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Discount Redemptions: How to Find Award Chart Sweet Spots

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Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele looks at discounted airline awards among domestic and international carriers, and offers tips on how you can use your points and miles for award flights below the published redemption rate.

Most frequent flier programs publish an award chart, while others have some sort of distance or revenue-based way of calculating how many points and miles you need to redeem for an award ticket. However, many of these programs have ways to redeem points and miles below the standard rates.

Typically, these discounted airline awards are available for a limited number of destinations, such as the Flying Blue Promo awards, while some are available for a limited time period, like the off-peak awards from American and US Airways. Other discounts may be available to holders of an airline’s co-branded credit card.

If you think there are only a few of these special offers, you’re happily mistaken. In this post I’ll run down the discounted awards currently available from major carriers around the world, so read on and see how you can save on your award flights.

Airberlin plane
Airberlin offers two different types of discount awards.

Air Berlin
There are two types of discounted awards from Air Berlin’s Top Bonus program:

Topdeal tickets are available to members of the program who register. Past deals have included 2,500 miles for flights between Vienna and Milan, or one-way transatlantic flights for 15,000 miles. Travelers must pay taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges, and flights cannot be changed or upgraded once booked.

Companion Tickets are available for awards in economy class, and reduce the amount of a single companion’s award by 50%, although all taxes and fees must be paid for both passengers. Award flights must be operated by Airberlin or their subsidiary NIKI. This offer cannot be combined with Topdeal tickets.

Air Canada
The Air Canada Aeroplan program offers discounted “Market Fare Flight Rewards” to elite members of its Distinction program. Discounts are “up to” 20% off for Silver members, 25% off for Black, and 35% off for Diamond. See complete details here.

Air Canada offers mileage discounts to their elite members.
Air Canada offers mileage discounts to its elite members.

Air China
The Air China Phoenix Miles program occasionally offers promotions, but mostly for earning instead of redemption. Currently, they are offering discounts of approximately 20% – 30% off award travel between Beijing and both Jakarta and Xiamen.

Alaska
Alaska’s Mileage Plan program offers off-peak award flights on American Airlines in economy class (see details under American Airlines below).

Alitalia
While technically not an award discount, it should be noted that Alitalia’s award chart (which has some of the lowest mileage redemptions around) is scheduled to increase substantially in October, although they have postponed this increase before.

American
American offers three types of discounted awards:

Off-peak awards are listed on their award chart for economy class tickets during limited time periods:

  • Hawaii for 17.500 miles each way between January 12 – March 8, and August 22 – December 15.
  • Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, or Central America for 15,000 each way between September 7 – November 14.
  • Southern South America for 20,000 miles each way between March 1 – May 31, and August 16 – November 30 (includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile , Paraguay, and Uruguay).
  • Europe for 20,000 miles each way between October 15 – May 15.
  • Asia Zone 1 (Japan, Korea, and Mongolia) for 25,000 miles each way between October 1 – April 30.

Reduced mileage awards are available to holders of Citi AAdvantage credit cards. Travel must originate in the contiguous 48 United States and Canada, and destinations (in the US and Canada) change each month. Discounts range fr0m 5,000 to 7,500 miles round-trip, although one-way awards are available. Unless you live in a hub city, be prepared to change planes, as their hubs in Chicago, Miami, Dallas, New York, and Los Angeles don’t seem to appear in the list of destinations.

The other significant downside is that these awards cannot be booked online, and they will charge a fee of $35 per person for awards booked over the phone or at an airport, although the fee is waived for Executive Platinum members.  The fee is only $20 at a ticket office, although most of them are in foreign countries (there are three in the United States).  So for the $35 fee for the 7,500 mile round-trip discount, you are effectively buying miles at 0.47 cents each, which isn’t terrible. That number increases significantly to 0.7 cents per mile for the 5,000 mile round-trip discount, and more for any one-way awards.

Award rebates are offered to Citi AAdvantage Visa and Citi AAdvantage Amex cardholders, who receive a 10% rebate on redeemed miles, up to 10,000 miles a year. This benefit only applies to AAdvantage miles redeemed from the primary cardmember’s AAdvantage account, and may take 6-8 weeks to be credited.

Asiana
The Asiana Club program offers mileage discount coupons to those who earn elite status. Discount coupons can be for 5,000 – 10,000 miles or 50% off, depending on your status earned. See complete details here.

