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Fly more, spend less: These are some of the best airline awards in the world

Aug. 27, 2021
16 min read
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I typically let airline award chart sweet spots, appealing hotel redemptions and events I want to attend dictate when and where I travel. But, if you're the type of traveler that picks a destination and then figures out how to best use points and miles for your flights, you may be overwhelmed with options.

Of course, you can search for guides on the best ways to get from the U.S. to your destination. For example, TPG has recently published guides, including how to get to Montreal using points and miles, How to get to Italy using points and miles and how to get to Helsinki on points and miles. You can also check out TPG's tips for finding cheap award flights for inspiration.

Whether you already know where you want to visit next or if you're looking for a compelling redemption option to a new destination, this guide will highlight some of the least expensive airline award redemptions broken down by region.

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Domestic

View from The High Line in New York City (Photo by Nicole Kwiatkowski/Shutterstock.com)

Turkish Miles & Smiles provides amazingly inexpensive award rates for United domestic flights. In particular, you can fly anywhere United flies domestically with saver award availability for 7,500 one-way in economy and 12,500 miles one-way in business class (including transcontinental flights with lie-flat seats). You can transfer points to Turkish Miles & Smiles from Citi ThankYou, Capital One or Marriott Bonvoy.

Alternatively, you can also redeem Avianca LifeMiles to book United-operated flights domestically. However, redemption rates vary by route and range from 6,500 miles (and a $10 booking fee) to 13,500 miles (and a $25 booking fee) each way. But, Avianca LifeMiles are easy to earn since you can transfer from American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy.

If you prefer to fly American and Alaska-operated flights, you can book nonstop flights up to 651 miles long for 7,500 British Airways Avios one-way and nonstop flights between 651 and 1,151 miles for 9,000 Avios one-way.

Finally, it's also worth checking Delta SkyMiles when searching for domestic award flights. After all, earlier this year, Delta offered flights to beach destinations from 2,500 miles in economy and 10,000 in first class.

Related: 6 award chart ‘sweet spots’ that will save you money on domestic flights

Hawaii

Tropical beach in Kauai, Hawaii. (Photo by M Swiet Productions/Getty Images)

Since Hawaii isn't part of the continental U.S., many airline award charts put Hawaii in a separate pricing zone.

But, you can use the same sweet spot mentioned in the previous section and fly to Hawaii using Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles. In particular, you'll only need to redeem 7,500 miles for a one-way economy award and 12,500 miles for a one-way business-class award. Availability, especially in business class can be hard to find, but sometimes you can get lucky and spot what you want.

You can transfer points to Turkish Miles & Smiles from Citi ThankYou, Capital One or Marriott Bonvoy.

Alternatively, if you have American Airlines miles, you can redeem 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way for a MileSAAver Off Peak award on American Airlines between the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Hawaii. Or you can fly on a Delta-operated flight to Hawaii for just 35,000 Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles round-trip.

Finally, if you are departing from the west coast, you could fly to Hawaii on American or Alalsks from 13,000 British Airways Avios each way.

Related: The best ways to get to Hawaii using points and miles

Canada and Mexico

Montreal city hall (Photo by Massimiliano Pieraccini/Shutterstock.com)

Like domestic flights, it's often easy to get a good deal on flights from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico.

For example, if you're flying to Canada and Mexico from somewhere near the border, you can use British Airways Avios to book flights for as little as 7,500 Avios one-way on American and Alaska Airlines.

Related: Canada reopens to Americans — my experience crossing the border

As discussed in the domestic section, British Airways prices award flights based on distance, so longer flights cost more. One-way non-stop flights up to 651 miles cost 7,500 Avios and flights between 651 and 1,151 miles cost 9,000 Avios.

(Screenshot courtesy of britishairways.com)

You can also find a good deal with Delta SkyMiles. Delta-operated flights to Canada are dynamically priced and often cost under 10,000 SkyMiles one-way. For example, you can fly from New York (LGA/JFK) to Toronto (YYZ) in basic economy for just 6,000 SkyMiles on many dates.

