9 obscure airline award redemptions you should know about
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The best thing about transferable points is how flexible they are.
With so many transfer partners available, you can use points like American Express Membership Rewards to book flights with almost any major airline so long as award space is available.
Things get even more interesting when you look at the more obscure partners. Generally, these are airlines based outside of the U.S. that have partnerships with airlines either based in the U.S. or that have service to the U.S.
One of my favorite examples of this is Etihad Guest. The program has a handful of partners like Air Serbia, Brussels Airlines and Royal Air Maroc.
You can use these partnerships to score excellent deals to Europe and beyond from the U.S., saving thousands of points versus booking with a different partner. For example, a Brussels Airlines flight from New York-JFK to Brussels (BRU) costs just 44,000 miles one-way in business class.
Unfortunately, these redemptions are often hard to find since they’re usually not well advertised. So I dug through a handful of airline websites to find the best obscure points and miles redemptions.
I’ll show you my findings in this article. Some of these are excellent deals, while others include obscure airlines, routes or partnerships that may pique your interest. Regardless, I only included award flights I would book with my own miles.
All of the redemptions listed depart the U.S. and can be booked with either American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points. I’ll give you an overview of the redemption, its price and how to book.
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Fly to Serbia, Belgium or Morocco in business class with Etihad Guest
Etihad Guest has some of the most interesting airline partners in the travel world. Many of these are based in Europe and provide service to the U.S. on limited routes.
The two most interesting are Air Serbia and Brussels Airlines.
Air Serbia from NYC to Belgrade
Let’s start with Air Serbia. The Serbian airline offers nonstop service from its Belgrade (BEG) hub to New York-JFK. This is the airline’s only long-haul route and is operated by an Airbus A330.
This plane is outfitted with a proper business-class cabin, though it uses old Virgin Atlantic seats. Regardless, it’s the only way to fly nonstop from the U.S. to Belgrade, saving you a ton of time over connecting in London Heathrow (LHR), Frankfurt (FRA) or another major European hub.
You can book this flight one-way for just 64,082 Etihad Guest miles in business class and 44,970 in economy. You’re subject to minimal taxes and fees on the ticket too.
Overall, this is a solid deal for transatlantic business class, but I would skip the economy redemption.
Booking this flight is difficult. You can’t book most Etihad partner flights on the airline’s website, so you’ll have to find award space using ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), then call Etihad Guest to book the ticket.
Brussels Airlines from NYC and DC to Brussels
Brussels Airlines is one of the smaller European airlines owned by Lufthansa Group. Most of its network is in Europe and Africa, but it operates two routes to the U.S.: Brussels (BRU) to New York-JFK and Washington Dulles (IAD). It also operates a flight to Toronto (YYZ).
Like the Air Serbia flight, you can book this flight with your Etihad Guest miles for cheap. All of Brussels Airlines’ North American flights cost 44,000 miles one-way in business class and 27,000 in economy. Each flight is subject to low taxes and fees.
You have to call to book this ticket, but finding award space is far easier. Just fire up your favorite Star Alliance search tool and look for saver award space. Then, call Etihad Guest to book with the date and flight number available.
Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc is Etihad’s partner in North Africa. The airline operates flights from a handful of U.S. airports using its new 787 aircraft. The business-class product on these planes is nothing too special, but it’s comfortable and can be booked very cheaply.
Etihad Guest charges just 22,000 miles for a one-way economy ticket from the U.S. to Morocco and 44,000 in business class. This is an excellent deal on this route, coming in at nearly half the cost of booking with other Oneworld carriers like AAdvantage.
You can find Royal Air Maroc award space with a Oneworld search tool. Like other partner awards, you must call Etihad to book your ticket.
Earning Etihad Guest miles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards and Citi ThankYou points to Etihad Guest.
Off-peak trips to Asia with ANA Mileage Club
One of the best deals is booking off-peak ANA business-class flights to Asia. The airline’s international award chart can be a little tough to get used to. All flights are priced based on the region you’re flying to and from and when you’re flying.
