The easiest airline miles to get and why you want them

Jun 17, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. This post makes reference to a number of routes that are currently suspended due to the coronavirus but are expected to resume once travel picks up.

Over the last few years, all five of the major transferable points currencies have added at least one new airline or hotel transfer partner. For better or worse, most of these transfer partners are shared with other programs as opposed to being entirely new. In fact, of the airlines with which Capital One has now partnered, all but one of them (Finnair) also partner with at least one other transferable points currency. The issuer isn’t unique in this regard, as many transferable points currencies share some of the same transfer partners.

From a business standpoint, the heavy overlap we see in transfer partners makes perfect sense. When a card issuer offers transferable points, it agrees to buy an airline’s miles at a fixed cost. For example, Amex buys miles from Delta in bulk, which it can then issue to you when you transfer your Membership Rewards points. Once an airline agrees to “sell” its miles to a single card issuer, it’s easier to add new transfer partners, both from a financial and technological perspective. This is also why airlines that frequently sell miles to the public at discounted rates, like Avianca, are popular transfer partners.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the easiest airline miles to earn. Just like our analysis of the hardest airline miles to earn, you can credit revenue flights to any of these loyalty programs. But for this article, I’ll be focusing instead on credit card bonuses and transfer options. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for limited-time transfer bonuses to stretch your miles even further.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s a summary chart of the programs I’ll cover and which of the five transferable point currencies can get you miles in said programs:

(Graphic by The Points Guy)
(Graphic by The Points Guy)

 

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As you can see, all of these programs partner with at least three of the five transferable currencies, giving you a plethora of options to boost your balances. They can all offer solid value in the right circumstances as well.

Let’s dive into each one, and note that the credit card offers below are just a sampling of how you could turn everyday spending into points or miles in the given program.

In This Post

Air France / KLM Flying Blue

Air France Boeing 777 Forward Business Class Cabin
The first, more populous business class cabin on the Air France 777 (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Earning Flying Blue miles

In many ways, Flying Blue is the anti-unicorn of loyalty programs, as it’s a partner of all five major transferable points currencies. Points transfer 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. Points transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio from Capital One and at a 3:1 ratio from Marriott, though Marriott also gives you a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.

The information for the Capital One Spark Miles has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer. 

Redeeming Flying Blue miles

Flying Blue’s decision to follow Delta and switch to a dynamic pricing model for award flights (instead of a fixed award chart) cut a lot of value from the program, but there are still some good deals to be had if you are both patient and lucky. Given that Flying Blue partners with all five of the biggest transferable points programs, it’s worth checking what options you might have here for SkyTeam flights.

One of the best uses of Flying Blue miles has always been the discounted promo awards offered each month. While these are currently suspended due to the coronavirus, in the past we’ve seen discounts of 25% or 50% on select flights from Europe to North American destinations like Boston (BOS), Houston (IAH), Chicago (ORD), Toronto (YYZ)  and Mexico City (MEX) to name a few.

The good news is that you can fly from these destinations to any city in Europe, not just Air France and KLM’s respective hubs in Paris (CDG) and Amsterdam (AMS). Just pay attention as Flying Blue will designate which cabins are eligible for the promo rewards.

 

Photo courtesy of Flying Blue

Even with the promo rewards temporarily suspended, you can still find some decent deals buried under Flying Blue’s dynamic pricing. Take, for example, these one-way business class flights from Chicago (ORD) to Prague (PRG) for just 53,000 miles (worth $636 based on TPG’s valuations).

Unfortunately, the new Flying Blue site isn’t great at showing partner award space, most recently with Delta domestic flights. With variable pricing it’s pointless to talk about flights we can’t actually see ourselves. That being said, you can find a few more deals on longer Air France / KLM itineraries, such as business class from Chicago to Tel Aviv (TLV) for only 53,000 miles each way:

Photo courtesy of Flying Blue

 

While Flying Blue miles are quite easy to earn, it does take some additional effort to put them to good use. However, there’s value to be had.

Singapore KrisFlyer

Earning Singapore Krisflyer miles

Just like Flying Blue, Singapore is the second golden goose that partners with all five major transferable points currencies. While it wasn’t originally listed as a Capital One transfer partner, it was later added, though the 2:1 transfer ratio isn’t as good as most of Capital One’s other partners.

Redeeming Singapore Krisflyer miles

One clear edge that Singapore KrisFlyer has over other Star Alliance loyalty programs is the fact that Singapore generally doesn’t make its own long-haul, premium cabin award space available to partner programs. This means if you want to fly Singapore’s incredibly spacious new A380 suites class or business class on the world’s longest flight, you’ll almost always have to book through KrisFlyer.

