Economy class on the cheap: getting the best points deals with all three alliances
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Transferable points and miles are great — with transfer partners, they give you tons of different options for redeeming your miles for any route you can dream of. That said, things get confusing when you have so many options — especially when you’re looking for the best deal on a specific type of ticket.
For example, American Express Membership Rewards has multiple transfer options for the major airline alliances. With SkyTeam, you can transfer to Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Alitalia MilleMiglia and Delta SkyMiles. Further, many SkyTeam members have non-alliance partnerships with Etihad Guest and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
So which do you pick the next time you want to book a SkyTeam ticket? Great question — and there’s really no blanket answer. It varies based on the type of route you’re flying. In this article, we’ll take you through the best options for booking economy tickets through all of the alliances.
We’ll focus on finding the best deals on short-haul domestic flights and international flights. Additionally, I’ll show you options for both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you can stretch your transferable points further.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll also include flights to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean in the short-haul portion of this article. Note that you may also find intra-Europe and Asia flights mentioned in these sections as well. All other flights will be in the international group.
So without further ado, let’s get started!
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Best deals for booking Oneworld economy flights
Oneworld is the smallest alliance in terms of the number of carriers, but it’s a common option for U.S. travelers. Some of the world’s largest airlines — think American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific — are founding members, so you have a slew of routes to book all around the world. Here’s how to maximize your points.
Short-haul: British Airways Avios is still the best
British Airways Avios have long been one of the best programs to use for short-haul flights. Unfortunately, last year’s partner award chart devaluation made these awards a bit more expensive. But you can still expect a solid value on tickets.
British Airways prices award tickets based on the length of a flight. If there’s a connection involved, you’ll pay per segment. This means that you can score excellent deals on short-haul flights, but will pay more miles for longer flights or itineraries with connections.
Pricing short-haul economy tickets with British Airways Avios
British Airways offers the lowest pricing on short-haul flights. Most of these flights depart from London, though you can also book partner awards on carriers like Aer Lingus and Iberia. Here’s a look at Avios award pricing for IAG airlines:
|Zone||Distance in Miles||Off-Peak||Peak|
|Zone 1**||1 – 650||4,000||4,500|
|Zone 2||651 – 1,151||6,500||7,500|
|Zone 3||1,152 – 2,000||8,500||10,000|
|Zone 4||2,001 – 3,000||10,000||12,500|
|Zone 5||3,001 – 4,000||13,000||20,000|
|Zone 6||4,001 – 5,500||16,250||25,000|
|Zone 7||5,501 – 6,500||19,500||30,000|
|Zone 8||6,501 – 7,000||22,750||35,000|
Other Oneworld partners have solid redemption rates too. You can use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights of less than 1,151 miles for just 9,000 Avios with no fuel surcharges. This includes popular routes like New York (LGA) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and New York-JFK to Montreal (YUL). Here’s a look at partner pricing:
|Zone||Distance in Miles||Economy|
|Zone 1**||1 – 650||6,000|
|Zone 2||651 – 1,151||9,000|
|Zone 3||1,152 – 2,000||11,000|
|Zone 4||2,001 – 3,000||13,000|
|Zone 5||3,001 – 4,000||20,750|
|Zone 6||4,001 – 5,500||25,750|
|Zone 7||5,501 – 6,500||31,000|
|Zone 8||6,501 – 7,000||36,250|
**Not available on flights to, from or within the U.S.
Earning British Airways Avios
You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards to British Airways Avios at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 points transferred.
Long-haul: Iberia Avios, Etihad Guest or Asia Miles
Things get tricky when it comes to booking international tickets with your points and miles. Many of the best deals for booking these tickets come from non-alliance partners like Etihad Guest. While that’s great, the airline doesn’t partner with all Oneworld carriers.
On the other hand, you can use Iberia Avios to book super cheap tickets on the carrier’s own planes during off-peak dates. Here’s a quick look at when to use each of these programs to score a great deal on an economy class ticket.
Use Etihad Guest miles to book American Airlines tickets
Etihad and American Airlines have long had a non-alliance partnership, letting each other’s loyalty members book flights on the respective carrier. You can use Etihad Guest miles to get incredible deals on American tickets, especially when you’re traveling to Europe and South America.
