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The Best Use (or “Sweet Spots”) for 11 Airline Miles Programs

If I had a stash of specific miles, what would be the top one or two ways I would use each of those miles? I intend to answer that question with 11 different airline frequent flyer programs.

Also, I’ll give a catch… Since I never ever pay fuel surcharges, I’m not going to recommend any examples with fuel surcharges. And, this particular list will be all flights starting from the US. I’m planning on doing one on non-US based starting points. I guess that will be the 201, so to speak.

Best Use of American Airline Miles

Of course, almost all uses of AA miles are great as prices from economy to first class, to Singapore or Peru, the prices are some of the best. But for economy flyers, it’s hard to beat off-peak prices with AA. The downside is that they don’t have stopovers. These “sweet spots” are pretty straight forward.

Off-peak Europe for 20,000 AA miles – Any economy flight between October 15 and May 15 will be 20,000 miles oneway. Yes, this is the cold half of the year, but a lot of people have Christmas breaks, love skiing in the alps, or find spring and fall the best time to be in places like southern Greece and Italy.

Off-peak to South America (Zone 2) for 20,000 AA miles – Southern South America includes “Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (excluding Easter Island), Paraguay, Uruguay” and this is for flights from “Mar 1 – May 31 and Aug 16 – Nov 30″.

Off-peak to Japan, Korea and Mongolia for 25,000 miles – Dates are similar to Europe, Oct 1 – Apr 30.

First Class to SE Asia for 67,000 miles – If you’re itching to try first class, it’s hard to get a bigger seat than Cathay Pacific First Class and it’s not even double the economy flight. Which is only relevant because the economy is actually one of the better prices.

General good uses – AA is my favorite program to use to Southwest Asia (for 35,000 miles each way) because it will never have fuel surcharges and it’s one of the lowest prices. But the same can be said for flights to “South Pacific” like Australia and New Zealand. Only 37,500 miles and you can either take Qantas direct to Sydney or Cathay via Hong Kong.

Transfer partners/earning:

  • AA cards
  • SPG

AA readings:

 

Best Use Of United Miles

Stopover in Africa, Destination in Japan for 70,000 miles – This is a heck of a lot of flying but it’s one of the cheapest and coolest ways to do Africa. If you didn’t know this was possible (to reduce a ticket to Africa by 10,000 points with a stopover), then you should read United Stopover Secrets. Also, the exact same trick is possible by doing a stopover in the Middle East on the way to Japan for 70,000 miles.

Caribbean Hopper for 35,000 miles – This is basically a way to see two Caribbean islands for the same price using stopovers. I personally did this as a oneway for 17,500 miles but I know multiple readers did routes like this: US to St Maarten (stopover as long as you want), to Panama City (layover less than 24 hours), to Puerto Rico (for as long as you want). If you want to see a Caribbean Island, why not two?

Europe and Southeast Asia for 80,000 miles – Yes, this is more expensive than the Africa and Middle East Combos with Japan, but I figured a non-Japan route was in order. Basically, stopover in Europe on the way to Asia. That’s it. See Bali and Paris on the same route. Of course, if you did want the lower price in combo with Asia, you could switch Europe out for a beautiful island in the Pacific and drop it back down to 70k.

Transfer partners/earning:

  • United Personal/Business Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Ink Plus

Read more:

 

Best Use of US Airways Miles

Since the AA and US Airways miles won’t be merged for quite a while, I figured this is still relevant. For me, US Airways is preferred over AA because of the generous stopover and routing rules (and AA doesn’t give stopovers).

One thing worth mentioning though is that the US Airways’ card gives you a 5,000 point discount on trips with US Airways. But note that US Airways does make you book roundtrip awards.

Off-peak to Europe for 35,000 miles (-5,000?) – Not as good as AA’s off-peak in terms of flexibility but it is cheaper and can possibly stack the card discount. Must fly between Jan 15 and Feb 28. And if you’re lucky enough to get a roundtrip all on US Air, you can discount it another 5k as a cardmember. 30,000 miles is quite the redemption.

