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

Nov 24, 2019

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A while back, we asked our TPG Lounge readers to share their tips, tricks and favorite ways to book international first- and business-class seats using points and miles. Here’s a look at some of our favorite answers. (Some responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity).

Transferring points to airline partners

It seems our well-traveled TPG Lounge members know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to working with preferred airlines and their respective partners to make the most of their hard-earned points and miles.

“Sometimes [it’s more] straightforward, like booking a one-way flight on Japan Airlines (JAL) from Tokyo (NRT) to Los Angeles (LAX) on the Alaska Airlines site. Sometimes [it’s more] complicated, like booking a one-way flight on Virgin Atlantic via Delta but after transferring Membership Rewards points over from American Express. I called Delta, had them make a reservation and transferred the Amex Membership Rewards points over while I was on the phone. I prefer the more straightforward method of ‘Alaska has X available for Y Alaska points on Z partner.”  Also, I have not done it yet for first class, but have checked for flights on United’s site in business class, then cross-checked the amount of Avianca Lifemiles needed — it was far less — and went with an instant buy on the Avianca site.” — Paul L.

Using United miles to fly on its partner airlines presents some awesome opportunities. I’ve flown in first class on United from Honolulu (HNL) to Tokyo (NRT) on a 744, first class on a Thai Airways A380 and business class on an ANA 789. Last summer, I flew from Kansai (KIX) to Toronto (YYZ) thru Bangkok (BKK) and Zurich (ZRH) in business class for 120,000 United miles. What’s funny is I’m usually a devout Delta flyer.” — Scott M.

Related: Hidden partner award flights you can book through major U.S. airlines

The first-class cabin on Thai Airways. (Photo by TPG Staff)
The first-class cabin on Thai Airways. (Photo by The Points Guy staff.)

“Using Alaska Miles is the most cost-effective way to fly in first class on Cathay Pacific, but don’t expect Cathay Pacific to open much up after those New Year’s Eve flights booked up cabins months in advance. Also, using 80,000 American Airlines miles to fly in first class on JAL is fantastic.” — Nelson S.

“[I’ve flown with] All Nippon Airways (ANA) via Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa via United Airlines or [have flown] Mandarin Airlines last-minute after making a trip happen because there was availability. Haven’t done Singapore Airlines as an award flight yet. Also have flown on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong (HKG) to Tokyo (HND and NRT) for low miles via British Airways and American Airlines.” — A. R. M.

“It depends on the product. For Singapore Airlines Suites, transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer miles. Otherwise, United miles is the default for me for flying in first class on Asiana, Thai Airways and Lufthansa. I’ve also used Korean Airlines Skypass for Korean Airlines flights. This used to be an amazing way to redeem miles, but earning with Skypass is tough these days. From Chase, I once transferred enough over to cover two business-class round-the-world tickets through SkyTeam, but could also cover up to six one-way first-class tickets from the United States to Korea, China and Hong Kong.” — Carl C.

Related: The best ways to book Singapore Airlines first class

Cashing in those sweet, sweet airline miles

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you reach the end of a points-and-miles quest — whether you spent ages earning, have finally gotten your reward for reaching the minimum spend or have purchased the points you need — and know you’re now able to fly in a top-notch first- or business-class product for (nearly) free.

“My best was to use 115,000 American Airlines miles — earned from making one small purchase on the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard to get 60,000 miles and spending $5,000 [in three months] on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® to get 50,000 miles* — to book a one-way ticket in Etihad’s First Class Apartment, which could have cost $10,000 if I had paid for it with cash. That’s twice as much as the credit card spend to get the miles!” — Shana G.

The information for the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

*50,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months for the Citi Executive card

Have you flown in Etihad's First Class Apartment yet? (Photo by TPG Staff)
Have you flown in Etihad’s First Class Apartment yet? (Photo by The Points Guy staff)

“I still want to do this but [spending] 70,000 miles for Qatar Airways’ QSuites and still having 45,000 miles left over seems like a better deal to me.” — Christopher B.

“Just bought Alaska Airlines miles and will be using them [to fly] on Cathay Pacific. Super excited.” — Dev B.

“I like tracking down JAL first-class award availability for months on the British Airways website, then being able to call American Airlines and give them the exact date and flight number I want. They are usually pretty surprised to hear that I know all the legs will be available.” — Derek R.

Related: The ultimate guide to Etihad’s first-class apartment

Readers helping readers

We love it when our TPG Lounge members get so involved in a topic they end up sharing tips and advice based on their own experiences. That’s what happened when TPG reader Amber F. asked for airline partner suggestions from the rest of the group.

“What if you can only use a SkyTeam partner? I am going to Asia but my points are primarily with Delta.” — Amber F.

“Korean Air has some decent awards.” — Scott M.

Reader Guarang K. also got some good advice from another TPG Lounge member when he asked who he should fly with when using points and miles to book a future flight.

“I need to book a flight from New York (JFK) to Ahmedabad (AMD) or Mumbai (BOM). Any suggestions?” — Guarang K.

“Use Etihad or [fly in] Qatar Airways’ QSuite.” — Habeeb A.

Related: The best travel credit cards

Featured photo of JAL and Cathay Pacific first class by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy. 

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