Best ways to redeem Capital One miles on Star Alliance airlines
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The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One Spark Miles for Business were already regarded as some of the best fixed-value travel rewards credit cards when the issuer announced just over a year ago that it would be adding airline transfer partners to its rewards program. Building a cohesive list of transfer partners from scratch is a daunting challenge, but Capital One did a great job covering its bases with all three major airline alliances and a number of non-alliance airlines as well.
Today, we’ll take a look at your best options for redeeming Capital One miles for flights on Star Alliance airlines. Be sure to check out the other parts of this series, where we discuss your options for redeeming Capital One miles on Oneworld and SkyTeam airlines.
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Earning Capital One miles
Before you even think about transferring points/miles to partners, the best way to quickly rack up a large amount of Capital One miles is by signing up for a new credit card. My recommendation would be either the Venture Rewards card or the Capital One Spark Miles for Business. New applicants can earn the following welcome bonuses:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business: Earn 50,000 miles after spending $4,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
Both cards also earn 2x miles on all purchases, making them great candidates for everyday spending that doesn’t otherwise earn a bonus on other cards.
Creating a new transferable points currency is tricky, but figuring out how much those points are worth might be just as hard. Capital One retained the ability to redeem miles at a fixed rate of one cent each against the cost of travel purchases, so obviously the addition of airline transfer options makes each more worth more than that fixed 1 cent. TPG ultimately settled on a valuation of 1.4 cents each, thanks largely to some of the transfer partners mentioned here. If you’re curious to see how we arrived at that number, you can check out what some of the TPG team members had to say about these newly-transferable miles.
Finally, bear in mind that Capital One doesn’t use a 1:1 transfer ratio like other major transferable point programs. Most of the programs below transfer at a rate of 2:1.5, so be sure to double check your calculation before initiating a transfer to make sure you don’t come up short.
Avianca LifeMiles grew from relative obscurity to quickly become an important element of many transferable-points strategies, including Capital One. Other than customer service and occasionally inconsistent pricing (that often works out in the customer’s favor), LifeMiles does just about everything right. For starters, you’ll get one of the lowest possible rates on long-haul premium-cabin Star Alliance awards, like this Lufthansa first-class ticket from New York-JFK to Munich (MUC) for only 87,000 miles.
Since Capital One miles transfer to Avianca at a 2:1.5 rate, you’ll need to transfer 116,000 miles from Capital One to book this ticket.
The other huge win here is that you’ll only pay $5.60 in taxes and fees. Many Star Alliance loyalty programs (like Aeroplan, which we’ll talk about later) pass on massive fuel surcharges for Lufthansa awards. We’re talking about several hundred dollars, and that added cost can really eat away at the value of your redemption.
You can also mix and match cash and miles to drop the cost of your ticket even further. If you plan on going this route, you’ll usually come out ahead by taking advantage of one of Avianca’s frequent mileage sales instead, but this might be a useful tool if you’re just short of the miles you need for a specific award.
There are a few other worthwhile long-haul sweet spots in the LifeMiles award chart. Flights to “North Asia,” which includes China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines (alongside the more common Japan and South Korea) only cost 75,000 miles each way in business class or 90,000 in first class. If you continue on to central or south Asia, you’ll pay a maximum of 78,000 miles each way in business class and 111,000 in first. This means you can book ANA’s incredible first class from the U.S. to Asia for only 90,000 miles each way, or the carrier’s new industry leading “The Room” business class for just 75,000 miles each way.
Avianca is also incredibly useful for domestic flights on United, though it’s getting harder to find saver-level United awards (the type of award space needed to book with a partner program) since United switched over to dynamic award pricing.
While Avianca used to use a zone-based award chart with three regions for the United States, it appears to have mostly abandoned that model. There isn’t a ton of rhyme or reason to how domestic awards are priced now, but you can book many medium-length routes for only 10,000 miles, a 20% discount to the 12,500 miles United used to charge for a saver-level award.
Even longer transcontinental routes like Los Angeles (LAX) to Newark (EWR) only cost 13,500 miles in economy, though I wouldn’t hold out hope for finding a non-stop Polaris award on United’s 787-10 aircraft that fly this route.
Lastly, you can expect to find short-haul United flights for 6,500 LifeMiles each way in economy, or potentially even less (like this route from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Newark).
Aeroplan used to be a perfect foil to United’s MileagePlus program, giving travelers the ability to pick between lower award costs (Aeroplan) or lower taxes (United). Aeroplan has lost some of its luster as LifeMiles have become even easier to earn and use, but there’s still a good amount of value to be had in this program.
