Particularly over the last two years, I’ve made it a point to research and write about airline frequent flyer programs that are different than the typical major programs we already know everything about.
For some of these programs I’ve spent hours learning the ropes without finding any redemption options I’d consider good. On the other hand, I’ve found some amazing redemptions on accident at times.
Here are the 11 frequent flyer programs I’ll be talking about: AirBerlin, ANA, FlyingBlue, Singapore, Malaysia, Korean, Asia Miles, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Virgin Elevate, JAL
Another interesting program within OneWorld is Air Berlin. They aren’t only a good use of Avios because of a lack of fuel surcharges, but they have their own miles as well. One of the most underrated redemptions here is their Companion Ticket. It’s a benefit for all award tickets operated by AirBerlin and Niki, that the second person on an award is 50%.
Well, tickets to Europe on AirBerlin with AirBerlin miles are discounted to 50,000 miles roundtrip for economy (or 80,000 for Business). Which means that the second ticket would be 25,000 miles roundtrip (companion ticket is only good for economy).
Total, that’s 75,000 miles roundtrip. But since SPG gives a bonus 5,000 miles for every 20,000 SPG points you transfer, it’s really like 60,000 SPG points.
Icing on the cake? 4 stopovers.
Again, this ticket has to be on AirBerlin or Niki… but they have extensive coverage throughout Europe. On AirBerlin/Niki alone you could do US to Berlin, to Vienna, to Zurich, to Dusseldorf, for two people for 60,000 SPG points. It’s very hard to beat that.
I’ve said many times ANA is the most underrated program out there. I’ve started to write some posts on the “Best Miles to…”, where I make a chart of all the best prices to a certain region, and over and over again I find ANA at the top of the chart. The prices are simply phenomenal.
Roundtrip in Business Class for New York to London, can you guess the best price? ANA is 63,000 miles roundtrip. The traditional mileage programs like AA, Delta, and United charge 100,000 to 195,000 miles for the same route!
ANA is a distance based program, which means it’s better for some routes than others. In fact, most of the time it’s better just because the award chart is so awesome. However, the biggest problem with ANA is the fuel surcharges. ANA seems to always pass on fuel surcharges and Star Alliance just doesn’t seem to have routes to Europe with low fuel surcharges.
Thus, you need to know the airlines without fuel surcharges.
But the biggest perk of all is not that ANA awards are generally the cheapest awards (depending on the airline), but the fact that you get 4 stopovers. Because of this you can do some crazy routings with ease. No tricks just by planning a route, and adding up the distance flown. And of your stops along the way, you get 4 stopovers. I’ve personally come up with examples of amazing routes in South America with multiple stopovers, but it’s a great example simply because there aren’t fuel surcharges within the Americas.
- Post – Unveiling Flying Blue Air France KLM Miles 101 and Best Uses
- Award Chart
- Transfer From: Amex MR, Citi TY, SPG
Flying Blue is one of the most interesting programs I’ve come across, and it’s only recently that I’ve spent any time looking at it. Between it’s loopy online booking and pricing (to our advantage), awards for 50% off, often low fuel surcharges, decent award chart, and great routes… I would say it’s actually a much better program than Delta SkyMiles, AirCanada Aeroplan, and many other popular programs.
30,000 miles roundtrip to Hawaii, 25,000 miles roundtrip to Mexico/Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands, 50,000 miles roundtrip to Israel, and a few others I’ll save for your discovery in the post Best Use of Air France’s Flying Blue.
The key here is that Delta doesn’t charge fuel surcharges and they end up only charging 50 Euros on each flight to and from Europe with most other SkyTeam airlines, including Air France and KLM.
- post: Best Use of Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles
- Award Charts
– Star Alliance
- – Singapore Air award chart
- Transfer From: Chase UR, Amex MR, Citi TY, SPG
Singapore isn’t just the best frequent flyer program to fly Singapore Airline “Suites” class, it actually has an awesome award chart. I did a back to back award chart with AA and for almost half the awards, the prices were as good as or better than AA’s. Most notably, 35,000 miles roundtrip to Hawaii, flights within Southwest Pacific are 12,500 miles, and their extended partnerships with Virgin make them a great transfer choice for very specific routes.
However, they are one of the most confusing airline programs around. The routing rules, stopover rules, and award prices are all dependent on which partner you fly. It gets quite confusing. But good thing I wrote a post explaining it all. Read Best Use of Singapore Airline Miles.
Malaysia’s award chart
|Zone 1||0 – 500||7,500||17,500||45,000|
|Zone 2||501 – 1,200||12,500||22,500||55,000|
|Zone 3||1,201 – 2,400||15,000||27,500||70,000|
|Zone 4||2,401 – 4,800||22,500||40,000||110,000|
|Zone 5||4,801 – 7,200||30,000||55,000||160,000|
|Zone 6||7,201 – 20,000||40,000||60,000||170,000|
Malaysia is an odd program, I’d say a “niche” program like Singapore. It might not be as good as Singapore or other programs over all, but it has it’s winning features. It’s an Asian distance based program, which means you get a generous 5 stopovers. 5 stopovers means that you’ll definitely be able to find some routes that are better with Malaysia, but I wouldn’t go transferring miles speculatively.
