The Points Guy Team's Best Airline Redemptions of 2016
At The Points Guy, we pride ourselves on helping readers maximize their miles for the redemptions they need to fulfill their travel goals. But we also like to put our miles where our mouths are… and put that expertise to use checking out the latest airline cabins, hotel rooms and more as we travel the globe.
As 2016 comes to a close, I polled my fellow TPG staffers and asked what their best redemptions of the year were. The results were a mix of jaw-dropping luxury, sentimental favorites and new discoveries. Here’s a round-up of some of our best airline mileage redemptions for the year.
1. Singapore Airlines A380 First-Class Suites, The Points Guy: Of course I had to ask TPG himself what his most memorable airline award of the year was. No surprise, it was when he redeemed miles for one of the world’s best first-class products, Singapore Suites. Although this is one of the most exclusive experiences in the skies, it’s easier than you may think to redeem miles for it. Then once you have your ticket, prepare for over-the-top extras like free-flowing Krug and Dom Pérignon, caviar service, enclosed suites, lie-flat beds dressed in Givenchy linens and more.
TPG’s ticket would have cost him about $7,250, but instead, he was able to redeem just 74,375 Singapore KrisFlyer miles and paid just $23 in taxes and fees to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita aboard the airline’s A380. That service has since ended, and now only the New York JFK-Frankfurt route currently has an A380 with Suites operating to/from the US. But you can also fly Singapore Suites in other parts of the world, including from Singapore to Europe and Australia. To get the KrisFlyer miles he needed, TPG transferred them to his account from Citi ThankYou Rewards, but you can also use American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest points, making Singapore KrisFlyer that much more versatile.
2. Star Alliance First-Class Mix-and-Match, Zach Honig, Editor-in-Chief: In what must be one of the most first-class-ified awards of all time, our Editor-in-Chief was able to book a “round-trip” redemption flying from New York to Frankfurt and on to Seoul aboard Lufthansa in first class, which is one of Team TPG’s favorite ways to fly. He then continued from Seoul to Siem Reap aboard Asiana in business class and from Manila to Bangkok on Thai in business class, then in the airline’s first class from Bangkok to Paris. Finally, it was time to head home from Paris to Newark via Munich aboard Lufthansa in first class (yes, again).
Total cost of this round-the-world-and-back foray? 260,000 United miles and $176 in taxes and fees. Unfortunately, this redemption would no longer be possible under United’s new routing rules, but part of the points game is knowing when and how to redeem your points for optimal value and maximizing advantageous routing rules when you can.
3. First-Class Family Time, Sarah Silbert, Points & Miles Editor: Sometimes the simplest use of miles is the best. Especially when those miles allow you to see your family for the holidays. That’s where Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert’s miles came in handy this year. With airfares sky-high over Christmas, Sarah was instead able to redeem 50,000 United miles for a round-trip first-class Saver-level ticket from Newark back to her hometown in San Diego to spend the holidays with her loved ones this year.
4. A Wedding and a Companion Pass, Peter Rothbart, Senior Points & Miles Contributor: Speaking of family commitments, one of my favorite mileage redemption stories from the staff this year was the one Peter told me. I’ll let him put it in his own words.
"I love using Southwest Rapid Rewards for domestic travel, since the revenue-based award pricing and generous change policies make it easy to score cheap fares. I took advantage of both those features this year when planning a trip to Southern California for my brother’s wedding. Airfare was relatively high during my initial search, but I found a Southwest award costing far less than the 25,000 miles most airlines charge for a round-trip domestic flight. When a Southwest fare sale popped up a few weeks later, I was able to rebook my nonstop Seattle-Santa Ana itinerary for just 3,676 Rapid Rewards points each way. Best of all, my Southwest Companion Pass allowed my wife to join me at no extra cost, so we flew to the wedding and back for just 7,352 points combined. That made it much easier for us to help them book awards to Japan for their honeymoon!"
Peter combined points policy savvy and a Companion Pass to make it to his brother’s wedding, and then even put his own miles to use to help the happy couple with their honeymoon. Now that’s a good brother!
5. Elite Experimentation, Richard Kerr, Senior Points & Miles Contributor: We always like to double- (or even triple-) dip at TPG, and Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr showed us exactly how it's done by not only using Wells Fargo points and cash to pay for an American Airlines ticket, but also to earn AAdvantage miles on that ticket and clinch Executive Platinum status. You can read about his experience here, but the long and short of it is…
He flew from Washington to Los Angeles and back in American’s transcontinental lie-flat business class using 61,333 Wells Fargo points, which counted as a revenue booking on American so that he earned award and elite-qualifying miles. From there, he purchased a bargain-basement $1,171 airfare to fly Los Angeles-New York-Miami-Panama City-Miami-New York-Los Angeles also in business and first class. He even got to fly in the airline's flagship 777-300ER first class seats from New York to Miami. The entire itinerary took him three days to complete (just 30 hours of which was in the air), and netted him 28,062 EQMs and 40,576 redeemable miles, plus Executive Platinum perks like systemwide upgrades and more. A status challenge, a mileage run and a shrewd redemption choice all wrapped up in one.