Before we even take a look at the Aeroplan award chart, it’s important to know which partner airlines will incur fuel surcharges when booked using Aeroplan miles. You can read our guide to Aeroplan taxes and fees for an estimate of the taxes you’ll have to pay on a given award, but for some partners like Lufthansa, the taxes can quickly get prohibitively expensive. That same Lufthansa first-class award that only costs $5.60 with Avianca costs a whopping 1,111 Canadian dollars ($827) if you book with Aeroplan instead.
So where does Aeroplan shine? Primarily when it comes to long-haul business class. One-way awards to India and Africa only cost 75,000 miles in business class, a 3,000-mile savings compared to Avianca. Since Capital One miles transfer to Aeroplan at the same 2:1.5 rate, this adds up to 4,000 Capital One miles saved. Business class to Europe is also significantly cheaper, costing 55,000 to 57,500 Aeroplan miles (depending on your destination) versus 63,000 LifeMiles.
You’ll pay similar award rates for flights to Asia and domestic travel on United whether you book with Aeroplan or Avianca, but you might want to look at Aeroplan even if it costs you a few thousand extra miles. I’m not going to say Aeroplan has industry-leading customer service or anything revolutionary going on, but Avianca is so severely lacking in that department that if you think there’s even a slim chance you’ll need to cancel or change your ticket, you can consider booking with Aeroplan to be a form of “travel insurance” against a trying situation.
Despite a recent devaluation to its award chart, Singapore KrisFlyer remains an attractive redemption option for one main reason: If you want to fly in a premium cabin on Singapore metal — like business class on the world’s longest flight or Singapore’s jaw-dropping A380 suites product — you need to book through KrisFlyer. Singapore generally does not release any premium-cabin award space to partners, locking you into its program. Between a recent devaluation and the fact that Capital One miles only transfer at a 2:1 rate, these are going to be expensive redemptions, but if you have your heart set on the carrier’s industry-leading premium classes, this is your best bet.
The easiest way for most people to experience Singapore’s renowned Suites Class was on the carrier’s fifth-freedom flight from New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA). Unfortunately that price was bumped up by 10,000 miles, with Suites awards now costing 86,000 miles each way and still proving incredibly challenging to find.
Business class on the 18+ hour odyssey from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN) also went up in price, albeit a bit more modestly (from 92,000 miles to 99,000 miles each way).
Singapore also devalued its Star Alliance partner award chart, but it still contains a few sweet spots. One of the best is for United-operated flights to Hawaii, which only cost 35,000 miles round-trip for an economy award from anywhere in the U.S. You can also enjoy a slight savings on round-trip economy flights to Europe, paying only 55,000 miles versus the industry standard 60,000. Just be careful as, like Aeroplan, Singapore passes on fuel surcharges on some partner flights.
Bear in mind too that KrisFlyer miles are among the easiest to earn, since the carrier partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards (in addition to Capital One). All three of those transfers are at a 1:1 ratio, so you may be better off transferring points from those currencies to your Singapore account if you’re able to find award availability on your desired travel dates.
In the midst of all this excitement about new transfer partners, don’t forget what made the Venture Rewards card so appealing in the first place. The 2x earning rate on every purchase combined with the ability to redeem points for a fixed rate of one cent each towards the cost of travel make it easy to get a decent redemption value with little work. Since you’re paying for the flight with cash and then redeeming Capital One miles to “erase” the purchase from your statement, these tickets are treated like standard revenue flights. This means that you’ll earn miles, and they’ll count towards qualifying for elite status.
Note that these fixed-value redemptions don’t work as well for expensive premium-cabin tickets, but if you’re planning to travel in economy, make sure you compare your options before you jump to transfer your points. We’ve seen a plethora of recent fare deals, so you might come out ahead using the purchase eraser redemption option instead.
Capital One miles offer you an incredible amount of flexibility. For starters, you can pick between transferring your miles or redeeming them directly towards the cost of a cash ticket, but you also have some choice when it comes to Star Alliance award tickets. Once you’d decided on a routing and found your award space, the issuer partners with three different Star Alliance programs, so you can choose the program that’ll minimize your cost as much as possible. Just make sure to keep an eye on those fuel surcharges, and remember that Capital One miles transfer to Singapore at a lower rate (2:1 versus 2:1.5).
Featured photo by WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images.
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