First Class to North Asia with a stopover in Europe for 120,000 miles – Not only is this some of the most first class flying for the price (120k miles) but you can throw in very generous stopovers with US Airways.

Transfer partners/earning:

  •  US Airways card
  • SPG

 

Best Use of Delta Miles

Praying for “Saver” space.

Bragging about how many miles you currently have in your account.

 

Best Use of ANA Miles

ANA is a distance based airline that only does award redemptions for roundtrips. Basically, you just add up all the flights and miles flown roundtrip (using GCmap.com), and then compare to their award chart.

(However, read ANA Program Changing in April to see their new award chart, but this particular post will only talk about bookings made before those changes in April.)

Domestic flights with 4 stops for 22,000 ANA miles – Not only is this cheaper than most airlines’ domestic flights, it’s one of the few to allow stopovers. I wrote about this same concept in Best Miles For Free Flights In The USA, but the goal is to stay under 4,000 flown miles. The route I came up with as an example is New York – Denver – Houston – DC – New York, all for 22,000 ANA miles. A killer deal and you’d still have a stopover left over. Plus, as I explain in Testing ANA’s Online Award Searching/Booking, you can book it all online.

South America with 4 stops for 38,000 ANA miles – Flights under 7,000 flown miles cost 38,000 ANA miles and flights under 9,000 flown miles cost 43,000 ANA miles. For most people this is plenty to get to South America and back. For example: Houston – Cancun – San Jose – Lima – Mexico City – Houston is only 6,572 flown miles. If you were starting further away or wanted to fly more, you could likely stay under the 9k mark. In the end, it’s a great price for seeing 4 stops on one ticket!

I used to recommend east coast to Europe flights with ANA for business classers, because it would likely be 68,000 miles for a long-haul business class. A great deal, that fuel surcharges ruin. When US Airways was a partner it was an option for me, and now it’s off the table. Stick with the Americas.

Transfer partners/earning:

  • SPG
  • both Amex Gold Cards
  • Amex Platinum Card
  • Both Amex EveryDay Credit Cards
  • Amex Green Card

Read more about ANA:

 

Best Use of Flying Blue Miles

I’ve gone over a lot of the details in Best Use of Flying Blue Miles (obviously), but the point of this post is to list sweet spots, and Flying Blue has a ton.

50% Promo Awards – Flying Blue consistently puts out a list of awards you can book for 25% to 50% off. We’re talking roundtrip flights to Europe that would have been 50,000 miles (which is a good deal), now cost 25,000 miles roundtrip! But the deal works for all kinds of regions to/from Europe. Click Here to view the current list.

Israel for 50,000 Flying Blue Miles roundtrip – This is maybe the cheapest award flight to the Middle East, and it’s all because Flying Blue considers Israel part of the “Europe” region. And not just Israel, but Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya as well. 25,000 for a oneway to northern Africa or the Middle East is a steal.

Tahiti for 60,000 Flying Blue Miles roundtrip – French Polynesia can be hard to get to with some miles, but Air France has a direct flight from LA and for whatever reason, US to Tahiti is only 60,000 miles. This is an absolute steal.

I could go on and on, like Hawaii for 30,000 miles roundtrip, or Mexico, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands for 25,000 miles roundtrip, and many more. But one trick I’ll leave you with is US to Sydney for 30,000 miles oneway. Unfortunately this trick doesn’t work both ways, so you can use AA miles for 37.5k to get back… But the trick is list in this same Flying Blue post.

Transfer partners/earning:

  • SPG
  • both Amex Gold Cards
  • Amex Platinum Card
  • Both Amex EveryDay Credit Cards
  • Amex Green Card
  • Citi ThankYou Premier
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi Chairman

 

Best Use of British Airways Avios

I’ve written tons about BA Avios and they are great for little last minute flights, but the real sweet spot is flights that are 3,000 flown miles or slightly under. The pricing is abnormally good for Avios flights in this range.