American flights from the U.S. to Europe and South America cost just 20,000 miles one-way, with minimal taxes and fees. Meanwhile, flights to Asia cost just 25,000 miles. This is far lower than what American Airlines charges for the same awards in its AAdvantage program. It’s also the best deal for booking international economy flights using American Express Membership Rewards points.
Unfortunately, you cannot book American awards on the Etihad website. Instead, you’ll have to find award space using your favorite Oneworld search engine and then call Etihad Guest to book — while tedious, the extra time is well worth the points saved.
Earning Etihad Guest miles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Etihad Guest miles at a 1:1 transfer ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, and you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Iberia Avios offer great prices on off-peak Iberia flights to Europe
Iberia Avios is a transfer partner of both American Express and Chase. It offers some of the best redemptions to Europe, with one-way flights from the East Coast and Midwest starting at just 17,000 miles. West Coast routes cost just 21,750 miles each way. This is an incredible deal and is by far the cheapest way to get to Europe on points.
Off-peak dates vary by year and 2021 dates haven’t been released yet. That said, you can search for award space on Iberia’s website and 2021’s off-peak dates price accordingly. You can book tickets online without calling the airline and only minimal taxes and fees are added.
Earning Iberia Avios
You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards to Iberia Avios at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 points transferred.
Further, you can transfer Avios between British Airways and Iberia accounts at a 1:1 ratio so long as both accounts have been open for at least 90 days.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles are your best bet for flights to Asia
Headed to Asia? Check out Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles. The airline charges just 30,000 miles for a one-way economy ticket from the West Coast to Hong Kong.
Using Asia Miles to fly on a partner carrier
Asia Miles has solid redemption rates for international flights on other Oneworld carriers. You can expect to pay 27,000 miles each way for an economy class seat from the U.S. to Europe or South America. You may be subject to fuel surcharges depending on the airline you fly with.
This is especially useful for connecting flights, since British Airways would charge you per segment. The downfall, however, is that you need to call Asia Miles to book flights with some of its partner carriers.
Likewise, you can find some decent deals to other parts of Asia too. A one-way ticket from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) costs 40,000 miles each way with Japan Airlines. This can be a good deal when there’s no American award space to book with Etihad miles.
Use the Asia Miles calculator to find pricing for your route and partner of choice. The airline does have a standard award chart, but each partner has varying prices. You may want to cross-check this with rates charged by other Oneworld partners in order to find the best deal.
Earning Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards to Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000 Asia Mile bonus awarded for every 60,000 points transferred.
Best deals for booking SkyTeam economy flights
SkyTeam is the second-largest airline alliance when it comes to number of partner airlines. It includes some big players like Aeromexico, Air France and Delta Air Lines. Many SkyTeam members have moved away from standard award pricing, but there are still some deals to be found if you know where to look.
Let’s take a look at the best ways to use your points to book economy tickets on SkyTeam carriers.
Short-haul: Delta and Air France/KLM are your best bets
Depending on where you fly, you’ll want to use Delta SkyMiles or Air France and KLM’s joint Flying Blue program to book your short-haul flights. Delta is best for domestic U.S. flights and Flying Blue is best for intra-Europe and Asia flights on SkyTeam carriers. Here’s a quick look at both programs.
Related: Best sweet spots with Delta SkyMiles
Use Delta SkyMiles to book U.S. domestic awards
One perk of Delta moving to dynamic award pricing is that domestic award flights can be booked for very cheap. We’ve seen them as low as 5,000 miles one-way with minimal taxes and fees, which is an excellent deal when compared to what other carriers charge.
That said, there’s no set award pricing for any Delta award tickets. A ticket that costs 5,000 miles one day may cost 25,000 miles on the return. So it’s tough to predict how many miles you’ll need. That said, Delta will always show you a week’s worth of availability at once, so it’s easy to find low-cost awards.
Thankfully, it’s easy to find these great deals. Searching less than a month out, we found nonstop flights from New York to Chicago for just 6,000 SkyMiles in basic economy and 8,000 miles in standard economy.
This low pricing extends to other Delta routes too. A transborder basic economy flight from Seattle (SEA) to Vancouver (YVR) costs 5,000 SkyMiles one-way when searching two months out from the date of departure.
