The best ways to use airline miles to fly to a reopening Vietnam
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From the beaches of Nha Trang to the majestic waters of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam offers something for everyone.
The country is reopening to vaccinated tourists on March 15, and many American travelers are itching to book their first trip. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for flying to Vietnam from the United States.
Nonstop service between the two countries is currently limited to a new flight that operates up to four times weekly from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) on Vietnam Airlines.
However, there’s one catch with this direct option: Despite Vietnam Airlines being a member of the SkyTeam alliance, the only miles redemption option available to travelers is through Lotusmiles, Vietnam Airlines’ loyalty program. Unless you’re holding on to a stash of hundreds of thousands of Lotusmiles (or want to use flexible credit card points that work the same as cash to cover your flight), you’ll need to pay out of pocket.
If you’re curious, cash rates for round-trip flights start around $1,200 in economy class, $2,000 in premium economy and $6,000 in business class. However, the flight doesn’t appear on Google Flights and seemingly must be booked directly on the Vietnam Airlines website.
Luckily, this pricey nonstop route isn’t the only option available to Americans. If you’re willing to transit through an East Asian city like Tokyo or Seoul, South Korea, there are several indirect ways to travel between the U.S. and Vietnam. Many of these awards can be paid for with points or miles transferred from major programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
With the help of ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), we found several appealing ways to get to Vietnam without breaking the bank. Here are some of the best options for booking flights from the U.S. to a soon-to-reopen Vietnam.
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ANA Mileage Club
Within the Star Alliance network, ANA Mileage Club has the lowest mileage redemption thresholds for flights to Vietnam.
This is not uncommon, and we often recommend ANA for booking Star Alliance tickets for this reason alone. Keep in mind that you must book round-trip awards with ANA. Know, too, that its online search tool isn’t the most intuitive.
ANA has a zone-based chart, with different prices for ANA- and partner-operated awards. ANA Mileage Club’s partner award chart currently shows the following prices for round-trip bookings as you cannot book one-way tickets through Mileage Club:
- Economy: 80,000 miles.
- Business: 136,000 miles.
- First: 240,000 miles.
On ANA’s own flights, which connect through Tokyo, you’ll pay a different number of miles depending on when you fly. The award chart is split into three seasons (which you can view on ANA’s website).
Here’s how it breaks down for flights from the U.S. to Vietnam. Note that these are round-trip award prices as well.
|Low season||55,000 miles.||84,000 miles.||100,000 miles.||195,000 miles.|
|Regular season||65,000 miles.||94,000 miles.||110,000 miles.||195,000 miles.|
|High season||70,000 miles.||99,000 miles.||115,000 miles.||210,000 miles.|
Although ANA has fairly limited award availability on its flights, you should be able to find partner space on United, EVA or Asiana, which are mostly open year-round, even in business class.
Another bonus: You can add a free stopover to ANA award flights, regardless of who operates the flight. For example, here’s an example of an economy itinerary that lets you visit Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City on the same itinerary for the same mileage cost as a standard round trip from Los Angeles to Vietnam.
You can transfer both American Express Membership Rewards points and Marriott Bonvoy points to ANA. If you need to top up your Membership Rewards balance for a trip to Vietnam, consider applying for the American Express® Gold Card. It currently offers 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on the card in the first six months of account opening. You can leverage the bonus and the card’s earning rate of 4 points per dollar spent at U.S supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year, then 1 point per dollar) and restaurants to quickly accumulate enough points for your trip.
American Airlines AAdvantage
Within Oneworld, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank has slightly lower mileage requirements on round-trip flights to Vietnam than American Airlines, but since its miles are not feasible to earn unless you’re crediting flights to JAL or transferring huge sums of Marriott points, I consider American AAdvantage the go-to Oneworld source for award tickets to Vietnam.
Round-trip award rates from the U.S. to Vietnam on AAdvantage are:
- Economy: 75,000 miles.
- Business: 140,000 miles.
- First: 220,000 miles.
Most of the Vietnam options on AAdvantage use Japan Airlines, but remember that if you book a flight through Tokyo, the current COVID-19 travel restrictions forbid you from transiting between Narita International Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND). So, make sure your JAL flights connect at the same airport to avoid any travel mishaps.