While not all routes feature the new suites yet, you can find them flying to Sydney (SYD), London-Heathrow (LHR), Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG), Tokyo (NRT), Mumbai (BOM) and Zurich (ZRH). Award space on these routes is hard to come by, as the seat count in the suites cabin has been reduced from 12 to six, but if you can find a seat on a longer route like Singapore to Zurich, it will set you back a cool 125,000 miles. If you have enough miles in your account you can also waitlist a saver award and hope that space opens up before departure.

In addition, Singapore’s Star Alliance partner award chart has a few great deals worth noting. One-way economy awards to Europe only cost 27,500 miles, which is 2,500 miles cheaper than what most other Star Alliance loyalty programs will charge you.

Photo courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Singapore also has a competitive advantage for domestic first class awards on United operated flights, only charging 20,000 miles each way.

Emirates Skywards

Earning Emirates Skywards

Emirates Skywards has actively expanded its network of transfer partners in recent years to now become the third frequent flyer program that partners with all five major transferable points currencies. While the Dubai-based carrier has long partnered with American Express and SPG (now Marriott), in the last two years Capital One, Chase and Citi have added Emirates as a transfer partner.

Redeeming

Even as the list of transfer options have grown, Emirates Skywards has remain largely overlooked by award travelers. That’s because up until recently, the program tacked on massive fuel surcharges on most premium cabin awards. A one-way first class award from JFK to Dubai would’ve run you over $800, in addition to the miles. Just recently, with no prior warning, Emirates massively reduced fuel surcharges and in the process made Skywards a much more competitive program.

That same JFK-Dubai award can now be booked for just 136,250 miles and $162 in taxes, a roughly 80% decrease in cash costs.

Photo courtesy of Emirates

Another popular option is flying either of Emirates’ fifth-freedom routes from the US to Europe. Emirates normally operates a daily flight from JFK to Milan (MXP) with its flagship A380 aircraft, as well as a flight from Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH) with a Boeing 777-300ER. These are popular choices for U.S. based travelers as Emirates offers a much better hard product and better food, drinks and service than anything else you’d find on those routes. You can book a one-way first-class award on Emirate’s fifth-freedom routes to Europe for just 85,000 miles and $41 in taxes.

Photo courtesy of Emirates

Virgin Atlantic

Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy

Earning Flying Club miles

Virgin Atlantic is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards. You can also transfer points at a 3:1 ratio from Marriott with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.

The information for the Citi Premier card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Redeeming Flying Club miles

Using Flying Club miles on Virgin Atlantic’s own flights isn’t a great value. The carrier has a relatively limited route network and imposes high fuel surcharges. Despite not belonging to a major alliance, the Flying Club program has immense and wide-reaching value thanks to the various partnerships it has inked. One of the best redemption sweet spots in the entire points and miles world is using Flying Club miles to book round trip premium cabin awards on ANA for fewer miles than most programs charge for a one-way ticket:

Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

First-class awards from the West Coast gateways of Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo cost 110,000 miles round-trip, while those from the middle of the US and the East Coast cost 120,000 miles. That’s not a typo; those are round-trip award rates. That breaks down to 55,000 to 60,000 miles each way for flights that often cost $16,000 or more.

You can even get a good deal in business class as well, paying 90,000 to 95,000 miles for a round-trip award ticket. However, ANA first class is a real treat and worth trying if you can, especially when the price difference is this small.

If you’re able to find round-trip award space, this can be one of the best ways to experience ANA’s stunning new first and business class cabins – dubbed “The Suite” and “The Room” respectively – which are currently only available on flights from Tokyo to JFK, London and Frankfurt.

Pro tip: Use ExpertFlyer to search ANA award space for up to seven days at a time and look for open jaw routings to help you find award space.

Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Virgin Atlantic has a few other solid redemption options, and one of the most widely applicable to US-based readers involves Delta flights. You can book Delta saver economy flights to Europe for only 30,000 miles and $5 each way or business class for 50,000 miles:

Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

You can also get incredible deals flying west to Asia. One of my favorite redemptions of the last year involved redeeming 60,000 Flying Club miles (transferred from American Express Membership Rewards) to fly Delta One Suites on the A350 from Detroit (DTW) to Shanghai (PVG).

Non-stop domestic flights also clock in at just 12,500 miles. In many of these cases, you’ll redeem significantly fewer Flying Club miles than you would booking the award flights directly with Delta, especially given the recent jump in SkyMiles rates to Europe. However, be sure to compare the award rates to make sure you don’t overpay.