While not the shortest route, Los Angeles (LAX) to New York-JFK also prices relatively low when booking a few months in advance. These flights start at just 12,000 SkyMiles one-way, which is a great deal when you consider how nonstop expensive transcontinental flights can get at the last minute.
Always check Delta SkyMiles when you’re searching for a domestic award ticket. It tends to have the best deals for domestic awards, and you may find they price lower than other alliance airlines when booking short-haul flights.
Earning Delta SkyMiles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 transfer ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, and you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Use Flying Blue to book short-haul flights in other regions
Like Delta, Flying Blue doesn’t have set award pricing. We’ve found its pricing to be a little less variable than Delta, but you may still find wildly different prices depending on when you’re searching for a flight.
That said, the program frequently has the best deals for SkyTeam flights within Europe, Asia and other regions of the world. Using Europe as an example, we found Air France and KLM economy flights price at just 6,000 Flying Blue miles one-way from Paris (CDG) to Amsterdam (AMS) with $34.94 in taxes and fees attached.
You can find good deals in other regions too. An economy China Airlines flight from Taipei (TPE) to Hong Kong (HKG) is pricing at just 11,500 miles and $16.97 when searching four months out.
Longer intra-region flights can be priced pretty well too. Kenya Airways flights in economy class from Nairobi (NBO) to Johannesburg (JNB) price at 18,000 miles and $103.19 one-way, which is a solid deal considering the flight costs $560 on the same day we searched.
Earning Flying Blue miles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Flying Blue at a 1:1 transfer ratio. Capital One points transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, and you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Long-haul: Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue
Like short-haul tickets, we have two recommendations for booking long-haul SkyTeam flights. Our favorite option is Virgin Atlantic Flying Club — while the airline isn’t a member of SkyTeam, it does have non-alliance partnerships with three major players: Air France, Delta Air Lines and KLM.
Flying Club has some of the best award pricing on these airlines, and it’s become a go-to for booking Delta award tickets. On the other hand, you can’t book all SkyTeam awards with the program as the airline doesn’t have partnerships with every member.
This is where Flying Blue comes back into play. Despite its dynamic award chart, you can often find great deals when booking with the airline. This is especially true when the airline is running Promo Awards that offer discounted tickets.
Here’s a closer look at both of the programs.
Use Virgin Atlantic to book Delta flights
Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program has excellent deals on Delta award tickets. Its standardized award chart gives you a predictable way to book Delta awards in economy and business class. Here’s a look — note that the prices shown here are for round-trip tickets. One-way flights are half the cost.
We’ve found that it generally prices international flights lower than if you were to book with Delta SkyMiles too.
To illustrate this, we searched for an economy flight on Delta from Atlanta (ATL) to Seoul (ICN). Virgin Atlantic charged 40,000 miles while Delta charged a whopping 115,000 miles for the same flight.
Virgin Atlantic has great deals on Air France and KLM flights
You’ll sometimes find a better deal using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to book Air France and KLM awards too. Virgin Atlantic’s award charts for these airlines are a bit more complicated as pricing is based on zone and peak — you can view them on the carrier’s website.
Despite being more complicated, there are some solid deals to be found. You can book an Air France flight from Atlanta to Paris for just 12,000 and $129 in taxes and fees on off-peak dates.
Flying Blue charges less than half the taxes and fees, but you’ll pay 29,000 miles for the same ticket. In this case, we’d recommend booking with Virgin Atlantic as the mileage discount is drastic. That said, always cross-compare prices at Flying Blue dynamically prices its awards.
Earning Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Flying Club at a 1:1 transfer ratio. Capital One points transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, and you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
One quick word of warning: Virgin Atlantic is on rocky financial ground. Only transfer miles to the carrier if you think it’ll survive the coronavirus travel downturn without going bankrupt or insolvent. Otherwise, your miles could be rendered worthless.
Use Flying Blue for other carriers and Promo Rewards
Virgin Atlantic’s major pitfall is that it doesn’t partner with all SkyTeam carriers. Flying Blue does partner with all airlines though, and its odd dynamic award pricing structure can sometimes work out in your favor. This is especially true when the airline is running its famous Promo Rewards — here’s a look.
Using Flying Blue to book long-haul tickets
Like short-haul tickets, pricing can be extremely variable for long-haul awards too. We’ve found that the best deals, though, are for connecting tickets in Europe, to the Middle East and Asia. Take New York to Prague for example — when bookings months out, you can book tickets for 21,500 miles and $83.70.
