How You Can Still Use Miles to Fly the Boeing 747
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Often called the “Queen of the Skies,” the Boeing 747 took its first test flight in 1969. Over the subsequent years, the aircraft transformed air travel and ushered in the jet age. The original widebody jet, the 747 could fly farther and faster than any commercial passenger aircraft. The most recent version, the 747-8, has a range of 9,300 miles and carries around 400 passengers in a typical three-class configuration.
Unfortunately, the 747’s days are numbered as airlines shift to more fuel-efficient jets like Boeing 787 Dreamliners and the Airbus A350 family. United and Delta have both retired their 747s, while other airlines, like Qantas, have plans to phase them out over the coming years. Some 747sare being put to creative new uses as hotels and even scuba-diving attractions.
Despite that, you can still find plentiful 747 flights on several major commercial airlines — and use miles to experience this beautiful plane.
The routes, destinations and flight numbers listed below are current as of publication, but are subject to change, since aircraft are swapped in and out all the time. If you hope to fly a 747 yourself, be sure to double-check your exact flights to confirm that the aircraft is indeed flying your itinerary. Also note that we included major commercial carriers with extensive international routes and airline partners (sorry, Rossiya!). We’ll also just stick to one or two examples where you can use miles for each.
This mainland Chinese carrier has 10 Boeing 747s in its fleet, three of the -400 variant and eight of the -8 variant. All have first, business and economy class.
Among other routes, you can currently find Air China’s 747-8s on the following flights from its hub in Beijing.
- Between Beijing (PEK) and New York-JFK: CA 981/982
- Between Beijing (PEK) and San Francisco (SFO): CA 985/986
- Between Beijing (PEK) and Frankfurt (FRA): CA 931/932
- Between Beijing (PEK) and Guangzhou (CAN): CA 1315/1316
Air China is a member of Star Alliance, so there are a number of partner miles you can use to book its flights, and award availability is pretty good. You could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United MileagePlus and redeem them at a rate of 35,000 miles each way in economy, 80,000 in business class or 120,000 in first class on flights between China and North America, like the following itinerary. This is an interesting instance where the United search engine would not find nonstop availability from JFK-Beijing on Air China, but by originating in San Francisco, it did pull up awards in all three classes on Air China’s New York-Beijing flight.
As an alternative, you could transfer American Express Membership Rewards to either Air Canada Aeroplan or ANA Mileage Club. Aeroplan would charge you 37,500 miles each way in economy, 75,000 in business class, or 105,000 in first class.
ANA would charge you 60,000 miles round-trip in economy, 95,000 in business class, or 180,000 in first class. Clearly ANA is the better option in terms of absolute mileage, but bear in mind that it only allows for round-trip awards.
India’s flag carrier has four 747-400s remaining in its fleet. Like Air China’s 747s, they are sometimes used as VIP transports for the country’s top leadership — don’t expect the same red-carpet welcome shown in the image below, for the prime minister of India.
Air India currently operates the following flights using 747s, though these are subject to change.
- Between Mumbai (BOM) and Hyderabad (HYD): AI 965/966
- Between Hyderabad (HYD) and Jeddah (JED): AI 965/966
- Between Cochin (COK) and Jeddah (JED): AI 963/964
Another member of Star Alliance, Air India awards are most easily bookable using United or Aeroplan miles. Aeroplan will charge you 15,000 miles each way in economy or 40,000 miles in business class on that intra-India route; you’d need to redeem 22,500 miles for economy and 40,000 for business class between India and Jeddah.
United MileagePlus will charge you 8,000 miles each way for the Mumbai-Hyderabad route, or 22,500 miles each way in economy and 35,000 in business from India to the Middle East.
This Korean carrier has just two passenger 747-400s left in its fleet, so you won’t find many chances to fly it. If you spot an Asiana 747, chances are it’s a cargo model, like the one below. (Hint: the cargos have no windows.)