Here’s a look at the program’s round-trip award chart for flights from the U.S. to Japan:
You’ll notice that L, R and H are listed above award prices. These correspond to Low Season, Regular Season and High Season.
The seasonality chart below shows what 2021 dates fall into each category — pay special attention to the Low Season as it provides the best deals. 2022 off-peak dates haven’t been announced yet, but awards do show up in award search results.
You can book off-peak round-trip flights from the U.S. to Japan for just 75,000 ANA Mileage Club miles in business class. This is cheaper than any other Star Alliance program and is the best deal for flying to Japan in comfort.
Better yet, there are only minimal taxes and fees added to each ticket and you can add a stopover. This means you can stop in Tokyo on your way to Osaka or another Japanese city. Likewise, you could spend marginally more miles to fly elsewhere in Asia.
For example, this Low Season flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Manila (MNL) has a stopover in Tokyo Haneda (HND) on the way home. It costs just 80,000 miles round-trip with $256.24 in taxes and fees.
Unfortunately, you cannot book Star Alliance partner flights at Low Season prices. Thankfully, ANA offers an incredible business-class experience, especially on planes equipped with the airline’s newest business-class product.
You can book all ANA award tickets on the ANA Mileage Club website. The site’s interface takes some getting used to, but it’s easy enough once you get the hang of it.
How to earn ANA miles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to ANA Mileage Club.
Booking Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii and the South Pacific
Hawaiian Airlines is the largest airline in Hawaii. It flies to many major cities in the mainland, like New York-JFK, Boston (BOS) and Los Angeles (LAX). It also runs flights to cities in Asia and the South Pacific like Seoul (ICN) and Papeete (PPT) from its Honolulu (HNL) hub.
You can use points and miles to fly Hawaiian Airlines to all of these destinations. There are a few ways to book these flights with points, but your best bet is using Hawaiian’s own HawaiianMiles program.
The airline recently switched to dynamic pricing for some tickets but kept an award chart for saver tickets. The standout deal is flights from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii for 40,000 miles one-way in lie-flat business class. This includes long-haul flights from Boston and New York to Hawaii.
On the other hand, economy flights start at just 20,000 miles from the West Coast and 25,000 from the East Coast.
You can also connect to Hawaiian’s South Pacific destinations for more points, but it only makes sense to do this in economy class. You can book Los Angeles to Papeete (PPT) for 47,500 miles in economy one-way. Business class costs a whopping 127,500 miles.
You can book all Hawaiian Airlines award tickets on Hawaiian’s website. Just note that flights without saver award space will price significantly higher than those listed on the award chart.
How to earn HawaiianMiles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Hawaiian Airlines.
Star Alliance flights to Europe and India with Turkish Miles&Smiles
Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles might be the most underrated airline loyalty program for long-haul flights. It offers great rates on a ton of Star Alliance routes, with flights to Europe being its specialty.
You can book flights from the U.S. to Europe for 45,000 miles one-way in business class. This includes flights operated by Turkish Airlines and its Star Alliance partners like United. This is one of the best deals out there for one-way business-class tickets to Europe.
I only recommend using Miles&Smiles for business-class tickets to Europe. Economy flights cost 30,000 miles one-way, so it’s easy to justify the marginally higher points cost for comfort.
The only major downside to Miles&Smiles is that it passes on fuel surcharges for partner bookings. You can avoid these by booking flights operated by low-fee airlines like United and Turkish Airlines. Flights operated by Swiss, Lufthansa and other high-fee carriers can add over $700 in taxes and fees one-way.
You can book Turkish Airlines awards online. The site is a little clunky, so check out TPG’s guide to Miles&Smiles for a full tutorial.
How to earn Turkish miles
You can transfer Citi ThankYou points to Turkish Airlines.