Further Reading: TPG Points Lab: Save miles booking Delta awards with Virgin Atlantic

This is especially relevant if you plan on transferring your points from Amex as you can pit Virgin Atlantic and Delta head to head. Even if the prices are the same between the two programs, keep your eyes peeled for one of Amex’s frequent Virgin Atlantic transfer bonuses that gives Flying Club an edge.

You can also score an incredible deal on South African Airways’ fifth freedom route from Dakar, Senegal (DKR) to Washington-Dulles. A round-trip business class ticket only costs 50,000 miles, which is less than most carriers charge for a one-way ticket.

Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Avianca LifeMiles

Asiana offers one of the cheapest ways to book Lufthansa first class, but they do pass on massive fuel surcharges
Avianca offers one of the cheapest ways to book Lufthansa first class, and unlike other Star Alliance programs, you won’t pay any fuel surcharges.

Earning Avianca Lifemiles

Avianca LifeMiles is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points. You can also transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio from Capital One or a 3:1 ratio from Marriott.

  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months from account opening. Or still earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.

Redeeming Avianca Lifemiles

While Avianca’s customer service can leave a bit to be desired, low award rates and no fuel surcharges on partner awards make it worth the hassle. Avianca LifeMiles have become increasingly easy to earn over the years after being added as a transfer partner by both Amex and Capital One.

One of the best value redemptions here is Lufthansa first class awards between the US and Europe for only 87,000 miles each way (or 63,000 miles in business class).

Photo courtesy of Avianca LifeMiles

You can also mix and match LifeMiles and money, potentially dropping this first class ticket to only 35,000 LifeMiles and $837. This essentially lets you “buy” LifeMiles at about 1.67 cents each. While this is a good deal, you can often purchase LifeMiles at 1.4 cents or less, which would be a better deal.

Photo courtesy of Avianca LifeMiles

LifeMiles can also be great for domestic travel within the US on United, though award rates no longer line up with Avianca’s published award chart. Short domestic hops, like this one-way flight between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Newark (EWR) are bookable for as little as 6,500 miles, while many medium length domestic trips cost just 10,000 miles each way in economy.

Photo courtesy of Avianca LifeMiles
Photo courtesy of Avianca LifeMiles

 

You can also find very reasonable rates on awards to North Asia, a large region that generously includes Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines, among others. I also appreciate how LifeMiles often shows you how many award seats are left on a given flight, so you can easily decide how quickly you need to book.

Photo courtesy of Avianca LifeMiles

Even some far-away destinations, like Sydney, Australia (SYD), are priced attractively. 40,000 miles for a one-way economy ticket isn’t half bad, and while 80,000 miles in business isn’t record-breaking, it’s definitely a good deal for a non-stop 15-hour flight.

Photo courtesy of Avianca LifeMiles

For complete details on the program, check out our guide with Everything You Need to Know About Avianca LifeMiles.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Photo by Emily McNutt / The Points Guy

Earning Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of both Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, as well as a 2:1.5 transfer partner of Capital One. You can also transfer points from Marriott at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months from account opening. Or still earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Redeeming Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Given how stacked the Oneworld alliance is with excellent first-class products, Cathay Pacific’s easy-to-earn Asia Miles can be a valuable addition to your wallet.

Flights on Cathay Pacific metal are priced based on the following distance-based award chart. Note the Long – Type 1 and Type 2 pricing tiers — unfortunately, Type 2, the more expensive one, is what applies for flights to and from the US.

Photo courtesy of Asia Miles

Even the shortest flights from Hong Kong (HKG) to the West Coast will fall in this 5,000-7,500 mile range. 110,000 miles for first class certainly isn’t cheap, but you can trust that Cathay Pacific will deliver an unforgettable experience flying up front. These prices are similar to what you’d pay booking the same awards through American AAdvantage, though economy flights are a few thousands miles cheaper.

While I’d normally suggest that travelers on the East Coast or in the central US position to the West Coast to book cheaper awards, there is one exception here. Cathay Pacific’s nonstop service to Washington-Dulles (IAD) has been hot on my radar. This route is operated by a modern and comfortable A350 aircraft, and I’d happily pay 85,000 miles to get home from Asia on such a quick routing (though American only charge 70,000 miles for the same ticket).

The Asia Miles website makes it hard to find award charts for Cathay’s partner airlines, but you can piece together the distance-based pricing scheme using the mileage calculator. For example, you’ll find a number of medium-haul domestic flights, like New York (JFK) to Chicago (ORD) pricing at only 10,000 miles, where American would normally charge you 12,500.

