Ten of the Best Airline Mileage Redemption Sweet Spots

Mar 4, 2014

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I post pretty frequently on ways to accumulate miles and points such as via lucrative credit card sign-up bonuses, everyday credit card usage, shopping portal payouts, dining programs, promotions, and more, but earning is only half the battle.  The miles and points you earn are only as valuable as the ways in which you redeem them.  So, to help you get the most value for your miles, this post is dedicated to airline mileage redemptions.  Specifically, here are ten of my favorite ways to redeem miles that aren’t all necessarily intuitive to those newer to miles and points.  You could call them “award chart sweet spots”.  I will say up front that some of the longer itineraries focus on business class redemptions, but the corresponding economy class tickets are often also better deals than average.

Using British Airways Avios to fly partners such as American, Alaska, and more starting at 4.5k Avios each way:

British Airways Avios can be easily racked up as they are partners of both Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, and that’s great because they are insanely valuable if you want to fly short(ish) routes on British Airways partners.  British Airways itself can charge some nasty fuel surcharges to cross the pond and beyond, but you won’t hit those issues on some of their partners.  Their award chart is distance-based, so the shorter the flight the fewer the miles.  Connections will increase the cost over non-stops.  For example, you can fly Alaska Airlines from the West Coast to Hawaii for just 12.5k points each direction.  You can fly from Houston to Chicago on American Airlines for 7.5k points or from Miami to Nassau on American for 4.5k points.  All of these would cost more booking directly with American or Alaska using their respective mileage currencies.   Here is a post that offers more details on using Avios to book with these partners.

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Beautiful Bahama Beaches just 4.5k Avios from Miami

Using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Miles to Fly on United:

United Airlines generally has pretty good award availability, and while you used to be able to transfer American Express Membership Reward points to Continental Airlines to book award flights before the merger, the ability to transfer miles directly from Membership Rewards to Continental/United is no more.  However, you can still use Membership Reward points to book United flights (and often at better rates) by transferring them to the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program and booking with their Star Alliance partner, United.

Their award chart charges the same 25k per domestic round trip in coach as United, but charges just 40,000 KrisFlyer for round trip in domestic first class (on a two cabin plane), or in business class (on a three cabin plane).  This would be 50,000 miles if booked via United using United miles.  We booked via KrisFlyer using 60,000 miles for business class round trip to Hawaii when that would have been 80,000 miles directly from United.  Here is their award chart to give you an idea of what they charge for various routes.  There were no fuel surcharges to book on United.

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Business class round trip to Hawaii 60k KrisFlyer miles

United Free One-Ways:

When booking a trip using United miles you can potentially take advantage of what is popularly referred to as the “free one-way”.  This doesn’t bring down the cost of your trip, but it helps you get more than one trip out of an award ticket.  For example, I just went from the US to Norway and back on United miles.  I could have just done that round trip on miles and called it a day.  However, I added a “free one-way” on the end of the trip from my home city of Houston to Vancouver to start an upcoming ski trip.  It was booked for over a month after my Norway trip ended and it didn’t cost any extra miles to add on that flight.  This is made possible by taking advantage of the generous stopover and open-jaw rules that United has on some of their award tickets.  This won’t work on 25k domestic award tickets.

You can get more details about the free oneway in this post, but keep it in mind when you are booking your big award trips to Europe, Hawaii, Caribbean, Asia, and beyond (basically any ticket that goes from one region to another).  Keep in mind that you will have to call to book these awards most of the time (don’t use the term free one-way) as the online booking system sometimes doesn’t work well enough to present all the flight options for these complex bookings.

American and US Airways Off-Peak Awards 30k Miles Round Trip to Europe:

These awards are very straight-forward but require fewer miles to fly to certain destinations during off-peak times.  For example, you can fly in coach from North America to Europe round trip for as few as 30,000 US Airways miles.  That is incredible when you compare it to a domestic round trip ticket that requires 25,000 miles!  To take advantage of that rate you must have a US Airways credit card (35k if you don’t have the card), must be booked on US Airways operated flights, and must travel during the prescribed times which is from January 15 – February 28 for Europe.  American Airlines offers a longer off-peak booking period to Europe from October 15 – May 15 but charges more at 40,000 miles (you can get 10% back with some co-branded AA cards).  There are also off-peak times to Hawaii, Caribbean, Japan & South Korea, South America, and Central America.

