roundtrip from LAX-Rio (via Dallas Fort-Worth on the outbound and Miami on the inbound) from October 10-22, 2013, will cost 40,000 AAdvantage miles + $58.02. The same flight would normally cost $828 plus $105.92 in taxes and fees, totaling $933.92 – a value of about 2 cents per mile.

DFW-LHR on AA

DFW-LHR costs 40,000 miles + $455.40.

A non-stop roundtrip ticket from Dallas Fort-Worth to London Heathrow (with the outbound operated by British Airways and the inbound by American) will cost 40,000 miles, but the taxes are then $455.40. If booking without miles, the same trip would cost $846.00 + $226.60 in taxes and fees, totaling $1,072.40 – a value of about 1.5 cents per mile, but still a savings of over $600.

Wanna Get Away deals make Southwest Rapid Rewards flights even more appealing.

Wanna Get Away deals make Southwest Rapid Rewards flights even more appealing.

3. Southwest Wanna Get Away Fares: Although I often talk of the value of transferable points thanks to the flexibility they give you to top up accounts and book premium international tickets on a whim, Southwest Rapid Rewards represents the flip side of award tickets where you know you are getting a great (semi)-fixed value on award tickets of about 1.8-2 cents each on Wanna Get Away (leisure) fares (though that will drop to about 1.5 cents after next spring’s devaluation) and you can redeem them for any open seat on a flight, just as if you were buying it. It makes a lot of sense for people who want to use their miles to fly domestically, those who don’t have much flexibility on their travel dates, or travelers looking to book more than a single ticket at a time, as well as those who want to use Southwest’s extensive domestic route network to book a positioning flight to a gateway hub city to catch an international award itinerary on another airline.

Phoenix to SFO on Southwest

Phoenix to SFO on Southwest costs 16,561 Rapid Rewards.

A roundtrip flight from Phoenix to San Francisco SFO in October will cost 16,561 Rapid Rewards points plus just $7.50 in taxes and fees if booked with a Wanna Get Away award, for example.

Phoenix to SFO on American requires 25,000 miles + $85.

Phoenix to SFO on American requires 25,000 miles + $85.

The same trip using American Airlines (operated by Alaska) would cost 25,000 AAdvantage miles and $85 in taxes and fees – as well as going through Portland on the outbound and would require flying from Oakland via Seattle on the return.

Update: This offer is no longer available. View the current offer for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card here.

Southwest is also an instant 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus or Ink Bold, and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa is currently offering a bonus of 50,000 Rapid Rewards points when you spend $2,000 within 3 months.

Using ANA miles to fly from Newark to London.

Using ANA miles to fly from Newark to London.

4. ANA Distance-Based Awards: ANA’s Mileage Club awards are also distance-based, like BA’s, and there are some real sweet spots in its award chart. For example, economy awards are available from the East Coast of the US to London for 38,000 miles, and since ANA is a Star Alliance carrier, you can use their miles to fly United. This is compared to 60,000 United miles to book the same flights. ANA does not charge fuel surcharges on United awards (as they do on another partner airline, Virgin Atlantic) but 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 be. ANA is also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express. For more information on ANA awards and surcharges, check out ANA Award Taxes and Fees: Airline Partner Roundup.

Screen shot 2013-06-12 at 10.03.41 AM

5. Citi American Airlines Reduced Awards: American AAdvantage miles are still some of the most valuable airline miles out there, whether for long-haul premium redemptions (like my spring trip to Sao Paulo in first class on their brand new 777-300) or for off-peak awards like 40,000 miles to Europe in coach. However, if you have a co-branded personal Citi AAdvantage card, such as the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World Mastercard, which is currently offering 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months, there are some mileage redemption benefits that can present some great values especially on economy flights. Cardholders earn 10% off their redeemed AAdvantage miles back up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles each calendar year, and have access to reduced-price domestic awards, plus perks such as getting your first checked bag for free and Group 1 boarding.

Having a Citi card can save you even more on economy flights.

Having a Citi AAdvantage card can save you even more on economy flights.

Those reduced-price awards shave 5,000-7,500 off roundtrip award tickets and are valid on certain routes within the US and Canada originating within the 48 contiguous United States. Though they only used to be bookable as roundtrip awards, they are now also available for one-way bookings, making them even more versatile. Also instead of being available between various city pairs on a quarterly basis, the reduced mileage award routes now change monthly.