El Al business class with Qantas Frequent Flyer
El Al is the flag carrier of Israel, and it flies to a handful of major U.S. cities like New York and Miami. Amex dropped El Al as a transfer partner last year, but it’s still possible to redeem your Membership Rewards points on El Al flights through Qantas Frequent Flyer.
The Australian carrier has a non-alliance partnership with El Al that allows reciprocal mileage redemption. Qantas has a distance-based award chart that prices award tickets based on the physical length of the flight.
Unfortunately, these flights aren’t cheap. A one-way business-class flight from Miami (MIA) to Tel Aviv (TLV) costs 104,500 miles — steep compared to booking a connecting ticket with other programs. That said, it is the most convenient way to go from Florida to Israel.
Flights from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv cost a much more reasonable 90,000 miles in business class. Just keep in mind you can book United’s flight from Newark (EWR) to Tel Aviv using ANA Mileage Club miles.
How to earn Qantas miles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards and Citi ThankYou points to Qantas.
Etihad first and business class with Aeroplan
Air Canada completely overhauled its loyalty program in late 2020, bringing a new award chart, flexible stopover rules and other major changes. These were largely positive and made the program more valuable and easier to use.
The Canadian airline also partnered with Etihad Airways in 2020 to form a non-alliance partnership. Now, Air Canada flyers can redeem Aeroplan points for Etihad Airways flights at solid redemption rates.
Aeroplan’s new award chart is based on zone and distance, so longer flights cost more points. Thankfully, rates are very reasonable when compared to other programs. You can view the full award chart on Air Canada’s website (PDF link).
To illustrate how reasonable pricing is, Etihad’s flagship route from New York-JFK to Abu Dhabi (AUH) costs just 85,000 Aeroplan points in business class and 120,000 in first class. Plus, you’ll pay just $56.78 in taxes and fees.
Even cooler, you can add a stopover to your one-way ticket for 5,000 points. This means you can book something like New York-JFK to Abu Dhabi (AUH), enjoy a stopover and then continue to Hong Kong (HKG). This flight would cost 90,000 miles total.
You can book Etihad award tickets right on the Air Canada website, but you’ll need to call if you want to add a stopover.
How to earn Aeroplan points
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards and Capital One Rewards points to Aeroplan.
Domestic bonus: Short-haul United flights with LifeMiles
Avianca LifeMiles has risen from obscurity to mainstream in the points and miles world — and for good reason. It offers great deals on many Star Alliance tickets, with one of my favorites being short-haul United flights.
LifeMiles prices domestic U.S. flights based on its three U.S. zones. You will generally pay 7,500 LifeMiles in economy class for a flight within a single zone, 10,000 LifeMiles to go one zone over (Zone 1 to 2, Zone 2 to 3) and 12,500 LifeMiles to go between all three zones.
However, Avianca sometimes forgoes the award chart and prices awards below the published award chart price. These are scattered around the Avianca award chart but include some popular routes.
Pittsburgh (PIT) to Newark (EWR) is within Zone 1, so it should cost 7,500 LifeMiles. Instead, you only have to pay 6,500 LifeMiles.
Likewise, this flight from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Washington Dulles (IAD) starts in Zone 2 and arrives in Zone 1. This means it should cost 10,000 LifeMiles, but Avianca only charges 7,500 LifeMiles.
I can’t find a rhyme or reason why specific LifeMiles fall below the award chart pricing, so it’s difficult to predict when you’ll see these discounts. Thankfully, tickets that fall in line with the award chart are still a great deal when cash fares are expensive.
How to earn Avianca LifeMiles
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards and Citi ThankYou points.
Each of these obscure redemptions can provide an excellent value. Each provides an opportunity to use your transferable points with a lesser-known transfer partner to stretch the value of your miles to their fullest.
Use the redemptions listed here as inspiration for your first post-pandemic trip. Whether you head to Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines or Serbia with Air Serbia, you’re bound to get a great deal and enjoy a new destination.
Featured photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy.
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