6. Award Chart Advantage, Adam Kotkin, Chief of Staff: Adam is one of the best bargain-hunters around, and also one of the most perceptive travel planners, so you can bet his best redemption from the year was a doozy. Adam had the forethought (and luck!) to find and book a first-class award on American Airlines and Qantas using his American AAdvantage miles just days before the airline executed its award chart devaluation back in March.
Adam redeemed 145,000 miles and paid just $28 in taxes and fees to fly from New York to Los Angeles in American Airlines’ lie-flat transcontinental first-class cabin, then continue on to Sydney in first class on Qantas. On the return, he flew back from Sydney to Los Angeles in American’s flagship 777-300ER first class then on to Miami in first class on American. That same redemption today would have cost him 220,000 miles. So not only did he get to experience two premium first-class products, he did it at what would turn out to be a significant discount. Now we just have to hear which flight he liked best.
7. Saver Award Sweet Spots, Jason Steele, Senior Points & Miles Contributor: Jason travels as much as anyone on the TPG team, and is always finding new and creative uses (and routes) for his points. His best redemptions this year are a combination of technical wizardry and out-of-the-box thinking. Jason flew his wife and two children (one of whom is an infant) from Denver to Tel Aviv in Turkish Airlines business class using Air Canada Aeroplan miles, which he had transferred from American Express Membership Rewards. He used 175,000 miles for the three tickets and says that the redemption was "uniquely valuable since Air Canada doesn't impose fuel surcharges on United or Turkish flights, and it only charges 10,000 miles to ticket an infant lap child. Most other airlines will charge you 10% of a full-fare business-class ticket, which often means paying hundreds of dollars."
Jason also discovered a loophole in United’s award chart where the airline only charged him 35,000 miles (transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards) to fly business class from Tel Aviv to New Delhi via Europe on a combo of Lufthansa and Air India instead of the 45,000 miles it would have cost him to fly just from Europe alone. From New Delhi, Jason booked a ticket to Singapore and then on to Frankfurt and then New York, all in—wait for it—Singapore Suites! Even Jason admits this might be excessive, saying, "There really is no point to this, except to spend 24 hours aloft in Singapore Suites class. I'll also get about 12 hours on the ground in Singapore, but it's mostly about the flight. Stay tuned for a trip report in January!" Total cost of that redemption? 112,625 KrisFlyer miles, also transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards.
8. Upgrade Escapade, Emily McNutt, Associate Editor: Emily reminded me that outright award redemptions aren’t the only way to maximize your miles when she submitted her best story from this year. "After reviewing Singapore’s new premium economy from New York to Frankfurt," she says, "I wanted to splurge on an upgrade on the way back. So I used 26,350 KrisFlyer miles transferred from Ultimate to upgrade my paid premium economy ticket to business class." The price difference would have been about $1,040, so she got nearly 4 cents per point in value. Well worth it, she said, "because though premium economy was nice, business class was much more comfortable and enjoyable!"
9. A Family Affair, Nick Ellis, Assistant Editor: Nick’s miles came in handy when he was able to use them to help his family out with a last-minute redemption earlier this year. His grandparents live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but had to fly to Providence for a family funeral. Flights were extremely expensive since both cities are served by small airports. However, Nick was able to redeem miles for award tickets on Delta for just 25,000 SkyMiles round-trip each. Not only did it save his grandparents hundreds of dollars, but it also spared them from having to make the four-hour drive to Chicago to catch a flight to Boston and then another 90-minute drive from there to Providence, the last thing they needed to do at such a trying time.
10. Exotic Excursion, Eric Rosen, Special Contributor: I’ll end with one of my own favorite redemptions from the past year. It was one where a few miles got me quite a distance in style, I got to try out a new airline en route to a spectacular destination, and I had fun to boot.
My first major trip of 2016 was to China and Sri Lanka. My only problem? Figuring out how to get from China to Sri Lanka. Luckily, I realized that SriLankan Airlines was operating a flight from Beijing to Colombo aboard an A330-300 featuring the airline’s latest business class, a reverse-herringbone configuration much like Cathay Pacific’s, but with much brighter colors (and more curry dishes on the menu). SriLankan is in Oneworld, so I was able to use American Airlines AAdvantage miles for the award. This was also before American devalued its award chart last year, so I needed just 22,500 miles and $14 in taxes and fees to fly in business class on the eight-hour route instead of paying the nearly $1,200 in airfare. The same redemption today would cost me 40,000 miles. I loved every minute of the flight, from the friendly service to the eye-catching cabin and seats, to the fact that I got a few hours of quality sleep so I was ready to hit the ground running in Sri Lanka. You can read my full review here.
Those were just a few of Team TPG’s battle stories from the past year. Stay tuned for another post on our best hotel redemptions of 2016. In the meantime, please feel free to share your own best airline awards from 2016, and what you’re going to do with your miles in 2017 in the comments below.