The airline currently uses its 747s on high-traffic short-haul routes within Asia, though given the limited number of aircraft in the airline’s fleet, you should double check that a 747 is in service on these flight numbers the day you’re traveling.
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Manila (MNL): OZ 701/702
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Taipei (TPE): OZ 711/712
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Da Nang (DAD): OZ 755/756
Lo and behold, this is yet another Star Alliance carrier, so you can refine your search to using Aeroplan, United or ANA miles, depending on your plan. If you stick to the first two, here’s how many you’ll need on that Seoul-Taipei route. Asiana’s own mileage program might also be an option for some.
Aeroplan will charge you 20,000 miles each way in economy or 40,000 in business class. United will charge you fewer miles: just 15,000 in economy and 22,500 in business class.
BA is the largest operator of 747s in the world, with 35 747-400s in its fleet. According to the latest update, though, the airline plans to retire half of them by 2021 and to phase them out completely by 2024, so the clock is ticking.
Because of the sheer number of 747s in its fleet, BA operates the jumbo jet on many of its busiest routes to/from its hub at London Heathrow (LHR), including these:
- Accra (ACC): BA 78/81
- Baltimore (BWI): BA 215/216
- Boston (BOS): BA 212/213
- Cape Town (CPT): BA 42/43 and 58/59
- Denver (DEN): BA 218/219
- Dubai (DXB): BA 106/107
- Lagos (LOS): BA 74/75
- Las Vegas (LAS): BA 274/275
- Los Angeles (LAX): BA 282/283
- Miami (MIA): BA 206/207 and 210/211
- New York (JFK): BA 115, 116, 117, 172, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, 183
- Philadelphia (PHL): BA 66/67
- Phoenix (PHX): BA 288/289
- San Diego (SAN): BA 272/273
- San Francisco (SFO): BA 284/285
- Vancouver (YVR): BA 84/85
- Washington DC (IAD): BA 216/217
Make a note that some of these routes and flight numbers are also flown by other aircraft, so double and triple-check your specific itinerary.
British Airways is a member of Oneworld along with American Airlines, and it also partners with Alaska Airlines, so you’ve got a few choices for mileage redemptions. The good news is that award availability tends to be pretty great. The bad news is that BA levies huge fuel surcharges ranging from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars on award tickets to London, so be sure to budget for that.
If you want to use American AAdvantage miles, you’ll need 22,500 – 30,000 miles each way in economy from the US to Europe, 57,500 for business class and 85,000 in first class. Here’s an example of a Baltimore flight in first class that’s operated by the 747-400 (it’s usually flown by a 787) that shows just how expensive an award can be.
Alaska Mileage Plan can be another great choice, and it’ll have access to the same BA award availability as American Airlines. It will charge you 32,500 miles each way in economy, 42,500 in premium economy, 60,000 in business class and 70,000 in first class between the US and Europe. As you can see, you might prefer this program if you want to fly premium economy or to want to save miles on a first-class redemption (though you’ll still be hit by the same taxes and fees)
You could also book these flights through British Airways’ own Executive Club. Given the sheer number of routes and the fact that the program has distance-based awards, the amount of miles (Avios) you need will vary greatly depending on the route for which you’re redeeming them. However, the program is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Marriott Rewards, so with no shortage of ways to pick up Avios, it’s worth looking into your options.
Let’s take New York-JFK to London-Heathrow flights as an example, since the airline operates so many of its 747s on this route. You’ll need 13,000 – 20,000 Avios each way in economy; 26,000 – 40,000 in premium economy; 50,000 – 60,000 in business class; and 68,000 – 80,000 in first class (depending on whether you’re traveling during Peak or Off-Peak dates).
This Taiwanese airline only has four 747-400s left, so if you want to fly one, don’t wait too long.
