How you can still use miles to fly the Boeing 747
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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and your rewards-earnings strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, but we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.
This post has been updated to reflect fleet changes.
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 glory days of the 747 are rapidly coming to an end as airlines shift to more fuel-efficient jets like Boeing 787 Dreamliners and the Airbus A350 family. Boeing even announced it would shutter the 747 production line once the last plane on order rolls out of its Everett factory in 2022.
The 747 hasn’t been operated by an American carrier since United and Delta both retired their 747. Several other airlines had plans to phase them out over the coming years, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has accelerated that timeline as industry experts predict a slow return to the level of demand necessary to fill a jumbo jet economically. Airlines including KLM, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and now British Airways have all made the difficult choice to retire their 747 fleets a few years early in the face of an unprecedented drop in passenger demand. Some 747s are even being put to creative new uses as hotels and even scuba-diving attractions.
Despite that, you can still find 747 flights on several major commercial airlines — and use miles to experience this beautiful plane. It won’t be long until the last 747-400s are retired, leaving the next generation 747-8i as the last version of the Queen of the Skies still flying. Only three airlines — Lufthansa, Korean Air and Air China — have opted to purchase the 747-8i, so you’ll want to focus on those three moving forward.
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The routes, destinations and flight numbers listed below are current as of publication, taken from airfleets.net, but are subject to change, since aircraft are swapped in and out all the time. These routes also reflect normal flying schedules, but coronavirus related cancellations mean fewer 747s are flying right now. 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 12 Boeing 747s in its fleet, six each of the -400 variant and the -8 variant. All have first, business and economy class.
Among other routes, you can find Air China’s 747-8s on the following flights from its hub in Beijing (PEK).
- Between Beijing and New York-JFK: CA 981/982
- Between Beijing and San Francisco (SFO): CA 985/986
- Between Beijing and Frankfurt (FRA): CA 931/932
- Between Beijing 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 38,500 miles each way in economy, 88,000 in business class or 132,000 in first class on flights between China and North America. Unfortunately, these prices reflect United’s recent 10% increase in prices to nearly all of its partner award rates.
As an alternative, you could transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Avianca LifeMiles, which would charge you 35,000 miles each way in economy, 75,000 in business class, or 90,000 in first class. LifeMiles also runs discounts on selected routes from time to time — when I reviewed Air China’s 747-8 first class a few months back, I was able to take advantage of a 10% off award sale that dropped my cost to just 81,000 miles as you can see in the itinerary below:
Meanwhile, 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 — commercial passengers shouldn’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. In addition to the routes shown below you’ll also frequently see them flying between Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM), though that schedule is much less predictable.
- Between Mumbai and Hyderabad (HYD): AI 965/966
- Between Hyderabad) and Jeddah (JED): AI 965/966
- Between Cochin (COK) and Jeddah: AI 963/964
Another member of Star Alliance, Air India awards are most easily bookable using United, Aeroplan, or Avianca LifeMiles. 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. Meanwhile Avianca charges 18,000 miles in economy, 35,000 miles in business and 45,000 miles in first.
This Korean carrier has just one passenger 747-400 left in its fleet (with registration number HL-7421), 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 cargoes have no windows, and often fly routes that don’t make sense from a passenger perspective, including to and from Anchorage). What makes this cargo fleet so interesting is that rather than retiring its passenger 747s over the years, Asiana has converted them into cargo planes to give them a second life.
The airline currently uses its sole 747 on high-traffic, short-haul routes within Asia, though with only one left in the airline’s fleet, you should double-check that a 747 is in service on these flight numbers the day you’re traveling. Recently, the plane which bears the tail number HL7428 has been spotted on the following routes:
- Between Seoul (ICN) and Manila (MNL): OZ 701/702
- Between Seoul and Taipei (TPE): OZ 711/712
- Between (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, Avianca, 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 and Avianca will both charge you fewer miles: just 15,000 in economy and 22,500 in business class.
This Taiwanese airline only has four passenger 747-400s left, so if you want to fly one, don’t wait too long.
Though it used to fly 747s to the U.S., China Airlines now just operates them on its routes from Taipei to other cities in Asia, including:
- Taipei to Bangkok (BKK): CI 833/834
- Taipei to Guangzhou: CI 521/522
- Taipei to Hong Kong (HKG): CI 903/904
- Taipei to Naha (OKA): CI 122/123
- Taipei to Seoul: CI 160/161
- Taipei to Shenzhen (SZX): CI 527/528
Again, the airline often subs in other aircraft like Airbus A330s and A350s on these routes, so be sure to confirm your flights before booking. I was scheduled to fly a 747-400 from Shanghai (PVG) to Taipei a couple of months ago, but China Airlines ended up swapping an A350 on the route a few weeks in advance. Also keep in mind that China Airlines flies multiple daily frequencies to most of these destinations, so make sure to carefully check which flight you book in order to end up on the Queen of the Skies.