Flights to the Middle East can be a solid deal too. On the dates we searched, 34,000 miles and $116.34 will get you from Atlanta to Beirut (BEY) one-way in economy class.
Asia is affordable too. If you don’t mind going the long route, a flight from Chicago to Hong Kong via Amsterdam (AMS) costs 34,000 miles and $138.02. More direct routes are available with China Eastern, but cost significantly more points to book on this particular date.
Keep an eye out for Promo Rewards
One of the best ways to maximize your points is to take advantage of Promo Rewards. These are limited-time points deals that are announced monthly that offer super low prices on select routes. We’ve seen excellent deals in the past like business class flights to Europe for just 13,250 miles one-way.
You can view an up-to-date list of Promo Rewards on the Flying Blue website. The airline has paused these awards due to the coronavirus outbreak, but we expect them to resume once the pandemic is contained worldwide and travel resumes.
Keep an eye out for long-haul Promo Rewards in the future. They offer some of the best deals in the miles and points world, and can help you stretch your transferable points even further.
Best deals for booking Star Alliance economy flights
Star Alliance is the world’s largest airline alliance in terms of number of carriers. Its 26 member airlines include some of the world’s largest airlines like ANA, Lufthansa and United Airlines. Here are the best ways to book economy award tickets on Star Alliance carriers.
Short-haul: Use Avianca LifeMiles to book short-haul tickets
Avianca LifeMiles is an incredibly useful program for booking short-haul flights, especially here in the U.S. The airline used to publish a standard award chart, but recently removed them from its website. That said, pricing is mostly in-line with the old chart but frequently deviates from standard pricing for the better on short-haul flights operated by United.
United’s shortest routes can be booked for just 6,500 miles. Some examples of this are San Francisco (SFO) to Ontario (ONT) and Newark (EWR) to Pittsburgh (PIT). You’ll pay just $5.60 in taxes and fees on these tickets too.
Longer flights like Chicago to New York price at just 7,500 miles. Since these prices don’t appear on the LifeMiles award chart, it’s hard to find all the flights that price in this range. Search around and see how many miles your route of choice costs.
Things get a bit pricier when looking for longer domestic flights. A flight from San Francisco to Newark prices at 13,500 miles. This is still better than many programs, but you may be able to find a better deal when booking a similar transatlantic flight with Delta.
You can also use LifeMiles to score a deal on intra-Europe flights too. A flight from Prague to Frankfurt (FRA) costs just 8,000 and $25.10 in taxes and fees, which can be a solid option if you’re booking at the last minute or during business-heavy dates.
Earning Avianca LifeMiles miles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou to Avianca LifeMiles at a 1:1 transfer ratio. Capital One points transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points also transfer at a 3:1 ratio, and you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Avianca recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While LifeMiles is largely operated as a separate company, we only recommend transferring points to LifeMiles if you’re confident in the future of the airline. Otherwise, your miles could be devalued if Avianca exits the Star Alliance.
Long-haul: it depends on your situation
You have lots of different options when booking Star Alliance long-haul award tickets. The best option for you largely depends on the specific ticket you’re booking and the surcharges you’re willing to pay. Here’s a quick look at your top three options.
ANA Mileage Club offers the best deal on long-haul round-trip tickets
ANA Mileage Club has flown under the radar for quite some time. The program offers low round-trip pricing for many award tickets, but it has a couple of restrictions. The first is that you cannot book one-way tickets, making it difficult for those who want to mix and match or build a more complicated itinerary.
That said, you can book open-jaw tickets with a stopover. This is when you fly out to one city and return from another. This means you could book Chicago to Frankfurt and return from Prague to Chicago. Since you can add a stopover, so you could connect from Frankfurt to Prague for free.
Booking partner tickets with ANA Mileage Club
ANA adds fuel surcharges to most partner tickets. You can avoid these by booking flights with ANA, Air Canada, Air China Copa Airlines and United, but you’ll pay fees when booking with other partners like Lufthansa and SWISS. In some cases, these can be over $250 a ticket.
Pricing ANA awards can be difficult too. We go in-depth on how to do this in our complete guide to ANA Mileage Club, but here’s a quick overview. For partner awards, you’ll find your origin and destination’s zone and match it to the corresponding award chart on ANA’s website.