(Screenshot courtesy of delta.com)

Remember, Delta also partners with Aeromexico and WestJet. These partnerships give you many great options for flights from the U.S. and can provide additional rebooking options if your operating carrier cancels your flight.

Related: 14 of our favorite points hotels on the beach in Mexico

Europe

Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo by Noppasin Wongchum/Shutterstock.com)

If business class is your goal, it's hard to go wrong with redeeming ANA Mileage Club miles for Star Alliance flights from the U.S. to Europe. Round-trip awards will set you back 55,000 miles in economy and 88,000 in business class. You can add a free stopover with any ticket and mix Star Alliance carriers if you'd like.

The only downside is fuel surcharges. Some airlines like Lufthansa and Austrian add fuel surcharges to ANA Mileage Club tickets, so avoid booking these airlines if you want to book cheaply. Instead, book United, LOT Polish Airlines and SAS, which do not have these surcharges attached.

(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

Delta fans can book one-way tickets to Europe with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club for 30,000 points one-way in economy and 50,000 in Delta One business class. You can also use Virgin points to book with Air France and KLM, but you will pay moderate fuel surcharges.

(Screenshot courtesy of virginatlantic.com)

Finally, those wanting to fly with American Airlines can book through Etihad Guest. Economy tickets start at 20,000 Etihad miles one-way and business class tickets cost 50,000 miles. Further, you can book American Flagship first class to Europe for 62,500 miles, which is an excellent deal.

Related: 8 of the top European countries to visit this summer

Asia

Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Asia is a vast continent with a countless number of amazing cities. In turn, there are a ton of excellent redemption options if you're flying there. Here's a look at three of the best options.

Star Alliance fans can leverage ANA Mileage Club to redeem as few as 40,000 miles for a round-trip economy ticket or 75,000 for business class from the U.S. to Japan on off-peak dates. Like awards to Europe, you can add in a free stopover.

(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

On the SkyTeam side, you'll usually get the best deal booking with Air France/KLM Flying Blue. This program prices awards dynamically, but often has good deals on partner tickets. You can sometimes find one-way tickets for as little as 34,500 miles one-way in economy and 85,000 in business class.

(Screenshot courtesy of airfrance.us)

Finally, Oneworld flyers will want to consider booking Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines tickets with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. The two airlines have separate award charts with Alaska, but both charge as little as 70,000 miles for a one-way first-class ticket from the U.S. to Asia. Plus, you can add a free stopover at your connecting city.

(Screenshot courtesy of alaskaair.com)

Related: Cold ground, warm sky: A review of Cathay Pacific’s first class on the 777-300ER

Middle East

Many of the world's most luxurious airlines come from the Middle East. And although several of the major players, such as Emirates and Etihad, aren't a part of an alliance, they're still relatively easy to book with points and miles.

Personally, my favorite way to book awards to the Middle East is through American Airlines AAdvantage.

The program partners with Middle Eastern carriers Etihad, Royal Jordanian and Qatar Airways and charges just 40,000 miles each way in economy, 70,000 in business and 115,000 in first class. The taxes and fees are also usually minimal.

So you can book top-notch products like Qatar's Qsuite business class and Etihad's first-class "apartment" at extremely reasonable award rates.

(Screenshot courtesy of aa.com)

American is normally only a transfer partner of Marriott Bonvoy. But through Nov. 13, 2021, you can also transfer points to American through Citi ThankYou Rewards. Alternatively, you could rack up miles fairly easily by signing up for a new American Airlines credit card.

Related: Here’s how to get to Israel using points and miles

If you're looking to fly Emirates, the cheapest option is likely through JAL Mileage Bank. Depending on the distance, JAL charges 55,000 to 65,000 miles each way for a business class ticket from the U.S. to Dubai. However, only being a transfer partner of Marriott Bonvoy, these are some of the hardest airline miles to earn. Also, as of Sept. 1, JAL Mileage Bank members no longer have access to first-class awards on Emirates.