In order to book these discounted awards:

  1. Check the current list of eligible destinations and check MileSAAver awards, since there must be MileSAAver availability to take advantage of this offer, to find the flight dates and times that work for you.
  2. When you are ready to book, call American Airlines AAdvantage reservations at 1-800-882-8880 and have the award code ready and a reservation representative will book your flight for you. Unfortunately there’s a $25 fee, but it’s waived for Executive Platinums.

Depending on the Citi AAdvantage card you have, you can get either 7,500 or 5,000 miles off a roundtrip award. The following cards yield the 7,500-mile discount (for a total of 17,500 miles roundtrip, or 8,750 one-way).

Check out my prior post – Reduced Mileage Awards For Citi AAdvantage Card Holders – for all the details.

Air France Promo awards are only 25,000 miles round-trip from the US to Europe.

Air France Promo Awards are only 25,000 miles roundtrip from the US to Europe.

6. Flying Blue Promo Awards: Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of SkyTeam partners Air France, KLM and Air Europa. Its Promo Awards are 50% off normal award levels and run all year long, but the gateway cities generally change every two months on a rolling basis, and these discounted awards include economy tickets from North American cities (right now they include Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Washington DC) to Europe and beyond for as low as 25,000 miles roundtrip in economy. You can view the current list of Promo Award cities here, which run through October. An example I was able to find was from Chicago O’Hare-Paris in October for 25,000 miles round-trip and $250 in taxes and fees.

Screen shot 2013-09-30 at 3.26.20 PM

That same ticket would cost you $1,025 – saving you $775 and giving you a value of 3.1 cents per mile. These can be a great way to get to Europe while saving money.

Booking an US Airways off-peak award can save you several thousand miles.

Booking an US Airways off-peak award can save you several thousand miles.

7. US Airways Off-Peak Awards: US Airways offers off-peak awards when traveling on off-season dates depending on the destination. For instance, they offer reduced coach awards for only 35,000 miles roundtrip between North America and Europe from January 15-February 28, 2014. They offer discounted coach awards for 35,000 miles and business class awards between North America and South America from February 3-February 13 and March 17-April 3, 2014. From the US to the Caribbean during the month of September, coach awards are available for 25,000 miles, and first class awards are 50,000 miles roundtrip. I was able to book a sample award from Philadelphia to Amsterdam in January for 35,000 miles and $110 in taxes and fees.

Screen shot 2013-09-30 at 3.30.31 PMThat same ticket would cost you $949, saving your $839, and giving you a value of about 2.4 cents per mile with an off-peak award. Also note that you get 5,000 miles off US Airways awards if you have the US Airways MasterCard.

American award from LAX-TXL with add-on to HNL.

American award from LAX-TXL with add-on to HNL.

8.  American to Europe with add-on to Hawaii: One of my favorite types of coach awards is when you can add on a free leg at either the beginning or end of your trip by making your actual stopping point the stopover, and then Hawaii would be your final destination. I was able to book a MileSAAver award from Los Angeles-Berlin for 40,000 miles round-trip with an extra leg at the end from Los Angeles to Honolulu, increasing the value of this award without using any extra miles. As long as you start or end in a gateway city such as Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Dallas or Chicago to name a few, you would be able to add on an extra leg such as the example to Hawaii. It doesn’t just have to be Hawaii, you can add on to other US cities as well. See this post for more details.

9. Delta Domestic Coach Awards: Delta does make it difficult to find “low” award availability at the 25,000 mile level, but if you do find it (or book on partners Alaska Airlines) you can get  a domestic award with a stopover for just 25,000 miles. The key here is that Delta allows stopovers on domestic award tickets when most other carriers do not. An example of this would be Atlanta to Salt Lake to go on a ski trip (stopover city) and then continue onto Seattle to visit friends (destination) and then back to Atlanta. So two trips for the price of one! You can also leverage their generous stopover rules with international itineraries- if you fly New York-London-NY be sure to add in an extra NYC- domestic US city at a later date!

60,000 US Airways miles could get you to Paris and Hong Kong - and back again!

60,000 US Airways miles could get you to Paris and Hong Kong – and back again!

