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7 Airline Award Chart Improvements and Promotions for 2015

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If the past year has taught award travelers anything, it’s that points and miles don’t make very good long-term investments. Still, as some loyalty currencies falter, others become more valuable. Today TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele discusses some positive changes you can look forward to in the coming year.

Hardly a week goes by without news that one airline or another has devalued its award chart, either by increasing the mileage requirements or by tightening routing rules for award travel. However, the news isn’t all bad, as some recently announced changes have actually been for the better.

In today’s post I’ll share several award chart improvements and promotions that will stretch your points and miles farther, along with some existing reduced mileage awards that offer great redemption options from otherwise average award charts.

ANA has one of the best mileage programs out there.
The new ANA award chart offers gems like Europe business class for 90,000 miles round-trip.

1. ANA’s new award chart. In November, ANA announced that it would be changing its award chart from a distance-based formula to a zone-based one for awards ticketed after April 12, 2015. This means instead of calculating the redemption cost based on the distance traveled, ANA Mileage Club will emulate most North American frequent flyer programs and charge based on the zones being traveled to and from, which are usually continents or regions.

As expected, the new chart does remove some valuable short-haul options, like round-trip flights under 2,00o miles for 20,000 miles in coach and 38,000 in business. But in return we get some amazing deals like North America to Africa or the Middle East for just 90,000 miles round-trip in business class! That’s only 5,000 miles more than a United award to the Middle East in economy, and 10,000 more than United charges for Africa awards in economy. Even awards to Europe are a stunning deal at just 90,000 in business and 110,000 in first class round-trip.

If you’re looking for ways to build up your Mileage Club balance, ANA is a transfer partner of both Membership Rewards and SPG. You can earn Membership Rewards from a number of different American Express cards, and you can get Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (and the business version, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express).

Discounted Award Tickets to Hawaii on American Airlines
The new Korean Air SkyTeam award chart means flights from the US to Hawaii for just 25,000 miles.

2. Korean Air new SkyTeam award chart. Korean’s SkyPass program has been a conundrum. On one hand, it’s the only SkyTeam transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, and since Delta doesn’t issue awards in international first class, it’s one of the only ways to book an award in a first class cabin on a SkyTeam carrier. On the other hand, TPG found out that booking awards with Skypass can be bureaucratic nightmare. Also, Ultimate Rewards is not able to transfer to SkyPass at this time, although a Chase representative has indicated to me they expect this functionality to return.

I hope so, because it appears that SkyPass has redesigned its website to make searching for and booking award seats much easier. In addition, SkyPass has made a few positive changes to its award chart. Under the new chart, Hawaii is considered part of North America. This is probably considered a devaluation for residents of Asia who have enjoyed reduced mileage awards to Hawaii compared to those from the North American mainland. For North Americans, however, Skyteam awards to Hawaii now cost the same as other domestic awards!

This means that Delta flights to the Hawaiian Islands are a mere 25,000 in economy and 45,000 in business class round-trip. Korean Air is also partnered with Alaska and Hawaiian. Those non-Skyteam partner flights are 30,000 round-trip in coach, and 60,000 in first, which is still quite competitive.

Delta will begin taking delivery of 25 Airbus A330-900neo planes in 2019.
Delta will begin offering one-way awards in 2015, though there are some negative changes as well.

3. Delta one-way awards and improved search engine. The only thing that has been more infuriating than Delta’s buggy website and sparse award space at their lowest mileage level has been the lack of one-way awards. Technically, Delta does allow one-way awards, but only for the same price as a round-trip, so thanks for nothing! Getting value from the SkyMiles program in general has been like trying to win the lottery twice!

At least some of this will changes in 2015 when Delta makes one-way awards available for half the mileage of a round-trip. This will suddenly make it possible to use SkyMiles in combination with tickets from revenue bookings or other award programs. In addition, Delta has already introduced a new award search calendar. Whereas the previous award calendar produced results bordering on fictitious, and calculated mileage costs somewhat randomly, the new award charts are a largely accurate representation of what can be booked, at least among the partners that can be booked online.

The changes aren’t entirely positive, as Delta is eliminating stopovers on award flights. Awards with stopovers can still be booked through the end of the year, but only by reaching a telephone representative who is willing to help.

You can earn Delta SkyMiles with any of the co-branded Amex cards. Delta is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Diner’s Club Rewards.

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Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia have formed an uncommon transfer partnership.

4. Transfers between Singapore to Virgin Australia. This is an odd alliance, the likes of which I’ve never seen outside of merger partners and Iberia-BA transfers. Singapore KrisFlyer and Virgin Australia Velocity members can now move miles between their accounts.

The transfer ratio in either direction is 1.35:1, which is a bit of a haircut. Since these airlines are also award redemption partners, the main benefit of transferring miles is to utilize a partner not offered by the other carrier. For example, Virgin Australia is partnered with Delta and Air Berlin, so you could transfer Singapore miles in order to make use of awards on those carriers. This is also an option for consolidating multiple balances.

Unfortunately, the Velocity program is only open to residents of Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands. However, the launch of this class of partnership may incite similar offerings from other airlines.

Europe in fall autumn Amsterdam
Ending tomorrow, get 20% off United economy award redemptions to Europe.

5. Discounted United economy awards to Europe. Through tomorrow (December 4, 2014), you can book round-trip economy class flights to Europe on United for only 48,000 miles, or 24,000 one-way. Flights must originate in the United States or Canada (excluding Hawaii), and eligible destinations include Amsterdam (AMS), Brussels (BRU), Frankfurt (FRA), Geneva (GVA), Hamburg (HAM), London (LHR), Munich (MUC), Paris (CDG) and Zurich (ZRH). This promotion is valid for departures on Monday-Thursday only, between January 12-March 12, 2015.

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Promo Awards offer steeply discounted awards between a rotating cast of cities.

6. Promo awards from Flying Blue. Every quarter, Flying Blue (the frequent flyer program of Air France, KLM, and others) releases Promo Awards for reduced mileage award flights between select destinations. This quarter, you can book round trips to Europe from Chicago in economy class for a mere 25,000 miles round-trip, or premium economy from New York (JFK) or Toronto for 50,000 miles. The Flying Blue award chart includes Israel as part of Europe, so the redemption price is unbeatable for award flights to Tel Aviv. Promo awards must be booked before the end of the year for travel between January 2-March 31, 2015. Fuel surcharges do apply.

Spring time in Tokyo for only 50,000 miles!
Springtime in Tokyo for only 50,000 miles!

7. American’s discounted off-peak awards. While not new, it’s still worth mentioning that American Airlines offers off-peak awards in economy class to certain destinations, including:

  • Hawaii for only 35,000 miles round-trip. January 12 – March 8 and August 22 – December 15.
  • South America Zone 2 for 40,000 miles round-trip. March 1 – May 31 and August 16 – November 30. Zone 2 includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (excluding Easter Island), Paraguay, and Uruguay. 
  • Europe for 40,000 miles round trip. October 15- May 15.
  • Asia Zone 1 for 50,000 miles round trip. October 1 – April 30. Zone 1 includes Japan, Korea, and Mongolia.

Hopefully 2015 will be kinder to award travelers than 2014. Devaluations are inevitable, but it’s heartening to see that there are plenty of changes and promotions to be excited about.

What award chart changes are you hoping to see in the coming year?

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