For example, a round-trip ticket from North America to Europe would cost 55,000 miles in economy or 88,000 in business class. This is an excellent deal, especially if you can find a carrier that doesn’t add fuel surcharges to your ticket.
Once you’ve found your ticket price, head over to the ANA booking page to book your ticket online. Its search engine can be a bit confusing to use at first, but it shows accurate results and we’ve never run into phantom award space when using it.
You can add open-jaw and stopovers to your tickets online too. This ticket from Chicago to Panama City (PTY) that returns from Bogota (BOG) to Newark can be booked online for 55,000 miles and $131.95 in taxes. This includes a Copa Airlines ticket from Panama City to Bogota.
For the same amount of miles, you could also book a ticket from Chicago to Frankfurt that returns from Zurich (ZRH). The Frankfurt to Zurich leg is included too. Do note that the taxes and fees are higher on this ticket — you’ll pay $255.04 for all three legs combined.
Booking ANA award tickets
The airline also has separate pricing for ANA award tickets. Like booking partner tickets, you’ll have to find your origin and destination’s zone first. Then, take the date you’d like to travel and find if it’s a low, high or regular season date.
Then, find your ANA specific award chart for your zone pair. You can find the cost of your award ticket by matching the flight’s season and class of service to its respective entry on the ANA award chart.
There are some excellent deals on this award chart too. You can book low season flights from the U.S. to Japan for just 40,000 miles round-trip. Better yet, you can also add stopovers and open-jaws to this ticket.
A good example is a ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) that returns from Osaka (ITM) via Tokyo. The ticket from Tokyo to Osaka is included as well. This can be booked during the low season for 40,000 miles and $58.06 in taxes and fees.
TPG Lemonade session: ANA Mileage Club
Book one-way tickets with Avianca LifeMiles
Want to book a one-way Star Alliance ticket instead? If you have American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points, you’ll want to book your one-way long-haul tickets with Avianca LifeMiles.
The program doesn’t add fuel surcharges to any of its award tickets. That means you can get excellent deals on flights operated by Austrian, Lufthansa and other high-surcharge Star Alliance carriers. Like short-haul tickets, the LifeMiles award chart has some excellent deals for long-haul routes.
As discussed, the airline no longer publishes its award chart. However, we’ve found that pricing is still in-line with what the published award chart was in 2019. Some of the best redemptions include flights from the U.S. to the following destinations:
- Europe: 30,000 miles one-way
- East Asia: 35,000 miles one-way
- South Africa: 40,000 miles one-way
- India: 42,500 miles one-way
Most of this pricing is in-line with Air Canada Aeroplan, but you don’t have to worry about fuel surcharges when you use LifeMiles instead. A one-way Lufthansa ticket from Newark to Frankfurt has just $5.60 in attached taxes and fees.
That said, we highly recommend using LifeMiles when you need to book a one-way ticket or a ticket on an airline that charges high fuel surcharges with ANA Mileage Club.
Or, transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United
Those with Chase Ultimate Rewards points have fewer choices for booking Star Alliance award tickets. Your best bet is to transfer miles to United MileagePlus. The airline recently removed all award charts, but you can still find decent award pricing when booking United-operated flights.
You can book one-way flights from the U.S. to Europe for as low as 30,000 miles one-way. Like Avianca, the airline doesn’t add fuel surcharges to tickets.
Things get more expensive when you opt to book Star Alliance partner tickets. You’ll usually pay 10% more for booking a partner ticket when compared to a United-operated ticket. A Lufthansa ticket from Newark to Frankfurt costs 33,000 miles while a United ticket on the same route costs 30,000 miles.
United operated tickets to Asia can also be booked for relatively reasonable rates. A United ticket from Newark to Hong Kong costs 40,000 miles, which is 5,000 miles more than booking with Avianca LifeMiles.
That said, none of these prices are guaranteed since there’s no longer an official award chart. We recommend running a handful of searches when booking United in order to find the best price for your route of choice.
In this article, you learned all the best ways to book economy award tickets with your transferable points. Bookmark this page and refer to it the next time you need to book a ticket — that way, you’ll never again pay too much for a ticket.
Feature photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy
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