Although Chase, Citi, Capital One and American Express points do not transfer to AAdvantage, there are still plenty of ways to earn AAdvantage miles. For example, you can transfer points from Bilt Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy to AAdvantage or earn with American cobranded credit cards. The program also routinely offers generous sales on buying its miles, should you find yourself just short of what you need for your Vietnam trip.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
You can book the same JAL flights even cheaper with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
Alaska has individual award charts for each of its partner airlines. When booking a flight from the U.S. to Vietnam on JAL, expect to pay the following:
- Economy: Starting at 35,000 miles.
- Business: Starting at 65,000 miles.
- First: Starting at 70,000 miles.
You should be able to find the lowest rates when saver space is available, but prices may vary depending on when you want to fly.
Remember, you can add a free stopover in hub cities to international Alaska award tickets. But with Japan currently closed to Americans, your best bet is to add a stopover in an Alaska hub on your way to or from Vietnam. For example, you could book Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles (via Tokyo) and add a connecting flight to Seattle whenever you’d like, effectively giving you half of another trip for free. Remember that your stopover must be booked by either JAL or Alaska Airlines as mixing partners is not allowed.
The downside to booking with Alaska is that Alaska miles are some of the hardest miles to earn. Currently, you can transfer Marriott points to Alaska or earn with its limited set of cobranded credit cards. Alternatively, you can credit Oneworld flights to the airline, shop through the Alaska shopping portal or buy points (often at a discount).
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Despite having higher mileage requirements than ANA, Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program is still a competitive option for flights to Vietnam. The main reason you’d want to do this is to book Singapore Airlines premium cabin award flights, which are only bookable through KrisFlyer.
You can also add a stopover to your KrisFlyer award ticket. For example, let’s say that you are trying to travel between Houston and Ho Chi Minh City. Singapore Airlines operates a fifth-freedom flight from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Manchester Airport (MAN) in England, with continuing service to Singapore Changi Airport (SIN). On a round-trip Saver ticket, you can do a free stopover for however long you’d like in either of the transit cities — in this case, Manchester or Singapore.
Alternatively, on an Advantage award ticket, you could do a stopover in two cities, which would allow you to stop in Manchester on your flight to Vietnam and Singapore on your flight back — or vice versa.
The flight from Houston to Manchester isn’t the only way to get to Singapore before continuing on to Vietnam, though. Here are some other Singapore Airlines transit routes that have continuing service to Singapore:
- San Francisco to Hong Kong.
- Los Angeles to Tokyo or Taipei, Taiwan.
- New York City to Frankfurt.
Additionally, Singapore has nonstop flights from Newark, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to Singapore, providing one-stop service to Vietnam.
On Singapore Airlines’ flights from the U.S. to Vietnam, you can expect to use the following number of miles per person, each way:
- Economy: 38,000-40,000 for Saver awards or 70,000-75,000 for Advantage awards.
- Business: 95,000-99,000 for Saver awards or 125,000-140,000 for Advantage awards.
You can also use Singapore Airlines’ Star Alliance partners on flights to Vietnam, which will require the following number of miles per person, each way:
- Economy: 55,000.
- Business: 105,000.
You can transfer points to Singapore Airlines at a 1:1 ratio from American Express, Capital One, Chase and Citi. If you’re short on miles, consider applying for a Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. The card is offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
With so many airlines flying to Vietnam, it can be difficult to know which offers the best value when redeeming points or miles.
As we always suggest at TPG, it pays to look beyond the typical U.S. mileage programs like Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus to see which international frequent flyer programs are transfer partners with credit card companies. That way, you can put what’s already in your wallet to good use for your next adventure abroad.
By familiarizing yourself with all of the options available to you, you’ll have opportunities to enjoy generous stopovers, benefit from low taxes and fees and, perhaps most rewarding of all, travel more comfortably in upgraded seats.
If adding connections to your itinerary isn’t a deal-breaker to you, skip Vietnam Airlines’ nonstop service and instead cash in your points or miles for an indirect route. With award rates for ANA, American, Alaska and Singapore comparable no matter which cities you transit through, odds are you’ll find one (or more) options that will work for you.
Who knows? You may even find another destination along the way to add to your travel bucket list.
Featured photo by Mongkol Chuewong/Getty Images.
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