ANA East Coast to Europe in Business Class for 63k Miles:

Like Singapore Airlines, ANA is a Star Alliance partner that is also a Membership Rewards transfer partner.  Like British Airways they have a distance-based award chart that is quite favorable from the East Coast of the US to Europe for flights that ring in under 7,000 miles for the total trip.  For example, Newark – London – Newark is about 6,930 miles (you can use Great Circle Mapper to estimate distance).  If your total trip is 7,001 – 9,000 miles it will cost just 68,000 miles in business class.  Again, for comparison, Newark – Rome – Newark is 8,586 total miles.  If your total number of miles is 9,001 – 11,000 you will have to pay 85,000 miles in business class.  That will get you from Houston – Frankfurt – Houston as that distance is about 10,463 total miles.  You can view the whole award chart below.  ANA does charge fuel surcharges, but not on United or US Airways operated flights (remember US leaves Star Alliance at the end of March).  If you booked one of these flights mentioned on a United operated flight with United miles it would cost 115,000 miles for business class, so this is a real savings!

ana award chart

North America to Europe Zone 1 in Business Class for 90k Aeroplan Miles:

A third Star Alliance member that is also an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner is Aeroplan (Air Canada’s frequent flyer program).  You can fly in business class from North America to Europe 1 (that includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain (incl. Balearic Islands; excl. Canary Islands), Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom) for just 90k miles.  This is more than the amounts listed for ANA, but this chart is not distance based.  This means that you don’t have to worry about the total miles flown.  As a result, this worked well for my mom’s upcoming trip that goes from Houston – London – Paris (open jaw) Rome – Houston since the total miles flown would have made it pricier on the ANA chart.

They allowed two stopovers or one stopover and one open jaw as we booked. You cannot book this type of trip online, but you could over the phone. There are no fuel surcharges on US Airways or United operated flights.  Aeroplan also has one of the most generous lap infant ticket rules as they charge just $100 or 10,000 Aeroplan Miles for a lap infant on a business class award like the ones described above.  Most carriers charge 10% of the selling price of the ticket which often results in hundreds of dollars on a premium cabin ticket.

US Airways 90k Miles to North Asia and Europe in Business Class:

These US Airways award chart sweet spots will be short lived given the merger with American Airlines, but for now they are very good deals.  This one involves spending 90,000 miles to fly round trip from the US to North Asia with a stopover in Europe.  If you just flew round trip from the US to Europe via US Airways miles in business/envoy class it would be 100k, so it is actually cheaper to stop in both Europe and North Asia!  North Asia includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  You can fly all different Star Alliance partner carriers on this routing (as long as you book by the end of March).

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Visit Europe and North Asia for 90k US miles!

US Airways 110k Miles to Australia in Business Class:

Another US Airways award chart sweet spot is 110,000 miles to fly from the US to the South Pacific in business class.  This will include popular destinations like Australia and New Zealand!  Again you can fly on a variety of Star Alliance partners for this routing (will have to be booked over the phone).  For comparison, United charges 160,000 miles round trip to fly from the US to Australia on Star Alliance partners, so this is a good sweet spot on the US Airways chart.

Lufthansa Miles and More 35k Domestic First Round Trip on United:

Another very inexpensive way to fly in a premium cabin domestically is via the Lufthansa Miles & More program (can rack up miles via the Premier Miles and More World MasterCard) as they charge just 35,000 miles round trip to fly domestically (not including Hawaii) on their Star Alliance partner United.  You can book as two one-ways for just 17k miles each way.  Technically this is for business class, but on a two-cabin plane United codes first class as business class (I class).  On a three cabin plane you would be in business class.  This is a good deal since it normally would cost 50,000 United miles for that same domestic first class ticket.  You can read more about this deal here.

Tons of Free Flights via Southwest Companion Pass:

The 50,000 sign up bonus has expired.

I would be remiss to talk about award chart sweet spots and not mention the Southwest Companion Pass.  The Southwest award chart is tied to how much the revenue tickets cost, so there aren’t any real sweet spots on the award chart (other than during good sales), however the Southwest Rapid Reward program offers a unique award called the Companion Pass.  the Companion Pass allows for a designated companion to fly free (other than taxes/fees) with the pass holder.  This means if my husband was my companion via the Companion Pass that he could fly free with me on Southwest regardless of whether I booked using cash or points.  This makes your Southwest points go twice as far!  To earn the Companion Pass you have to earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, but this isn’t too hard considering the Southwest credit card sign-up bonuses of 50k points have been counting toward earning the pass.

I’m not including the LifeMiles program in this list even though it does have several great sweet spots, mostly because those sweet spots aren’t likely meant to be as generous as they are.  They are tied more to “interesting” geographical classification than anything else.  However, I recommend spending some time with Google if you want to poke around that program.  Some of those sweet spots have been written about in more detail than others.

There are many more award chart sweet spots out there, but these are ten that are relatively straight forward, even if they aren’t all obvious on first glance.  I didn’t go into detail on any one sweet spot, so you will need to dig deeper to get the ins and outs on any one of these.  Again, Google is your friend, or ask me questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to get you an answer or point you in the right direction.

Learning how to maximize your miles when it comes time to redeem is essential if you want to be able to stretch your frequent flyer balances as far as possible for your family!

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