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Learn of 11 Hidden Gem Airline Mile Programs

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

AirBerlin

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.

 

ANA

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.

 

Flying Blue

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.

 

Singapore

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

Malaysia’s award chart

Malaysia Airlines Miles Economy Business First
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.

 

Korean

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

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).

But either way, with two stopovers there are many Best Uses of Lufthansa Miles.

 

Alitalia

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.

 

Asia Miles

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.

 

Virgin Elevate

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.

 

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19 Comments

  1. hi Drew – data point – tried to book eze-mia-eze rt in biz with taca, ana tried to pass 700$ of taxes and yq. Maybe because of ex-argentina routing….

    Reply
    • Hmm… ANA can be really odd and this doesn’t make any sense as ITA shows no YQ at all. Doesn’t even have a YQ category. Well, also, do you mean on Avianca? I couldn’t find it on Taca. But that seems odd. Shouldn’t have to do with argentina.
      Can you confirm the route?

      Reply
  2. Drew, IMHO, you have the best blog out there bar none. I am actually looking forward and excited to read your posts.

    This was a great summary. Just because of the number of programs out there, I tend to forget about a specific redemption and possibly miss out on something.

    What I would recommend is you post something like this every once in a while, something along line of best “Airline redemption for each program”. Just like the best credit card offers but this would be slightly more useful….;-)

    THANK YOU!

    Reply
    • That’s a great idea. Not sure how I would do it more than once without doing the same content. Any ideas?

      I will definitely do this though. However, I’m trying to also do a best/ cheapest miles to Hawaii, Europe , etc… hopefully everywhere. The idea was that you could see if there was a cheaper lesser known option on the route.

      Reply
  3. Great post – one thing I would recommend adding is the difficulty in redeeming

    It should be worth noting that some of the currencies noted above are a hassle to actually book awards with (i.e. Korean), and some are downright nightmarish (i.e. Alitalia)

    From the stories I heard about Alitalia’s call centers (and you can’t book online with them), it probably isn’t worth the trouble, even if saving some miles. There is something to be said for miles that can be redeemed online and/or have a competent call center through which to book

    Reply
    • We may be trying to book a Korean for non-family members soon, so wish us luck. I’ve had no experience with Alitalia.

      I think that’s my problem is that if I don’t have experience, I would just be copying any pasting what other people’s experiences are, so I’d rather say nothing. However, I guess it wouldn’t be that difficult to call Alitalia and try. So I’ll definitely keep that in mind, as it could make great content.

      Reply
  4. Preview of the entry on my blog about this post of yours:

    “Another excellent post. Drew has so far stood by his claim to improve the content of TIF even more! Why would you NOT support a blogger of this caliber clicking on their affiliate links has never made any sense to me!”

    I think Rob has a very valid point, please emphasize a little more the hassles involved in booking with Korean and Alitalia!

    Reply
    • I read that you have to book in person in an office in a small Korean town, is that true?

      Reply
  5. In your Lufthansa Miles & More trans-Pacific hopper, you mentioned taking United flights around the Pacific. It’s essentially the only option for this type of redemption because of the lack of award space on Air New Zealand. Are there fuel surcharges on those United flights?

    Also, I was very intrigued by your post on the Indonesian Hopper using Korean Air Skypass miles. Does it work the exact same way if using Air France Flying Blue miles, and if not, how do the routing rules differ?

    Reply
    • indo hopper… yes FB & skypass both work, but FB allows one-ways.. skypass does not. skypass also limits 3 segments per direction (which is very poopoo).. dont know about segment limit with FB.

      Reply
    • The segment limits are the same, 2 connections. Which is a bummer but its still very doable. But the advantage with FB is starting anywhere in SE Asia. Although, then you use a connection. 1 connection in DPS/CGK and another on the connecting island.
      And oneways is indeed an advantage but they you don’t get stopovers.

      It does appear that there is YQ on the flight from Hawaii to Guam, which is unfortunate. I haven’t verified that Lufthansa passes it on, but I assume so.

      Reply
  6. @Drew Macomber
    theres gotta be a sexy use for JAL’s 7 stopovers. too bad SPG is the only transfer

    Reply
    • I’m thinking this should be in the near future for posts. Now that ANA is going away JAL is the cheapest option of these distance based asian programs. Plus, oneworld is better at no YQ.

      So the obvious routes are 7 stopovers in South America for cheap. And using Air Berlin/Niki around Europe. Both will have lots of airport fees, but it will be interesting.

      Reply
  7. With Malaysia, one you didn’t mention originally was UK (or Europe) to Australasia. 120,000 return in business class less 15 per cent online discount means 102,000 miles. That is crazy. Availability on MH metal is also decent (for unfortunate reasons.)

    Reply
    • Whoa, that is a killer deal. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before, trying to go as far as you can on Malaysia. That’s about as good as a redemption as you can get.

      Reply
  8. One disappointing aspect of the ANA program is that miles expire after a period of time, whether or not there is activity.

    Reply
    • Aw, didn’t know that. I usually burn all my miles anyways, but for sure only transfer what you need.

      Reply
  9. @ Drew : Excellent post! I really enjoyed it as well as others. Will you please make an ultimate guide on how to find availability and redemption on these airlines program? That would complete this post, because we feel that this post is just like the half part or first part of the series, next is finding availability and redeeming to really complete the series.

    Reply
    • Thanks John for the suggestion. I should focus more on the practice and not just theory. I think some of these have some references on booking or finding awards. But you’re for sure right, it would make good content just to go through and try to book awards with some of the ones I’ve never used, just to share the process.

      Reply

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