British Airways
BA offers its Travel Together Ticket to holders of the British Airways MasterCard from Chase. Cardholders receive one Travel Together Ticket for each $30,000 spent during a calendar year. Cardholders can then book one award and receive the second award for no additional Avios, but they still have to pay the associated taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges. Awards can be booked online or through the British Airways call center. Awards must be on flights operated by British Airways, the itinerary for both travelers must be the same, and this benefit can now be used for one-way awards.

Also note that all award tickets on flights operated by British Airways are eligible to receive free connecting flights to any point in the United Kingdom served by British Airways, along with unlimited free stopovers in London.

Cathay Pacific
The Asia Miles program offers various discounted promotional awards. Current offers include a 30% discount on award flights between Hong Kong and Taiwan or Bangkok, and between Bangkok and Singapore or Colombo, Sri Lanka. There is also an offer for premium economy awards for just 20% more than economy.

EVA
EVA offers various award promotions. Current offers are for discounted mileage upgrade awards for paid flights to and from Europe and North America, and between Shanghai Pudong and Beijing.

Flying Blue
This program represents Air France, KLM, and several other affiliated carriers (see my recent post on Maximizing Flying Blue). The program offers Promo Awards that feature discounts of  25% -50% off of economy awards, and occasionally premium economy awards. These discounted awards are from select cities during limited time periods. For example, the current awards offer 50% off of economy class service between Europe and Detroit, 25% off economy class service between Europe and both Mexico and New York-JFK, and 50% off premium economy class awards between Europe and Washington, D.C.

Flying Blue Promo Awards are among the best bargains among all frequent flier programs.
Flying Blue Promo Awards are among the best bargains for all frequent flier programs.

New cities are announced on the first of every month for trips beginning two months in advance. Awards can be booked online as one-way or round-trip, but fuel surcharges will apply.

GOL
This Brazilian carrier offers reduced mileage awards on some routes, but offers scant details on their website.

Japan Airline
JAL offers a list of discounted mileage awards, which they call the Redeeming Mileage Campaign. These offers are fairly unique in that they include several partner awards, such as US Airways, Airberlin, and LAN/TAM.

JAL partner award discounts are fantastic, even if their geography skills are not (Phoenix is a 6 hour drive from the Monument Valley).
JAL partner award discounts are fantastic, even if their geography skills are not (Phoenix is a 6 hour drive from the Monument Valley).

This offer appears to apply their distance-based award chart to partner awards, and it often comes out ahead of the BA Avios awards.

JAL offers discounts, even on partners such as US Airways.
JAL offers discounts, even on partners such as US Airways.

Miles and More
This is the frequent flier program for Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, LOT, and other carriers. Miles and More offers Mileage Bargains in economy and business classes to select cities across the world. There are currently 270 offers, including:

  • Florence, Italy in business class for 55,000 miles round-trip from Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, or Newark, traveling in January of 2015.
  • Athens, Greece in economy class for 30,000 miles from Chicago, Houston, Denver, or Seattle, traveling in January of 2015.
Lufthansa Miles and More offers great discounts to most of their European destinations.
Lufthansa Miles and More offers great discounts to most of their European destinations.

Qatar
Qatar Airlines Privilege Club periodically offers Easy Deals. For September and October of 2014, there are a couple dozen cities that are eligible for discounted awards in both economy and business class, including Philadelphia.

Singapore
The Krisflyer program offers a 15% discount off of award flights operated by Singapore or SilkAir and booked online.

United
Flights within North America that are just 700 miles or less are only 10,000 miles one-way.

US Airways
There are two types of discounted awards from US Airways.

5,000 mile rebate for US Airways MasterCard holders: The US Airways MasterCard from Barclaycard currently offers a 5,000 mile rebate when booking round-trip flights operated by US Airways. Awards must be round-trip flights operated by US Airways. Unfortunately, this benefit is only valid until the end of the year, when this card will transition to the American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard.

Off Peak awards:

  • Between the continental U.S. (including Alaska) or Canada and the Caribbean, September 1 – 30 2014, 25,000 miles round-trip in economy, 50,000 miles in first class.
  • Between North America or Hawaii and South America, March 1 – 12 and April 19 – 23, 2015, 35,000 miles in economy and 60,000 miles in first class. (North America includes the continental U.S., Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico)
  • Between North America or Hawaii and Europe, January 15 – February 28, 2015, economy class only for 35,000 miles.

Virgin Atlantic

Their Elevate program just started a reward seat sale of 25% off their standard prices for economy and premium economy flights. Notably, they deceptively include fuel surcharges under the heading “Taxes.”