Photo courtesy of Asia Miles

You can also save a few thousand miles each way flying from the east coast to Europe, though the cost jumps to 40,000 miles each way in economy and 75,000 in business class if you fly from LAX instead.

Photo courtesy of Asia Miles

British Airways

One of the best uses of British Airways Avios is short flights around Asia on Oneworld partners (Photo by Shutterstock.com)
One of the best uses of British Airways Avios is short flights around Asia on Oneworld partners (Photo by Shutterstock.com)

Earning British Airways Avios

British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of both Chase and Amex as well as a 3:1 transfer partner of Marriott.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • British Airways Visa Signature Card: Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year. That’s up to 100,000 bonus Avios.

Redeeming British Airways Avios

Maximizing British Airways’ distance-based award chart requires a change in mindset. Instead of focusing on zone-based sweet spots, you should focus on nonstop flights between individual city pairs that are a set distance apart. Generally speaking, you’ll want to avoid long-haul flights, which are much more expensive and focus on short and medium hops.

While the cheapest (Zone 1) awards can no longer be used for flights within North America, any flights that cover up to 1,151 flight miles will only set you back 9,000 Avios. This lets you fly between cities like New York-JFK and Miami (MIA) for relatively cheap.

This is a great excuse to let the destination plan your trip instead of the other way around. From AA’s hub in Miami, you could fly to any of these Caribbean or South American destinations for just 9,000 Avios.

Photo courtesy of gcmap.com

You could also take advantage of AA and Alaska’s extensive route networks to fly from several West Coast cities to Hawaii for just 13,000 Avios each way.

AA is also known for frequently flying long-haul international aircraft on shorter domestic routes. British Airways prices these (and all domestic “first” class awards) as business class, meaning you can get a lie-flat seat at a relatively low rate. You’ll find this most often on flights between AA hub cities, such as flights between Chicago-O’Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) that are occasionally operated by a 787-9. You can book this flight in business class for only 16,500 Avios each way, as opposed to the 25,000 miles AA would charge you.

Business class on American Airlines

Perhaps the single best value use of Avios is for short-haul flights around Europe and Asia. Flights under 650 miles, such as Hong Kong to Taipei (TPE) only cost 6,000 Avios one-way in economy (flights up to 1,151 miles require the same 9,000 Avios as North American flights above). You can use this to save money flying in and out of cities that are both expensive markets and Oneworld hubs, including Hong Kong, Tokyo, London and Madrid.

Aeroplan

Earning Aeroplan miles

Points transfer to Aeroplan at the following rates: 1:1 from Amex, 2:1.5 from Capital One, and 3:1 from Marriott.

Redeeming Aeroplan miles

As Air Canada’s independently-run loyalty program, Aeroplan used to be one of the best value redemptions of Amex Membership Rewards points. While that’s still true, you’re also now able to transfer miles to Aeroplan from Capital One as well. When you factor in the 2x earning rates on the Venture and Spark cards (which in turn transfer to 1.5 Aeroplan miles), you can come out ahead on the earning side as well.

Aeroplan offers great redemption rates on Star Alliance flights, though you’ll have to be careful to focus on partners that don’t require hefty fuel surcharges. Take this example of a Lufthansa first class flight from New York-JFK to Munich (MUC). 70,000 miles isn’t bad at all, but the $750+ in taxes really kills the value:

Photo courtesy of Aeroplan

Other partners aren’t nearly as bad. This one-way award ticket on EVA’s phenomenal 777 business class costs 75,000 miles and only $5.60:

Photo courtesy of Aeroplan

Domestic awards within the US are also a decent value at only 12,500 miles each way, and the carrier doesn’t impose close-in booking fees for last-minute awards (like United does). However, Aeroplan really shines for international premium cabin redemptions. If you’re lucky enough to find business class award space to Europe on a United flight equipped with the new Polaris seats, you’ll only pay 55,000 miles each way.

Photo courtesy of Aeroplan

Swiss business class is also a great option for getting to Europe, as Aeroplan award flights on Swiss also aren’t subject to massive fuel surcharges.

Bottom Line

If you collect transferable points to take advantage of the flexible redemptions they offer, odds are you have access to one (or maybe even all) of the loyalty programs mentioned here. While it can be confusing and complicated to book award tickets through foreign programs with low-tech websites and inconsistent customer support, you could end up saving tens of thousands of miles or hundreds of dollars. Since these miles are the easiest to earn, it’s worth your time to get familiar with these programs so they can work for you.

Featured image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy

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Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.