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 35,000 in business class between Taipei and Naha, Okinawa, for example.
Korean Air is one of just three airlines to have ordered the Boeing 747-8. It currently has two passenger 747-400s in operation, like the one below, and 10 passenger 747-8s (along with about a dozen cargo aircraft).
The airline operates these, among other routes, using 747s:
- Between Seoul and Atlanta (ATL): KE 35/36
- Between Seoul and Auckland (AKL): KE 129/130
- Between Seoul and Honolulu (HNL): KE 53/54
- Between Seoul and Kuala Lumpur (KUL): KE 671/672
- Between Seoul and New York-JFK: KE 85/86
- Between Seoul and Rome (FCO): KE 931/932
- Between Seoul and Singapore (SIN): KE 643/644
- Between Seoul and Taipei: KE 691/692
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 U.S. to Seoul are pricing out at 35,000 miles each way, and business class are a whopping 115,000.
Alternatively, you could transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy to Korean Air at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. This is the fastest way to top up your Korean Air SkyPass mileage balance, and one of the only times it really makes sense to transfer Marriott points to an airline. You can book one-way first-class awards between the U.S. and Seoul for only 80,000 SkyPass miles, an absolute steal if you’re sitting in the spacious and private six seat cabin on Korean’s 747-8. Just make sure to book soon though, as Korean Air is switching to a distance-based award chart which will see its award prices absolutely skyrocket.
Like Air China and Korean Air, Lufthansa has both 747-400s and 747-8s in its fleet. It’s got eight of the former and 19 of the latter for a total of 27, so these birds will be flying for a while to come.
Lufthansa flies 747s on the following routes among others, though given the airline’s scale of operations, this can change.
- Between Frankfurt (FRA) and Bangalore (BLR): LH 754/755
- Between Frankfurt and Beijing: LH 720/721
- Between Frankfurt and Boston: LH 422/423
- Between Frankfurt and Buenos Aires (EZE): LH 510/511
- Between Frankfurt and Chicago: LH 430/431 and 432/433
- Between Frankfurt and Denver: LH 446/447
- Between Frankfurt and Mexico City: LH 498/499
- Between Frankfurt and Newark (EWR): LH 402/403
- Between Frankfurt and New York-JFK: LH 404/405
- Between Frankfurt and Orlando (MCO): LH 464/465
- Between Frankfurt and Sao Paulo (GRU): LH 506/507
- Between Frankfurt and Seoul: LH 712/713
- Between Frankfurt and Shanghai: LH 732/733
- Between Frankfurt and Tokyo (NRT): LH 716/717
- Between Frankfurt and Toronto: LH 470/471
- Between Frankfurt and Vancouver: LH 492/493
- Between Frankfurt and Washington, D.C. (IAD): LH 418/419
Like the other Star Alliance carriers above, your best bets are probably United, Avianca or Aeroplan. However, Aeroplan passes on massive fuel surcharges (over $1,000 in some cases) that can really eat away at the value of your award. This means you’re probably better off sticking to United MileagePlus or Avianca LifeMiles, even though they both charge more miles.
United charges 33,000 miles each way in economy between the U.S. and Europe, 77,000 in business and 121,000 in first class. Since Lufthansa doesn’t release first-class award space to partner programs until 15 days before departure, expect to pay this fee if you’re flying in first and booking with United.
If you plan on redeeming Amex Membership Rewards points instead, Avianca LifeMiles will offer you the best value since, unlike Aeroplan, it doesn’t pass on any fuel surcharges. Between the U.S. and Europe, one-way awards cost 30,000 miles in economy, 63,000 in business class and 87,000 in first class.
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.
Thai usually operates 747s on the following flights (though expect this route network to change as Thai continues to retire some of these jumbo jets this year):
- Between Bangkok and Mumbai: TG 317/318
- Between Bangkok and Phuket (HKT): TG 203/204 and 221/222
- Between Bangkok and Sapporo (CTS): TG 670/671
- Between Bangkok and Sydney: TG 475/476
- Between Bangkok and Tokyo Haneda: TG 660/661 and 682/683
Thai is yet another Star Alliance carrier, so Aeroplan, Avianca 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. Thai’s first-class product might not be out of this world revolutionary, but the ground experience is one of the best and most hospitable you’ll find from any airline.
Meanwhile Avianca LifeMiles will charge you 22,500 miles each way in economy, 40,000 in business class, or 60,000 in business class, making it an even better deal than United.
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 photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy.
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