8 underrated airline and hotel loyalty programs you should know about

Mar 25, 2021

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Whether you’re a points and miles expert or are just starting, chances are there are a few airline and hotel loyalty programs you’re not yet familiar with. And it’s easy to see why: with so many rewards programs out there, it’s tough to keep up with all of them. That said, some of these lesser-known programs have amazing redemption sweet spots that let you stretch your points and miles further.

In this article, I’ll show you eight of the most underrated travel loyalty programs. I’ll give you a quick overview of each program, discuss a couple of great redemptions and show you how to earn points with each program. I’ve split the piece up into two sections: one for underrated airline programs and another for underrated hotel loyalty programs.

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In This Post

 

You’re probably familiar with the loyalty programs for the “Big 3” U.S. airlines and some of the more popular credit card transfer partners, like British Airways Executive Club, so I’ll skip those in this article. Here, I’ve focused on programs with great award charts that can help you redeem fewer miles for more travel.

Related: 9 obscure airline award redemptions you should know about

ANA Mileage Club

ANA Planes at Tokyo-Narita Airport
(Photo by TungCheung/Shutterstock)

It’s no secret that ANA Mileage Club is one of my favorite airline loyalty programs. This is largely because the program has excellent award rates on many awards — for example, off-peak flights to Europe start at 88,000 miles round-trip in business class. Before we dive into the sweet spots, let’s discuss some of the specifics of ANA Mileage Club.

The first thing to note is that you can only book round-trip awards with ANA Mileage Club, but you can book open-jaws and add a stopover to these tickets. This means you can arrive and depart different cities and add a “free” connecting flight between two cities in your destination region. You can use these rules to book something like New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA), Frankfurt to Munich (MUC) and Munich to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) for the same price as a round-trip flight from New York to Frankfurt.

Unfortunately, you are responsible for paying fuel surcharges on ANA award tickets if the operating airline charges them. This includes many popular airlines like Lufthansa, Swiss and Turkish Airlines. Thankfully, though, not all Star Alliance carriers add fuel surcharges. For example, ANA, Egyptair, United and others do not add fuel surcharges. Likewise, LOT Polish Airlines only adds small fuel surcharges (generally under $30).

Using the program’s partner award chart, you’ll pay just 88,000 miles round-trip from the U.S. to Europe in business class. I try and book my tickets with low-surcharge carriers, so I generally stick to United and LOT flights when I book with ANA. This is my favorite way to book flights between the U.S. and Europe when United award space is available.

You can also score incredible value when using ANA Mileage Club miles for off-peak award tickets to Asia. To get the best pricing, you must book during the off-peak dates listed on ANA’s website and book flights operated by ANA. Thankfully, the airline has an extensive route network throughout Asia, so it’s easy to stick to ANA. Flights to Japan cost 75,000 miles round-trip in business class, while flights to the rest of Asia cost between 80,000 and 100,000 miles on off-peak dates, depending on your destination.

You can maximize these tickets by adding a stopover in Japan on your way to another Asian city. For example, stopping in Tokyo on your way to Hong Kong is a great way to see two of Asia’s most vibrant cities. This itinerary would cost just 85,000 miles and $233.69 in taxes and fees. Not too bad for over 30 hours in top-notch ANA business class.

ANA Mileage Club itinerary to Tokyo and Hong Kong
(Screenshot courtesy of ANA)

Finally, ANA Mileage Club is a great option for booking round-the-world award tickets. Check out my full guide to booking an ANA round-the-world ticket for a full overview on pricing and how to book.

How to earn ANA miles

There are a variety of ways to earn ANA miles. The easiest way is to transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards. These points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to ANA Mileage Club. You can also credit miles Star Alliance flights to ANA or transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy. These transfers process at a 3:1 ratio, and you’ll earn 5,000 bonus miles when you transfer 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to airline miles. This means 60,000 Marriott points equals 25,000 miles.

Related: The 6 best airline award chart sweet spots

Asiana Club

Asiana A380 at ICN Airport
(Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

Asiana Club also offers incredibly low redemption rates on Star Alliance flights. The airline has different award charts for its own flights and partner flights, and both are very straightforward. They’re broken down by region, which makes it super easy to price out award tickets. These award charts show round-trip award pricing, but, unlike ANA, you can book one-way award tickets with the program.