10. US Airways to North Asia with a Stop in Europe: Another great trick is using US Airways miles for a coach redemption for the US to North Asia with a stopover in Europe for only 60,000 miles. For the same amount of miles as flying directly from North America to Asia, you get twice the travel experience at no extra charge. Unfortunately, you can not book this kind of awards travel online through the US Airways website so have to call the customer representative number at 1-(800) 428-4322. Thanks to the helpful representative, I found a slightly complicated route in October from Los Angeles to Paris via Munich operated by Lufthansa, allowing for a two-night stay in Paris, and then to Hong Kong via Bangkok operated by Thai Airlines. For the return, the flight through Seoul and was operated by Asiana – all of which only required 60,000 miles.

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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  • Vaselenko

    Would you mind posting the exact routing for your trip to North Asia on USAirways? I have some mile to burn and wanted to play around with my routing to see what’s possible. Thanks.

  • Pingback: Top 10 Airline Economy Award Redemptions | The Points Guy - Travel and tourism

  • Michael Rasmussen

    Stunning great list. I’m now rethinking my points accumulation strategy and doubly pleased that I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

  • Lively

    I would like to know the North Asia info also. Great list!

  • Herbtrain

    I’m not sure I understand number 8, even after reading the additional post. Are you saying I can book Chicago (in my case)-Europe tickets using AA miles, with an additional Hawaii leg at the end, and then use those segments at a future time? Sorry if I’ve got that completely wrong, it just isn’t making sense to me.

  • John B

    I think it’s a little crazy to include Delta domestic trips on here — they make so few tickets at that level, and don’t allow one-way redemptions, so that it’s basically impossible to actually book at that level unless you live in a Delta hub.

  • lily

    It is good for delta to allow a stopover in domestic award redemption. But it is really really hard to find a low level one with desirable time. Therefore, you end up with either medium or high level when booking with delta. The average price is so high even you could plug in a stopover in your ticket.

  • Dave

    nope that is not correct. There are bloggers who focus on how to redeem delta awards at low-level. If you follow their advice you will learn how to always find low-level availability. It is possible if you know how!

  • Bucky Katt

    Yeah, it’s a bit confusing, but that’s basically correct–you can use AA’s stopover rules to add on a future trip. It really only started making sense to me when I went to the AA website and started playing around. When you’re on the main screen, click on the “Refine Your Search” option in tiny print below the search button for booking flights, then pick the multi-city option.

    It was easiest for me to learn how to do it using one-way tickets. One example that I’ve been looking at but haven’t booked was Europe to DC (home)next spring, “stop” for 4 months, then DC to Anchorage next summer. The AA site pulls up some flight options, and says you something like “This international award allows a stopover for no additional miles”. When you look at the flights, it will require 20K or 50K for the Europe to DC leg, but then for the DC-Anchorage leg, those dates will just show “–”, i.e. zero, as the miles required.

    Anyway, I would recommend you go to the AA website and just start experimenting with itineraries.

  • Van

    For US Airways, can I make redemption from Europe to US with stopover in Asia?

  • JC

    Once I got a roundtrip on Alaska Airlines from ORD to Fairbanks for 25K Delta miles, which would normally cost upwards of $600. There are good deals on Coach to be had for sure.

  • Shawn

    Don’t get No 8. Went to AA website, award ticket, multi-city and put LAX to BER(Feb 12), BER to HNL(Feb 16), and HNL to LAX(Feb 18). It wants 57.5k miles.

  • Shawn

    nevermind, figured it out.

  • pointsloverrrrrr

    Per #4 – When did ANA start charging fuel surcharges on United redemptions? As far as I know – they don’t charge fuel surcharges on redemptions to Europe, but do charge them on United redemptions to asia. Can anyone confirm my thought pattern?

  • Cynthia

    So I get the idea of the “stop” but lets say in the example (Los Angeles-Berlin for 40,000 miles round-trip with an extra leg at the end from Los Angeles to Honolulu) where I start and end in LA. The extra leg to Hawaii only gets me there. Wouldn’t I have to buy another ticket anyway to get back to LA? That’s what I don’t get; how does that one-way leg help me?

  • Bucky Katt

    Well, it gets you from LA to Honolulu for free, and that’s gotta be worth at least *something* to you. If you’re out of miles, then you only have to pay $300 for a one-way flight home from Hawaii instead of $600 for a roundtrip ticket (or whatever it costs).