Malaysia is even more confusing than Singapore with its pricing and rules. Whether it’s 1 partner, 2 partners, no Malaysia and 1 partner, non-OneWorld partners… it’s all different. Good thing I have post. 😀 Best Use of Malaysia Airlines Enrich Miles.
Last month I was excited about the Korean Air miles post, the award chart I made, and some of the routes I came up with. This was again, a new program to me, as I’ve completely neglected anything related to SkyTeam until recently. This is an interesting program though with some incredible niche redemptions.
Particularly, what I called the “Indonesian Hopper” which is a discount on flights within Indonesia (on Garuda) for 20,000 points. A few weeks later when I did the FlyingBlue post, I realized that all flights within SE Asia are 20,000 miles with FlyingBlue, but Korean is a Chase partner so your needs can now be met with all transfer partners.
But Korean offers similar discounts on flights within Africa, the Caribbean, and to Tahiti, all with specific partners. For the most part I find Flying Blue to be a little bit better though, but for many the same. For example, Korean Air similarly does flights to Tahiti from LAX on Air France for 60,000 miles roundtrip. Same price right? Except that Korean only offers that price from LAX and FlyingBlue would allow to connect to the Air France route. FlyingBlue would also allow you to book a oneway. It’s the little things.
However, there are some routes I would say are better, flights in Europe can be better (25k roundtrip). But again, many routes are as good as FlyingBlue, like 25k roundtrip to Mexico/Virgin Islands/Puerto Rico. All in all, both are great. Sometimes needs are different, and at the very least the transfer partners are a little different.
JAL’s program is very similar to ANA’s reward program except with OneWorld. So the award prices aren’t quite as good in general, although sometimes they are, but OneWorld has a few more options for airlines without fuel surcharges. For example, Air Berlin has a number of routes to Europe and they don’t have fuel surcharges.
But the biggie is that JAL allows 7 stopovers, and airlines like Air Berlin allow you to take advantage of these without fuel surcharges. Although the downside is that you will be paying airport taxes, which are much higher in Europe, but it could be well worth a couple hundred dollars for 5 stopovers across Europe and other destinations.
I just realized that I’ve never written an entire post on JAL, yet I have Asia Miles. Don’t know how I let that slide. But I’ll try to take care of that soon.
Lufthansa Miles & More
Maybe Lufthansa would get more love if it weren’t for their high fuel surcharges, but they have some nice features. Like a few great region based awards and two stopovers and two open-jaws. Which is killer if you find airlines that have no fuel surcharges, like to South America, or on Air New Zealand.
There are definitely some great redemptions whether it’s their Mileage Bargain award for roundtrips within Europe for 10,000 miles, or someone really crazy could come up with a Trans-Pacific Hopper flight for 40,000 miles roundtrip Hawaii to Australia (Hawaii, Guam, Cairns, Palau).
Alitalia hasn’t gotten too much of my attention, but it seems to be a similar (less awesome?) version of Flying Blue and Korean.
They do however, have some interesting awards of their own. They have similar awards as FB and Korean, with 60,000 roundtrip miles to Tahiti, 50,000 miles roundtrip to Europe and 30,000 miles to Hawaii. All great redemptions. But they consistently have some great prices in economy and business class. What worries me, and I’ve yet to do the full research, is how much fuel surcharges they end up passing on with partners. That’s make or break for me. But for some, regardless, 100,000 miles roundtrip to India in Business Class is a great price. Phenomenal actually.
- post: How to Redeem Big Asia Miles
- Cathay award chart
- OneWorld award chart
- Transfer From: Amex MR, Citi TYSPG
Asia Miles is a clone of JAL just with prices that aren’t as good. Can’t honestly say I recommend them but the big advantage is a OneWorld partner with 5 stopovers and different transfer options. JAL only transfers from SPG and I doubt most people are pulling the trigger on that transfer, when more people might be willing to do the same thing from Amex or Citi. Even if it’s slightly worse of a redemption than JAL, SPG might not be an option and the 5 stopovers could still be really appealing. Just because it’s not the best over all, doesn’t mean it won’t fit your needs.
Over all, the awards aren’t as good as ANA or JAL, but it’s an option for stopovers in Europe without fuel surcharges that ANA doesn’t have, with transfer partners JAL doesn’t have.
- Post: One Amazing Award with Virgin Elevate
- Transfers from: Amex MR 2:1
I have yet to do a full post on Virgin America’s Elevate program, but I’ll share the one post I do have. I noticed that for whatever reason, Virgin Elevate isn’t charging fuel surcharges at the moment on Singapore Airline routes. And since Singapore has a couple routes from the US to Europe, like New York to Frankfurt, you could use Elevate miles for a roundtrip to Frankfurt for 20,000 Virgin Elevate miles.
Now it’s necessary to point out that the transfer from Amex isn’t 1:1 like most airlines, but half as good, 2:1. But, that’s still only 40,000 Amex points with no fuel surcharges for a roundtrip to Germany. Not a bad redemption at all.