Though it used to fly 747s to the US, China Airlines now just operates them on its routes from Taipei (TPE) to other cities in Asia, including:
- Taipei (TPE) to Bangkok (BKK): CI 833/834
- Taipei (TPE) to Guangzhou (CAN): CI 521/522
- Taipei (TPE) to Hong Kong (HKG): CI 903/904
- Taipei (TPE) to Naha (OKA): CI 122/123
- Taipei (TPE) to Seoul (ICN): CI 160/161
- Taipei (TPE) to Shenzhen (SZX): CI 527/528
Again, the airline often subs in other aircraft like Airbus A330s on these routes, so be sure to confirm your flights before booking.
China Airlines is a SkyTeam member, so one of your best options is probably Delta SkyMiles, which is a transfer partner of Amex. Though Delta no longer publishes award charts, its partner awards tend to remain steady (that is, until they change unexpectedly).
For the moment, you’ll need 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 in business class between Taipei and Hong Kong, for example.
Although the Israeli airline is fast replacing 747-400s with 787-9s, it still has four in its fleet. Just beware the much older (i.e. worse) seats.
At time of publication, El Al still flies 747s on the following routes:
- Between Tel Aviv (TLV) and Bangkok (BKK): LY 81/82 and 83/84
- Between Tel Aviv (TLV) and New York (JFK): LY 1/8
El Al isn’t in one of the major airline alliances, so award options are limited. However, the airline’s Matmid loyalty program is an Amex transfer partner. For every 1,000 Membership Rewards points you transfer, you get 20 Matmid points. The airline has different charts for summer (March 25-October 31) and winter (November 1-March 24) travel, with more points required for summer travel.
Assuming you have just a basic Matmid account, you’ll need 1,800 – 2,000 points in economy and 4,500 – 5,000 in business class round-trip between New York and Tel Aviv. This translates to 90,000 – 100,000 / 225,000 – 250,000 Amex points for economy / business class, not exactly bargains.
Another option would be to transfer your Citi ThankYou points to Qantas’ Frequent Flyer program, as El Al is a non-alliance partner of the Aussie carrier. Awards can be booked online, though the cost depends on the distance of the flight. A one-way award to Bangkok will set you back 35,000 Qantas points in economy and 65,000 points in business; a one-way New York-JFK award ticket requires 42,000 points in economy and 78,000 in business.
The Dutch airline is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the 747-400 still is one of the mainstays of its long-haul fleet. The airline plans to retire its jumbos by 2021, so you can still fly them for the next couple of years in business, premium economy or coach.
Due to its long range and high capacity, KLM still operates its dozen 747s on many of its most important international routes. Those include the following at the moment.
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Chicago (ORD): KL 611/612
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Curaçao (CUR): KL 735/736
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Hong Kong (HKG): KL 887/888
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Los Angeles (LAX): KL 601/602
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Mexico City (MEX): KL 685/686
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Nairobi (NBO): KL 565/566
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and New York (JFK): KL 641/644
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Seoul (ICN): KL 855/856
- Between Amsterdam (AMS) and Toronto (YYZ): KL 691/692
KLM is a SkyTeam member, and its Flying Blue loyalty program is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi and Marriott Rewards. At the moment, Flying Blue is having issues with online bookings, so now might not be the time to plan an award trip using them. If and when the problem does get resolved, you should check out the program’s monthly Promo Awards. These awards are typically discounts of 25-50% on routes between certain cities and Europe. The most recent list included discounted awards from Chicago and Toronto to Europe that could end up saving you tens of thousands of miles.
Alternatively, you could redeem Delta SkyMiles for tickets on the airline at a rate of as few as 25,000 miles each way in economy and 85,000 in business class between the US and Europe.
Korean Air is one of just three airlines to have ordered the Boeing 747-8. It currently has two 747-400s in operation, like the one below, and 10 747-8s.