One of the best Asiana Club deals is flights from the U.S. to Europe. These flights cost just 40,000 miles one-way in business class — the lowest price you’ll find for Star Alliance business class on these routes. Other great redemptions include flights from the U.S. to South Korea for 62,500 miles in business class and the U.S. to the Middle East for 60,000 miles one-way.

One last thing: Asiana Club passes on fuel surcharges, so try and book with low-surcharge airlines when possible.

How to earn Asiana miles

You can earn Asiana Club miles with the airlines’ cobranded credit card or transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to the program. It can be a good place for you to credit your Star Alliance flights.

Related: 5 mistakes to avoid when flying Star Alliance partners

Korean Airlines SKYPASS

Korean Airlines 777 at PRG Airport
(Photo by Senohrabek/Shutterstock)

Korean Airlines SKYPASS was once a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner but was removed in 2018. The program has made some negative changes over the years, but it remains extremely powerful when you redeem the right flights. Korean Airlines has kept a standard award chart for both its own flights and partner award flights throughout the year, making award pricing predictable.

Award pricing is reasonable — especially on Korean Airlines flights. For example, you can book Los Angeles (LAX) to Seoul (ICN) for 62,500 miles in Prestige Class — the airline’s equivalent of business class — and 80,000 in first class. These are amazing redemption rates, especially when you consider how luxurious these products are. You can find how many miles your redemption costs using this calculator on the Korean Airlines website.

There are some solid partner redemptions too. For example, you can book round-trip tickets to Europe for 80,000 miles in business class and $212.52 in taxes and fees.

JFK to AMS Round-Trip Business Class booking with SKYPASS
(Screenshot courtesy of Korean Airlines)

How to earn Korean Airlines miles

Unfortunately, there are limited earning opportunities for Korean SKYPASS miles. You can earn miles with Korean Airlines’ cobranded credit cards, but they generally aren’t worth signing up for with limited welcome offers and points-earning. You can also credit SkyTeam flights to SKYPASS and transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy to SKYPASS.

Related: How to get to South Korea on points and miles

JAL Mileage Bank

JAL 777 on the runway
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

JAL Mileage Bank has long been one of the best lesser-known airline loyalty programs. It provides solid redemption rates on Japan Airlines flights and flights operated by Oneworld and non-alliance partners. The program is known for its reasonable award chart and flexible routing rules that let you add multiple stopovers to your award tickets. However, it isn’t the easiest program to use: you have to find award space with a Oneworld search tool and then call JAL to book most award tickets.

JAL’s award chart has some solid redemption sweets spots too. Like British Airways, the program has a distance-based award chart that charges more miles for longer flights. That said, it has very reasonable redemption rates. For example, you can book JAL first class from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) for 100,000 miles in business class and 145,000 miles in first class.

The Oneworld award chart is reasonable too. This award chart encompasses all Oneworld itineraries, so you’ll use it to price flights operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas and others. If you want to book an American Airlines flight from New York-JFK to Paris (CDG) with the program, you’ll pay 80,000 round-trip in business class and 100,000 in Flagship first class, if offered.

Non-alliance partners — for example, Emirates — use the airline’s partner award chart. This award chart allows you to book a single non-alliance partner and add stopovers and open-jaws. With this award chart, a round-trip ticket from Newark (EWR) to Dubai (DXB) costs 110,000 miles in business class. Unfortunately, you cannot book Emirates first class awards with partner miles starting Apr. 1, 2021.

One downside to booking with JAL is that you do have to pay fuel surcharges. This can add up when flying carriers like British Airways, but you can avoid it by flying with American and other carriers that do not charge fuel surcharges.

How to earn JAL miles

Like SKYPASS, you have limited earning opportunities. JAL does offer a very sub-par cobranded credit card that we generally recommend avoiding. Your best bet for earning JAL miles is by transferring in points from Marriott Bonvoy or crediting Oneworld flights to JAL.

Related: The best credit cards from foreign airlines

Lufthansa Miles & More

(Photo by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock)

Lufthansa Miles & More is one of the least-known airline programs here in the U.S., in large part due to limited earning opportunities.

It’s the loyalty program for all Lufthansa Group airlines, including Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa and Swiss. One of the most interesting parts of the program is that it’s the only loyalty program you can use to book Lufthansa first class award tickets further than two weeks out from your date of travel. This is a huge benefit if you’re hoping to secure first-class award space in advance.