    The thing that gave me the most trouble when I was trying to figure out how to do this is the same issue that you’re pointing out–you have to either get to the starting point, or get yourself home. In my case, we used some Virgin Atlantic miles to get from DC to Europe in the spring, so it was a little easier to process.

    If you’ve still got miles, then you can book another trip to Europe. Back to my example, say we go to Anchorage next summer. I’ll book another one-way ticket from Alaska to get back home to DC, stop for 8 months, then continue on to, say, Paris. At this point, (if we use the lowest award level) I’ll have spent a total of 40K miles to get the equivalent of a DC-Alaska round trip, *and* a DC-Europe round trip:
    Award 1 (20K): Europe-DC, Spring 2014 (stop)
    Award 1 (0K): DC-Anchorage, Summer 2014
    Award 2 (20K): Anchorage-DC, Summer 2014 (stop)
    Award 2 (0K): DC-Europe, Spring 2015

    Eventually, I might run out of miles, at which point I’ll just pay cash to get home from wherever we have ended up. Anyway, hope this helps . . .

  • austin1805

    I would list inter Japan redemptions. These can be an amazing value. Especially for Okinawa or more southern flights to mainland Japan. It’s on 6,000 UA miles in economy on ANA each way (Avios is 7,500 for JAL).

  • Cynthia

    Thanks, that helps.

  • BobChi

    I agree the list has some excellent features for the economy class traveler. Perhaps the best overall to me, though, is the ability with United to create a multiple stop itinerary that allows you to sample several destinations, as well as make a longer stopover at one, coming or going, on a single ticket.

    I do think a lot of bloggers’ focus is based on accessing premium cabins, which many readers do want, but the optimum point accumulation strategies, valuations, and redemption strategies can be very different for the economy traveler, and I’d like to see more on that.

  • Michael Rasmussen

    On number 10 – how do you figure out in advance what your possibilities are? Check Star Alliance flights?

  • Brandon

    I’m from the Bay Area. On domestic awards for number 4, would it be allowed to start a trip from SFO and stop over in San Jose or Oakland? And would something like this work for people from other cities with multiple airports?

  • Cohenm123

    In May, I had to be in LA about a week after the end of a Europe trip. So, using what I had learned from The Points Guy’s posts about stopovers, I booked Dublin to LA with a weeklong stopover in Boston (my home), all on American. It was an AA MileSaaver ticket, so the total itinerary was 20,000 miles and $50! I believe I got 8¢ per mile. Thanks TPG!

  • I.castillo

    I’m living in the Dominican Republic, and to me the best program is United Mileage Plus, cause with only 20k miles I can get rountrip flights withing countries in Central America, the Caribbean and some of Aouthamerica. That means, I can go to or from Dominican Republic to Mexico or to Colombia with just 20,000 miles.

  • Katrina

    I am a bit shocked to not see United anywhere on this list. In my experience they consistently have loads of saver awards seats available to off the wall international locations for cheap, even on other Star Alliance partner airlines. While I appreciate your preference for Delta and AA flights, I would love to see a bit more information on benefits at United.

  • Shawn

    Can you give an example of how you use United? I live in Houston so would love to figure out how to get more out of my United miles. Right now, I hate the airline and find their mileage useless since its the same boring 25k domestic and Europe and Asia are more pricey than other airlines. Also, their weekly weekend mileage specials are just plain terrible value. 22.5k miles for a ticket that is normally 25k is just stupid especially considering the weekend limitations.

  • mikeyonaboat

    The FB Promo awards are awesome! Except… what if I want to do a trip that’s from October – November? Then I can only use the promo awards for one of the legs… and nothing for the return?

  • Jenjen

    Must add: united super saver awards to Sydney at 80,000 points return. As an Australian, this is the absolute best and cheapest way I have found to get home!

  • bbkeith

    With regard to #9 about Delta offering stopover awards for the same points as round trip, it doesn’t seem to be working for me. I tried to book a trip from JFK-SFO, with a stop in JAC on the way out. Round trip JFK-SFO on these dates is 32,500 miles. When I built the trip on the web site using the Multiple City tab, it priced at 70,000 miles. When I called Delta, it priced at 80,000 miles. I explained to the agent that I thought it should price at the NYC-SFO price because Delta allows free stopovers, she said it didn’t work that way. I figured it was a case of the agent not knowing the rules so I called back a couple days later and another agents said the same thing. She said the total point cost is the combination of the point cost for each leg. What do I need to do?

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