The airline operates these, among other routes, using 747s:
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Atlanta (ATL): KE 35/36
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Frankfurt (FRA): KE 905/906
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Hong Kong (HKG): KE 613/614
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Honolulu (HNL): KE 53/54
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Kuala Lumpur (KUL): KE 671/672
- Between Seoul (ICN) and New York (JFK): KE 85/86
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Rome (FCO): KE 931/932
Now that Korean Air’s SkyPass program is no longer a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, your best bet for awards is likely Delta SkyMiles. Economy awards from the US to Seoul are pricing out at 35,000 each way, and business-class ones are a whopping 115,000.
Like Air China and Korean Air, Lufthansa has both 747-400s and 747-8s in its fleet. It’s got 13 of the former and 19 of the latter for a total of 32, so these birds will be flying for a while to come.
Lufthansa is currently flying 747s on the following routes, though given the airline’s scale of operations, this can change.
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Bangalore (BLR): LH 754/755
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Beijing (PEK): LH 720/721
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Boston (BOS): LH 422/423
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Buenos Aires (EZE): LH 510/511
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Chicago (ORD): LH 430/431
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Denver (DEN): LH 446/447
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Dubai (DXB): LH 630/631
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Hong Kong (HKG): LH 796/797
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Mexico City (MEX): LH 498/499
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Newark (EWR): LH 402/403
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and New York (JFK): LH 400/401
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Orlando (MCO): LH 464/465
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Osaka (KIX): LH 740/741
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG): LH 500/501
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Sao Paulo (GRU): LH 506/507
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Seoul (ICN): LH 712/713
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Shanghai (PVG): LH 728/729
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Tokyo (NRT): LH 716/717
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Toronto (YYZ): LH 470/471
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Vancouver (YVR): LH 492/493
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Washington DC (IAD): LH 418/419
Like the other Star Alliance carriers above, your best bets are probably United, Aeroplan or ANA. However, Aeroplan and ANA charge huge fees for Lufthansa award tickets (around $700 – $1,400 in some cases), so it’s probably best just to stick to United MileagePlan in this case.
From the US to Europe, United will charge you 30,000 miles each way in economy, 70,000 in business class, or 110,000 for first class, plus $5.60-$120 or so in taxes and fees depending on your segment.
You could also consider booking through Avianca’s LifeMiles program, which is a transfer partner of both Amex and Capital One. Like United, the carrier won’t impose fuel surcharges on Lufthansa awards, though online availability rarely matches what other Star Alliance carriers see.
This Aussie airline was one of the early proponents of the Boeing 747 and began flying the jet in 1971. Qantas depended on the aircraft’s long range to enable it to grow into an international airline with destinations all over the world. Unfortunately, Qantas plans to retire its 747s by 2020, just in time for the airline’s centennial, phasing them out as it takes delivery of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. In fact, the airline recently ended 747 service from Los Angeles to Brisbane on November 30.
Qantas still operates 747s on several major international routes, though not daily on some of them, so be sure to double check your aircraft type. You’ll find the planes on the following routes for now:
- Between Sydney (SYD) and Honolulu (HNL): QF 3/4
- Between Sydney (SYD) and Johannesburg (JNB): QF 63/64
- Between Sydney (SYD) and San Francisco (SFO): QF73/74
- Between Sydney (SYD) and Santiago (SCL): QF27/28
- Between Sydney (SYD) and Tokyo Haneda (HND): QF25/26
- Between Sydney (SYD) and Vancouver (YVR): QF75/76 seasonally
Like British Airways, Qantas is a Oneworld member that also partners with Alaska Airlines. Let’s focus on the Sydney-San Francisco route for now. If using American AAdvantage miles, you’ll need 40,000 each way in economy, 80,000 in business class, or 110,000 in first class.
Alaska Airlines will charge you 42,500 miles each way in economy, 47,500 in premium economy, 55,000 in business, or 70,000 in first class. Unfortunately, Alaska does not seem to get as much partner award space as American, so though those mileage levels in the premium cabins are attractive, the chance of actually booking one is low, except at very close-in or far-out booking dates.
Though Thai is quickly taking delivery of Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s, the Southeast Asian airline is still flying eight Boeing 747s, with plans to retire six of them by 2022.