Lufthansa has a standard award chart for both its own flights and partner flights. If you’re flying from the U.S. to Europe, you’ll pay 112,000 miles in business class and 182,000 in first class. These aren’t the best redemption rates out there, but again, it may be worth paying the premium if you’re hoping to plan a trip in Lufthansa first.

Unfortunately, Miles & More does pass on fuel surcharges, so again, try and book with United or other low-surcharge Star Alliance carriers.

How to earn Lufthansa miles

Lufthansa Miles & More miles are some of the hardest miles to earn. Right now, the best options are earning with a Lufthansa cobranded credit card or by crediting Star Alliance flights to the program. Miles & More is also the only program on this list that is not a Marriott transfer partner.

Related: Airline miles that are hardest to earn — and why you want them anyway

Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles

Turkish Airlines planes at the gate in Istanbul
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Turkish Airlines’ Miles & Smiles program is another great Star Alliance loyalty program — largely because of its great award pricing.

One of the best redemptions is booking flights from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii for just 15,000 miles round-trip on United Airlines in economy class. Alternatively, you can also use Turkish miles to fly to Europe at very reasonable rates. These flights cost 45,000 miles on any Star Alliance carrier. Check out our full guide to Turkish Airlines’ Miles & Smiles for more inspiration — there are too many good deals to list here.

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for Turkish sales, which offer discounts on tickets operated by the carrier. We’ve seen the airline offer 25% off these award tickets in the past, meaning you could book flights from the U.S. to Istanbul for just 33,800 miles plus taxes and fees. Keep an eye on the Turkish Airlines campaigns page for future sales.

Like most Star Alliance programs here, you have to pay fuel surcharges on Miles & Smiles awards. That said, Turkish Airlines flights have relatively low fees, especially when compared to Lufthansa.

How to earn Turkish Airlines miles

You can transfer Citi ThankYou points to Turkish Airlines at a 1:1 transfer ratio, making them relatively easy to earn. You can also credit your Star Alliance partner flights to Turkish or transfer in points from Marriott Bonvoy.

Related: TPG readers’ best tips for booking international first and business class with points and miles

Radisson Rewards

Radisson Blu Sign in Minnesota
(Photo by Ken Wolter/Shutterstock)

Radisson has a ton of properties around the world, with some of the best being in Europe. You can redeem your Radisson Rewards points at all of the Radisson family hotels at reasonable rates, and all redemptions are based on a standard award chart. Unfortunately, the award chart isn’t published, but TPG editor Ariana Arghandewal listed some of the most notable hotels in each category in her full guide to Radisson Rewards.

Budget redemptions start at just 9,000 points per night, while higher-end properties cost as many as 70,000 points per night. There is plenty of value to be had at the lower end of the pricing spectrum, though, like spending just 38,000 points per night at the Radisson Blu in Abu Dhabi. Take a look at the Radisson website and see if it makes sense for your travel plans.

How to earn Radisson points

You can earn Radisson Rewards points with the hotel’s cobranded credit card.

Wyndham Rewards

Wyndham Sign on the Side of Hotel Building
(Photo by Tobias Arhelger/Shutterstock)

Wyndham Rewards has undergone a ton of changes over the years. Most recently, it went from charging 15,000 points per night at all properties to splitting redemptions into three categories. Pricing is still very straightforward, however, and it’s possible to get a great deal.

Here’s how many points you’ll pay for a Wyndham award night:

  • Tier 1 – 7,500 points (or 1,500 points + cash)
  • Tier 2 – 15,000 points (or 3,000 points + cash)
  • Tier 3 – 30,000 points (or 6,000 points + cash)

Just note that most Wyndham properties are mid-tier or budget hotels, so those seeking a life of luxury may want to earn elsewhere. That said, it has some upscale properties like the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek and TRYP by Wyndham New York City Times Square South. You can also use your Wyndham Rewards points to book vacation rentals through its partnership with Vacasa.

How to earn Wyndham points

You can transfer Capital One miles to Wyndham at a 2:1.5 ratio, so 10,000 Capital One miles are worth 7,500 Wyndham points. You can also earn with Wyndham cobranded credit cards and by shopping through the Wyndham shopping portal. Check out our complete guide to earning Wyndham points for more ways to earn.

Related: 14 best Wyndham properties to book with points

Bottom line

In this article, I showed you eight loyalty programs that should be on your radar. Each has unique earning and redeeming opportunities, so consider earning points with them if they align with your travel plans.

Feature photo by Lukas Wunderlich/Shutterstock

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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.