Just look at the award chart and do some math here:

Flights that are exactly 3,000 flown miles would cost 12,500 British Airways Avios for eceonomy. Right? But then think about it. Flights that are 6,000 miles long are 30,000 British Airways Avios. That’s more than double the price!

Therefore I started a series on Using Stopovers to Save British Airways Avios. It’s a long series but I’ll take some examples from the last post:

Stopovers to save Avios across the Pacific:

The Hawaiian way to Sydney for 37,500 instead of 50,000.

  • LAX – HNL = 12,500
  • LAX – SYD = 25,000

Stopovers  to save Avios to South America:

Instead of going from Miami to Santiago (or Buenos Aires) direct for 25,000 Avios, try taking a stopover in Equador. Either GYE or OIU (despite the high airport taxes).

  • MIA – UIO = 10,000
  • UIO – SCL = 12,500

Stopovers  to save Avios Europe:

The best deal here has to be Boston to Dublin for 12,500 Avios. You can actually take advantage of this even if you don’t live in Boston. For example, from Seattle it would normally cost 32,500 Avios to route through NYC but instead;

  • SEA – BOS = 12,500
  • BOS – DUB = 12,500

This actually continues on in a number of ways as you can then fly Aer Lingus (which is based out of Dublin) to different places in Europe, like Moscow and Helsinki, to save Avios for your final destination.

Stopovers  to save Avios India:

From Vancouver it’s cheaper to route through Hong Kong to get to India. Plus I’d rather fly Cathay than JAL, if even to avoid fuel surcharges and sea urchins for lunch.

  • YVR – HKG = 30,000
  • HKG – BOM = 12,500

 

Transfer partners/earning:

  • British Airways card
  • SPG
  • both Amex Gold Cards
  • Amex Platinum Card
  • Both Amex EveryDay Credit Cards
  • Amex Green Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Ink Plus

 

Best Use of Korean Air Miles

Surprisingly Korean Air has some awesome redemptions.

Hawaii for 25,000 miles roundtrip – This may be the cheapest flight from the US “region” to Hawaii around. 25,000 miles is just unbeatable as it’s the same as a domestic trip. Really, it is a domestic trip according to Korean area and any technical definition of “domestic”.

Tahiti for 60,000 miles roundtrip on Air France – This is a copy cat of Flying Blue’s pricing of 60,000 miles to take Air France’s flight from LA to Tahiti. However, Korean is more strict because you can only fly on Air France, while Flying Blue would let you get a connection flight with Delta for the same price. But if you can get to LA and have Chase points, it’s a great redemption.

50,000 miles for a roundtrip to Europe – Sounds like Flying Blue right? Well yes and no. They both offer roundtrips to Europe for 50,000 miles, which is a fabulous price. But the big benefit here is that they goofily define Europe differently. Europe with Korean apparently includes Georgia. O_o

Transfer partners/earning:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Ink Plus

 

Best Use of Singapore Miles

Singapore Miles mostly get talked about because it is the best way to book the famed Singapore Suites for two. While other programs have access to Singapore “first class” Singapore likes to hold the suite awards for its own members. But there are other things to like about the Singapore Airlines program.

Domestic flights in the US for 20,000 miles and 30,000 miles for business and first class.

Roundtrips to Hawaii for 35k/60k/80k

Transfer partners/earning:

  • SPG
  • both Amex Gold Cards
  • Amex Platinum Card
  • Both Amex EveryDay Credit Cards
  • Amex Green Card
  • Citi ThankYou Premier
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi Chairman
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Ink Plus

Read More:

 

Best Use of Lufthansa Miles

Caribbean Hopper with two stopovers for 35,000 miles – Earlier I talked about United and the Caribbean Hopper. But one I’ve never talked about (or tried personally) is doing a similar route with Lufthansa miles since they have the same great price, the same COPA partner, and allow two stopovers. A basic example route could be US – Puerto Rico – Panama City – St Maarten, but instead of it being a layover in Panama it could be a stopover. Or you could try doing the same thing but coming up through Mexico. Airport taxes can be a little high on some islands, but worth it. Also, you can do two open-jaws as well! But I suspect that an open-jaw wont work on a stopover.

Transfer partners/earning:

  • Lufthansa card

 

Best Use of JAL Miles

JAL is the OneWorld version of ANA (current distanced based ANA). Figure out how many miles your route is roundtrip (with gcmap.com) and then compare to the JAL Award Chart to figure out your price in miles.

The big deal here is that they allow multiple stopovers. It’s a bit confusing as their rules are different with partners. OneWorld partners are allowed 7 stopovers, (and they even allow open-jaws and oneways). Only 3 are allowed in Europe but that’s where I was going with this…

At least 3 stopovers in Europe for 50,000 JAL Miles – I’ll do a very basic version with Air Berlin since they don’t have fuel surcharges. New York – Dusseldorf – Venice – Vienna – New York (all stops as long as you want) would come out to 50,000 miles roundtrip. That is a steal. And you can do the same concept in Latin America, and I’ll have more tricks for you soon on that.

Transfer partners/earning:

  • SPG

 

Conclusion

These are all US based tricks. I didn’t get into many of the other deals I’ve noticed on other airlines. So now, I’ve got a non-US version as promised on the backburner, a JAL post, and more. Plus, I’ve got a great trick with ANA that it’s time to share… because they’re taking it away in April anyways.

Drew

 

 

Related Posts:

37 Comments

  1. Useful information! To round out the AA off peak South America discounts, northern South America is just 15,000 one way. I’m currently booked for a trip to Ecuador.

    Reply
  2. Great post. Another one I’d add for Lufthansa is 17k one-way on UA’s flat bed transcontinental service. The domestic r/t in business is 35k miles, but one-ways are half-price (17.5k) and round down. So two one-ways would be 17k each (34k total). This is particularly notable to people who got in on the M&M card at 50k at some point — that will get you three one-ways, after you meet the minimum spend.

    You have SQ domestically at 20k economy and “30,000” in business–that should be 40,000 (r/t). https://www.singaporeair.com/pdf/ppsclub_krisflyer/charts/StarAlliance_RoundTrip.pdf (20/40/65).

    Because SQ would charge 20k for that same seat (and UA would charge 25k), I believe Lufthansa is the cheapest cost in miles for a one-way (or r/t) in a domestic flat bed seat.

    Reply
    • Oops — I misread what you wrote. You meant 20k/30k for BUSINESS and FIRST, not economy and business. So you don’t have a typo, but LH does have the cheapest price.

      Reply
  3. Any chance you are going to delve more into Alaska airlines?

    Reply
  4. Gosh, what a blog…….. Just when I think your blogs can’t get any better………. Thank you for another great post. Please list the credit cards that you get a referral fee/points. I am in the process of doing a cc churn. I will be happy to use your referral site.

    Reply
    • At the top of the page there’s a tab titled “best travel credit cards”. Click on that. It will take you to a different site, but when you apply through the links on that site, Drew will get credit.
      Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong.

      Reply
  5. It just keeps getting better… yet another bookmarked post! What a great resource, all in one place. Thanks Drew!

    Reply
  6. You can transfer United miles to Korean or copy/paste error?

    Reply
    • Great post though! Learned a lot

      Reply
  7. TERRIFIC POST!

    But not sure if United card transfers points to either SQ, Korean or Avios.

    I’ve also seen on rewardflyer that it’s possible to get RT flights within the US using Jet Airways for 5K miles. But it only shows up on certain searches. You have any insight on this?

    Reply
  8. Can you do a post on churnable credit cards please? I want to know how often I can get some of bonuses out there.

    Reply
  9. I wonder what happened to the low level award space on American’s international flights. Do you think it’s just an error that will be corrected at some point?

    Reply
    • This was supposed to have been a glitch that has been fixed(?)

      Reply
  10. AA also has reduced awards tickets for Citi AAdvantage card holders. You can get a R/T to a number of domestic locations for 25000 – 7500 (discount) = 17500 – 10% back for using your AA card = 15750. Works on one-ways too.

    Reply
  11. Please can you do one on flights starting from Asia?

    I am sure that will expand number of your reader exponentially! There are so many travelers waiting in Asia…

    Reply
  12. Great post, thank you! Loads of information, as always, you have all majors covered, and dive into some hidden secrets that no one out there is covering. Much appreciated.

    P.S. Alaska has some great options as well, like flying to Africa via Asia on Cathay, etc. Maybe you want to cover it in the future.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

    Reply
  13. More great stuff, thanks.

    Reply
  14. Easily the most useful (emphasis on the word) post in the points/miles realm for 2014. for beginners, a godsend. for others, a bookmark worthy page that we all hope will be updated…semiannually?

    Reply
  15. Um….”Only 37,500 miles and you can either take Qantas direct to Sydney or Cathay via Hong Kong.”

    How exactly do you book that AA award SYD via HKG?

    Reply
    • I agree. I don’t see that as an exception for AA routing rules.

      Reply
  16. Haha I Literally laughed out loud at work when I read the best uses of delta miles. spot on.

    Reply
    • So true!

      Reply
  17. No Aeroplan (probably NA to Europe for 60K Y/90K J) or Alaska miles (one-way on CX J or EK F)?

    Reply
  18. Thanks! I have always wanted to travel all the way around the world… I have over 600k miles on AA – and guess what you have me planning for when my wife and I retire in 18 months! (Business class the whole way!)

    Reply
  19. Great write up, but I don’t understand the Boston to Dublin price.

    Every time I try it in economy for random dates a few months from now it says 24500 for one way or ~40-50k for round trip, with $180+ in taxes. :( What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    • I mean on British Airways

      Reply
    • You need to search for award space using BA Avios for direct flights on Aer Lingus. This must be booked by phone. You can search for space on these flights on UAL.Com or at Qantas then call BA to book.

      Reply
  20. With the U.S. air to Asia by way of Europe in first class that you mentioned, can you have a 4-5 month stopover in Europe? Thanks mdk

    Reply
  21. Really useful post! Thanks for all the info!

    Reply
  22. We are just so lucky to have you in the travel community :)

    Reply
  23. What a sweet blog! I attended your talk at the Chicago seminars and you didn’t seem very friendly. Maybe you were just tired from travelling so much. You mention the merger of frequent flying programs between usairways and aa won’t happen in quite a while. I was hoping to book a trip using my miles with both airlines next May, you don’t think it will be done by then? Another question, do you always write in one way terms?

    Reply
  24. Hi Drew,

    First of all thanks for the many many many useful post you put together almost every day.
    There is however one thing I’m missing on almost every travelblog I read: China.
    I am currently based in Shanghai and the primary airline here is China Eastern (Skyteam) and China Southern (also Skyteam).
    Any tips on maximising these miles so I could travel on reward flights home (Belgium)
    Many thanks
    Kris

    Reply
  25. This is why you are the best in the field Drew. Another quality post from a true pro.

    Reply
  26. Thanks for your great work on this blog. What recommendations would you have for award travel to Africa? Looking at mainly Kenya or possibly southern Africa (South Africa and surrounding countries: Tanzania/Namibia/etc)

    Reply
  27. Damn useful. Well done. Question about the 37.5k on FlyingBlue US mainland – HNL – SYD using Avios: which airline is best to book this? (I’m sure I’m missing something obvious in the Avios series). Cheers!

    Reply
  28. Great post!! Thanks for the unique and extremely useful information.

    Just curious, but did you ever complete the JAL and ANA trick posts you mentioned in the conclusion?

    Reply
  29. Thanks for the post. However, is there any plan to maintain/update this post?

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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