At the moment, Thai is operating 747s on the following flights:
- Between Bangkok (BKK) and Guangzhou (CAN): TG 668/669
- Between Bangkok (BKK) and Mumbai (BOM): TG 317/318
- Between Bangkok (BKK) and Phuket (HKT): TG 203/204 and 221/222
- Between Bangkok (BKK) and Sapporo (CTS): TG 670/671
- Between Bangkok (BKK) and Sydney (SYD): TG 475/476
- Between Bangkok (BKK) and Tokyo Haneda (HND): TG 660/661 and 682/683
Thai is yet another Star Alliance carrier, so Aeroplan or United miles are your best options. Let’s say you wanted to catch that Bangkok-Sydney flight. You’ll need 25,000 United miles each way in economy, 50,000 in business class, or 65,000 in first class. That is, once award availability on Thai again becomes available on United.com (it’s blocked at the moment).
Aeroplan will charge you 35,000 miles each way in economy, 67,500 in business class, or 97,500 in business class. No thank you!
This British carrier has endowed its eight 747-400s with fancy names including Tinker Belle, Ladybird, Hot Lips and Barbarella, but it will eventually begin phasing them out in favor of Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s.
Though many of these frequencies are not daily, you can still find Boeing 747s on the following Virgin Atlantic routes and flights.
- Between London-Gatwick (LGW) and Bridgetown (BGI): VS 29/30
- Between London-Gatwick (LGW) and Havana (HAV): VS 63/64
- Between London-Gatwick (LGW) and Las Vegas (LAS): VS 43/44
- Between London-Gatwick (LGW) and Montego Bay (MBJ): VS 65/66
- Between London-Gatwick (LGW) and Orlando (MCO): VS 15/26 and 28/29
- Between Manchester (MAN) and Atlanta (ATL): VS 109/110
- Between Manchester (MAN) and Bridgetown (BGI): VS 77/78
- Between Manchester (MAN) and New York (JFK): VS 127/128
- Between Manchester (MAN) and Orlando (MCO): VS 75/76
Virgin Atlantic is not a member of an airline alliance, but it is quite closely associated with Delta, so you can book Virgin flights using its own Flying Club miles or Delta SkyMiles.
For one-way awards, Virgin Atlantic charges 10,000 – 25,000 miles in economy, 17,500 – 35,000 miles in premium economy or 45,000 – 77,500 miles in Upper Class between the US and the UK, depending on your dates of travel and the region to/from which you’re flying. Flying Club is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi and Marriott Rewards, and Amex and Citi often offer transfer bonuses.
Delta doesn’t publish award charts anymore, but expect economy awards to start at 25,000 miles and Upper Class awards to climb as high as 120,000 miles each way these days.
Though mileage rates using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles are lower per the program’s award chart, it charges considerable taxes and fees on award tickets, much like British Airways. As a result, you might want to use Delta SkyMiles instead. However, it pays to search both sites for your specific flights.
For instance, Delta would charge you 32,500 SkyMiles and $5.60 from New York to Manchester this winter in economy.
While Virgin Atlantic would charge you just 10,000 Flying Club miles and $149.20 in taxes and fees. You save a lot of miles by paying $144 more, though it’s up to you to determine if that’s worth it.
In business class, Virgin charges 47,500 miles plus $577 in taxes/fees.
While Delta charges a whopping 120,000 SkyMiles, but only $5.60 in taxes/fees.
Even with those lower fees, it’s hard to justify spending nearly 80,000 more miles.
There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing a humpbacked plane waiting at your gate and getting to walk upstairs onboard to enjoy a flight on the 747’s top deck. Unfortunately, this experience is getting rarer and rarer as airlines around the world retire the jumbo jet. However, there’s still time left to fly the Queen of the Skies, and plenty of ways to redeem your points and miles to do so.
Featured image image by Alberto Riva/TPG
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