Luckily, Emirates' own Skywards program also offers decent rates and no longer tacks on massive fuel surcharges like it used to. To give you an idea, a one-way award from New York-JFK to Dubai (DXB) will set you 100,000 miles plus $181 in business class or 136,250 miles plus $181 in first class.

But the real benefit is that Emirates partners with all of the major transferable points currencies, including Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One Venture miles.

Emirates business class (Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

Related: The best programs for booking Emirates awards

Africa

Nairobi National Park in Kenya (Photo by Goddard_Photography/Getty Images)

If you want to fly business class to Africa, consider booking through ANA Mileage Club. After all, you can fly in business class on Star Alliance partners such as Brussels Airways, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines and United for just 104,000 miles round-trip. You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy to ANA Mileage Club.

Alternatively, if you prefer to use fewer points and miles on your flight, you can sometimes find Air France/KLM Flying Blue awards that let you fly from the U.S. to North Africa from 21,500 miles each way. You can transfer to Flying Blue from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy.

Finally, it's not exactly the cheapest award you'll find, but my favorite award to Africa is redeeming American Airlines miles to fly Qatar business from the U.S. to South Africa. This award costs 75,000 miles and $16 one way, which is a steal if you have American Airlines miles.

Related: Dreaming of an African safari: How I’ll book my bucket-list trip to Tanzania on miles and points

Australia

Flights to Australia are often both long and expensive.

However, as with many other destinations discussed, booking through ANA Mileage Club might be your best bet. You can book United flights to Australia for 75,000 miles round-trip in economy or 120,000 miles in business class. It can be difficult to find award availability on these routes, though. ANA Mileage Club is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Business class on a United Boeing-787 Dreamliner (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

For Oneworld flyers, the best option is through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Alaska has separate award charts for each of its partners. But, for Qantas-operated one-way awards, it charges 42,500 miles for economy, 47,500 miles for premium economy, 55,000 miles for business class and 70,000 miles for first class.

Alaska also lets you add a free stopover if your award requires a connection. The catch is that Qantas is known for being stingy with award availability. Plus Alaska miles can be difficult to earn if you aren't a frequent Alaska flyer or don't have a cobranded Alaska Airlines credit card.

Related: Fly business from the U.S. to Australia with a stop in Fiji for 55k miles plus $95

Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia (Photo by Steve Heap/Getty Images)

Although not as cheap as it once was, you should still consider booking Delta awards through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. Flights from the U.S. to Australia (and any other flights over 6,001 miles) cost 45,000 points each in economy and 165,000 points in business class. The redemption rate for business class might seem high, but that's typically still at least half of what it would cost to book directly through Delta SkyMiles.

Plus, Flying Club is a transfer partner of most of the major transferrable currencies.

Related: The 6 best airline award chart sweet spots

How to search award space

Searching for award space can be frustrating but rewarding. (Photo by FreshSplash/Getty Images)

Once you find a sweet spot award redemption you want to make, you'll need to search for award availability. Since it can be difficult to find availability, especially for some premium cabin awards, it's essential to ensure there's availability before transferring points into an airline loyalty program (if you don't already have enough points in your account).

How to search award availability varies across programs. But, here are the best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability, the best websites for searching Oneworld award availability and the best websites for searching SkyTeam award availability.

If you get frustrated searching for award availability, consider booking an award with one of the airlines with the best award availability. Alternatively, check out the beginner’s guide to finding award space with ExpertFlyer and how to do a broad calendar search for award availability.

Related: Here’s how to book the flight you want when award space is limited

Bottom line

There are lots of ways to book an award flight, with the 'best' option for your situation depending heavily on availability, the points you have at your disposal and your priorities. Luckily, you may have access to programs you didn't even know you needed to care about thanks to earning and using transferrable points to book with a variety of programs that all have their own advantages and redemption sweet spots.

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh and Benji Stawski.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases