I’ve covered what I think are the underpriced awards on the United (6) and American Airlines (5) award charts. But I also keep a keen eye on foreign, obscure programs for gems on their award charts.

With the proliferation of transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints, Americans have access to cheap awards through tons of foreign programs.

Here are five underpriced awards on other award charts and how to get the miles needed to book the awards.

1. Singapore Awards Between Hawaii and the Americas

Singapore Airlines puts Hawaii and Central America–you know, those two places that are thousands of miles apart–into one region. This leads to awards “within” the region to price out at a ridiculously cheap 17,500 miles each way and 30,000 miles in Business Class.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.38.15 PM
Roundtrip Award Prices

Similarly, Hawaii to South America is only 25,000 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in Business Class.

This is huge even if you don’t live in Hawaii because roundtrip Singapore Airlines awards allow for one free stopover and up to three more stopovers for $100 each.

That means you can book a roundtrip from Hawaii to South America with a stopover at your home airport in both directions for 50,000 miles + $100 + taxes. That would give you a roundtrip to South America plus two one ways to and from Hawaii on three separate trips.

Full details:

Singapore miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

2. Virgin Atlantic Awards to Southern South America

Virgin Atlantic has a number of partners including Delta. On Delta, to anywhere in South America costs only 45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles roundtrip or 90,000 roundtrip in Business Class.

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Compare that to the 60k or 125k Delta miles the same flights to Southern South America would cost.

Everyone disparages Delta award availability, but I find decent economy award space to South America on the carrier.

Virgin Atlantic miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

3. Promo Awards to Europe with Flying Blue Miles

Every month, Air France Flying Blue offers awards to Europe for 25% and 50% off from select cities. Here are the current offers.
Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.38.02 PM

There are fuel surcharges, but I think the deal is still too good to pass up in economy.

I also really like Promo Awards from Brazil to Europe because flights leaving Brazil have no fuel surcharges by law. These enable a THINK BIG trip like your home airport to Brazil to France to your home airport.

Full details on Promo Awards: Fly to Europe or Israel for 12,500 Miles

Flying Blue miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

4. Alaska Awards to South Africa on Cathay Pacific

Alaska Airlines charges a very reasonable 70,000 miles one way between the United States and Asia on Cathay Pacific First Class.

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 12.38.40 PM

It charges the same amount to Africa from the United States in Cathay Pacific First Class.Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 1.01.45 PM

Hong Kong to Johannesburg is now served by a plane without First Class, but you can still get 16 hours in First Class from the USA to Hong Kong plus 13 hours in Business Class more to Johannesburg for only 70,000 Alaska miles. If you love flying, this is the deal for you.

Alaska miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. You can also get Alaska Airlines miles from their churnable personal and business credit cards.

5. Virgin Atlantic Awards to Europe in Economy and Premium Economy

Virgin Atlantic economy class awards to Europe require far fewer miles than competitors’ charge. From Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago, you only need 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles for a one way flight to the United Kingdom.

And taxes and fees on the one way from the United States to Europe are only $131!

Combine a one way from the eastern United States to Europe for 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles plus $131 and return from a low tax country to the United States on a one way award with United or American miles for a very cheap European vacation.

I wrote more about searching Virgin Atlantic award space, the fuel surcharges you’ll see, and booking the space in Huge Deal: 13k Miles to Europe This Summer.

You can also fly one way from parts of the United States to the United Kingdom in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy for only 27,500 miles and $231.

Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic is more akin to United First Class on domestic flights than United Economy Plus. It’s not just a big seat; Premium Economy comes with all the amenities in this promotional video.

Virgin Atlantic miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. Plus there is the “90k offer” on the Virgin Atlantic credit card.

Your Turn

Did I miss any of your favorite awards on the obscure foreign award charts? Tell me about it in the comments.
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Until December 20, 2014, you can buy Alaska Airlines miles for as little as 2.19 cents each.

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The sale is structured as a bonus on the normal number of miles you’d receive. The bonus is tiered, so the biggest 35% bonus comes from purchasing 35,000 to 40,000 miles at the normal price of about 2.96 cents each after tax.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.02.04 AM

To buy 47,250 miles (35,000 + 12,250 bonus) during this sale costs $1,034.69, which is 2.19 cents per mile. This is the cheapest amount of miles that gets the maximum 35% bonus.

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I don’t think Alaska miles are worth 2.19 cents each, but they are worth close to that, and if you have a specific redemption in mind, it isn’t hard to get more than 2.19 cents of value per mile.

  • What are the best redemptions for Alaska miles?
  • Does this miles purchase count as airfare or travel spending for category bonuses?
  • How does this compare to past miles sales on Alaska?

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Update 11/6/14: Delta.com is again displaying Alaska Airlines and Virgin Australia award space. The disappearance must have been a glitch. Bookmark this post in case the glitch recurs!

Delta.com is no longer displaying award space on Alaska Airlines or Virgin Australia. You can search for award space on both airlines on other websites and book it by phone with Delta.

Virgin Australia Business Class

Delta.com is pretty terrible. It shows very few Delta partners, requiring me to search for award space for clients of the MileValue Award Booking Service on airfrance.us, Expert Flyer, or by phone.

Even the partners Delta.com does show usually don’t show up on the calendar of results, so it looks like the month only has Standard and Peak award space when partner space exists that always prices at the Saver level. (What am I talking about? Read this post, and thank me later.)

In the last few days, Delta.com has stopped displaying Virgin Australia and Alaska Airlines award space. This is a big blow for the average member of SkyMiles.

  • Virgin Australia has the best award space of any airline to Australia in Business Class. It is bookable for 160,000 Delta miles roundtrip.
  • Alaska Airlines has solid award space to Hawaii and Mexico (not great uses of SkyMiles) and to West Coast gateway cities for international award flights.

The silver lining of making award space harder to search is that it becomes more plentiful for those of us who know where to search for it. You can join that group right now.

  • Where can you search Alaska Airlines award space?
  • Where can you search Virgin Australia award space?
  • How do you book the award space you find?

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Today (10/14/14) is the last day you can buy up to 56,000 Alaska Airlines miles for as little as 2.11 cents each.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 3.12.09 PM

The sale is structured as a bonus on the normal number of miles you’d receive. The bonus is tiered, so the biggest 40% bonus comes from purchasing 35,000 to 40,000 miles at the normal price of about 2.96 cents each after tax.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 3.12.23 PM

To buy 49,000 miles (35,000 + 14,000 bonus) during this sale costs $1,034.69, which is 2.11 cents per mile.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 3.14.07 PM

I don’t think Alaska miles are worth 2.11 cents each, but they are worth close to that, and if you have a specific redemption in mind, it isn’t hard to get more than 2.11 cents of value per mile.

  • What are the best redemptions for Alaska miles?
  • Does this miles purchase count as airfare or travel spending for category bonuses?

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Emirates is releasing two First Class seats on its A380 flights from San Francisco and Houston to Dubai on a ton of days in Winter 2015.

My flight in Emirates First Class was my favorite ever because of the over-the-top service and amenities, like two onboard shower spas.

At the MileValue dinner, when I shared these five tips, a reader (wish I could remember a name for credit here) shared the tip that Emirates First Class award space on its A380s was wide open from San Francisco and Houston.

You can search Emirates award space at alaskaair.com and book it with Alaska Airlines miles with no fuel surcharges. You can get Alaska miles by opening the Alaska Airlines credit cards or by transferring SPG Starpoints to Alaska Airlines miles.

  • How good is award space on the Emirates A380s?
  • What if you don’t live in San Francisco or Houston?
  • How many Alaska Airlines miles do you need?
  • What about free stopovers on the award?

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Alaska Airlines is having a sale on award flights between select cities. One way flights are going for as little as 5,000 Alaska Airlines miles + $5.60 for flights between August 30 and October 31, 2014.

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Many cities are on the sale list. Check out the full list and sale prices here.

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Domestic awards and awards to Canada are discounted from their normal price of 12,500 miles each way to 5,000, 7,500, or 10,000 miles each way. Awards to Mexico are discounted from 15,000 to 12,500 miles.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.06.19 AM

The sale cities have excellent award space, which is probably why they are so discounted.

Unfortunately this sale does not pair well with Alaska’s current bonus on purchased miles that allows you to buy up to 56,000 miles for 2.1 cents each. That sale is better if you want to fly Cathay Pacific and Emirates First Class, not Alaska Airlines economy.

  • Which city pairs are being offered for 5,000 miles each?
  • Are there any fees for booking Alaska Airlines award flights at the last second?

This is the eighteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program.

Why Collect Alaska Airlines Miles?

Alaska Airlines miles are great for booking Emirates First Class and Cathay Pacific First Class. These are two ultra-luxury cabins, and Emirates First Class is not part of any airline alliance. Check out my trip report!

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.05.22 AM
Emirates First Class Suite

Collecting Alaska Airlines miles is easy. Both the personal and business cards from Bank of America are churnable, meaning you can get the same bonus over and over.

Alaska Airlines partners with 14 airlines from SkyTeam, oneworld, and outside the three alliances.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.03.05 AM

  • What airlines can you fly with Alaska Airlines miles?
  • What are the routing rules for Alaska Airlines awards?
  • What are the special features of the Mileage Plan program?
  • How can you book an Alaska Airlines award?

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Many people on the west coast can take a trip to Honolulu, Fiji, and Australia or New Zealand with stops in each place for only 50,000 miles one way.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 1.56.52 AM

If you live in a city with a direct Alaska Airlines or American Airlines flight to Hawaii, this price is available to you. For folks in other cities, the trip is available for 5,000 to 10,000 miles more.

The trip combines one Avios award with one Alaska Airlines award on Fiji Airways. There is a sweet spot on the Avios award chart between the west coast and Hawaii, and there is a sweet spot on the Alaska chart between Hawaii and Australia/New Zealand on Fiji Airways.

  • How can you search for award space for this trip?
  • How can you book this trip?
  • How long can you spend in each destination?
  • What are your options in Australia and New Zealand?
  • How can people who don’t live on the west coast book nearly as good of a trip?

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You can take up to three showers in the First Class Shower Spa onboard Emirates A380s on a single award that costs only 100,00 Alaska Airlines miles. Emirates Airlines First Class is the standard for luxury as the only airline with two showers onboard in which the 16 First Class passengers can freshen up.

In January 2013, I flew Emirates First Class from Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia–one of three tag flights between New Zealand and Australia.

I enjoyed the chauffeur service, lounge, onboard bar and meal service, suite, and the shower.

I have wanted to get back into Emirates First Class on a longer flight since then, so I started collecting Alaska Airlines miles, which are the means by which Americans can take a 7-mile-high shower.

Since opening three Alaska Airlines personal cards and two business cards, I have 140,000 Alaska Airlines miles.

Alaska charges only 90,000 miles one way in First Class from the United States to the Middle East or India and only 100,000 miles one way to Africa, East Asia, or Europe. It’s quite simple to book over 24 hours worth of Emirates First Class flights on a single one way award, and I’ve even found a routing that gets you three Emirates A380 First Class flights on a single award.

  • How can you get Alaska Airlines miles?
  • Where can you search Emirates award space?
  • How can you maximize an Emirates First Class award with Alaska miles?
  • What routing features three Emirates A380 flights?
  • What are the stopover rules for Alaska awards?

Getting to the Big Island of Hawaii from the United States mainland is easy with miles. There are a ton of direct flights on several airlines, most of which have fantastic award space. Several of the flights can even be booked for as little as 12,500 miles each way.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 2.03.36 AM

I’ve been on the Kona side of Hawaii Island this week with my family, and it has been fantastic.

The snorkeling on this coast is the best I’ve ever experienced. I’ve seen more turtles than I can count, and just last night 1,000-pound manta rays swam within a few feet of me on a beautiful night snorkel.

Plus the weather here is like the rest of Hawaii, but better. Every day has been in the eighties with a nice breeze, and the Kohala Coast (the northern part of the west coast of the Big Island) almost never sees rain in contrast to some parts of the state.

There won’t be any trip reports from this trip because we aren’t staying at a hotel–rented a house for the week–and because my flights are 27 minutes each way. But, better than a trip report, I want to share how you can get here with miles.

  • What cities have direct flights to Kona?
  • What miles are best to get to Kona?
  • What is the award space picture to Kona?

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Update: See the comments for reports that fuel surcharges are being collected by JAL on Emirates flights.

Yesterday I panned the Emirates frequent flyer program for its exorbitant miles prices and fuel surcharges to enjoy Emirates Business and First Class.

But flying Emirates First Class on an A380 is awesome–there’s an onboard shower and bar–so I want to give everyone the cheapest ways to use miles to put a truly luxury experience within reach.

Fully Flat Bed in Your Emirates First Class Suite
Fully Flat Bed in Your Emirates First Class Suite

There are two programs that offer Emirates First Class and Business Class redemptions at reasonable rates:

  • Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Each program offers a better rate in certain situations, but both offer sweet spots that get you into Emirates First Class and Business Class at reasonable miles prices with no fuel surcharges. And you can quickly get the miles needed in each program even if you don’t currently have an account with either airline and never plan to fly to Japan or Alaska.

What are the redemption prices for Emirates First and Business Class with Japan Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles? When do you use one program, and when do you use the other. How can you get Japan Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles?

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According to this post on Milepoint, Alaska Airlines is offering 5,000 bonus miles for all travelers who sign up for Board Room memberships by December 31st. Alaska brands its club lounges as Board Rooms (in the same way that Delta calls its lounges Sky Clubs). A complete list of locations can be found here.

Standard one year memberships are $450 (this price includes the initiation fee) and are reduced for Alaska MVP and Gold members.

Board Room members actually have access to all domestic Delta Sky Clubs when traveling same day on an Alaska or Delta ticket. Even with that perk, this isn’t a good deal. Alaska only has five Board Room locations, and the best way to get access to Alaska and Delta lounges is still with the American Express Platinum card. That card has been discussed several times on MileValue, including here and here. It also ranks highly on our Best Card Offers by Absolute Value.

With the American Express Platinum card, you have access to Delta and American lounges when traveling same day on those carriers. You also have access to US Airways lounges anytime. The card even comes with Priority Pass Select membership, giving you access to the Alaska Board Rooms. You get all of this access for a $450 annual credit card fee, the same price as signing up for an Alaska Board Room membership only.

Note that with the Priority Pass Select membership, you must pay $27 per guest. At American, Delta, and US Airways lounges, up to two guests are admitted for free.

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The ultimate aspirational award may just be First Class on an Emirates A380 with its onboard shower.

Alaska Airlines has announced a partnership with Emirates, and has promised for most of this year that the award chart for awards booked with Alaska miles on Emirates planes would be coming in late 2012.

We are quite late in 2012, and the award chart has not been released, but the website has been updated to reflect a delay.

This is a bummer, but I’ll keep monitoring the situation. If you want to stock up on Alaska miles in advance of the announcement, grab the Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America or bulk up your SPG account balance.

The American Express Platinum Card is one of the best credit cards for frequent travelers. The card comes with Delta, American, US Airways, and Priority Pass Select lounge access. (American/US lounge access ends 3/22/14.) Coupled with no foreign transaction fees and $100 towards Global Entry, this is a great all around travel card.

Many people balk at this card due to the $450 annual fee. However one of the biggest incentives to get the card is you can get $400 worth of of airline fees reimbursed by American Express in your first year of being a cardholder.

That’s because the $200 annual airline fee reimbursement is a calendar-year benefit.

This fee reimbursement should apply to baggage fees, change fees, award ticketing fees, and other fees. It should not apply to purchased tickets or purchased gift cards. But American Express does code many gift card purchases as fees that it then reimburses.

For instance, I got my AMEX Platinum in November 2011. I immediately designated American Airlines as my 2011 airline for fee reimbursement and purchased three $67 gift certificates from aa.com. I received a $200 statement credit within a few days.

In January 2012, I changed my airline to United for 2012 fee reimbursement. I bought a $200 gift certificate from united.com, and again I received a $200 credit within days.

Those $400 in gift cards almost completely “eliminated” the $450 annual fee.

I just got the AMEX Platinum.  How do I choose my designated airline for the year?

After signing up for the card, you should immediately register your card with American Express through this link. You will then be asked to select your chosen airline for the calendar year. For reference, the page looks like this.

After I make my airline selection for the year, can I switch if I change my mind?

No. You must choose carefully. Your selection can’t be changed until January of the following year. Once you make your choice, you are locked in for that calendar year.

That means you should pick an airline where you will run up $200 in fees in a year or one whose gift cards AMEX reimburses.

I just made an eligible purchase with my card, what will a reimbursement from AMEX look like on my billing statement?

Most are reporting that the fee reversal posts as “AMEX Airline Fee Reimbursement.” It should post within two-three weeks of making the eligible purchase.

What is the best use of this airline fee reimbursement?

Everyone’s situation is different, but using the $200 credit for gift certificates is very handy. If you know you have travel plans on that airline, then you are essentially reducing the annual fee of the card by $200. Like I mentioned above, this is a calendar year benefit, so you can get $400 off the first year’s $450 annual fee!

Which airlines allow you to purchase gift certificates and which will American Express refund properly?

I’ve collected the wisdom of the various FlyerTalk threads on gift-card reimbursement.

AirTran Airways

As of December 5, 2011, AirTran no longer sells gift certificates. This is not a viable option. Keep in mind, though, that AirTran is merging with Southwest Airlines. Check out the Southwest Airline section below for details.

Alaska Airlines

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, there are some very recent conflicting reports about being reimbursed for Alaska gift cards. Until very recently, purchasing Alaska gift cards in $50 or $100 increments was no issue. AMEX Platinum reimbursements posted within several days. However, two recent posters note that the charge posts to their account as “ALASKA AIR GIFT CERTSEATTLE WA.” They have not received credit for these purchases most likely due to this new coding. It looks like buying Alaska gift cards and getting reimbursed is dead. If you still want to try your luck, click this link to purchase e-gift certificates for Alaska.

American Airlines

FlyerTalkers are still noting success in purchasing low denominations of e-gift certificates. AMEX appears to be reimbursing $50, $75, and $100 increments without any issues. American Airlines sells both physical cards and e-gift certificates through the same landing page here. To expedite your order, I highly suggest purchasing an e-certificate on the right side of the page.

Delta Airlines

As hard as it is to believe, Delta Airlines does not sell gift certificates (physical or e-certificates) on its website. They must be purchased at airport ticket counters in the United States. To make matters worse, Delta gift certificates are not available for purchase in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island. The FlyerTalk thread does note success with incidental charges like stand by fees, change fees, and Economy Comfort seat purchases, and checked bags.

Note that some FlyerTalkers are also reporting that inexpensive tickets (<$150) are being reimbursed by AMEX.

Frontier

There are no data points on FlyerTalk nor MilePoint about any reimbursements. I would choose another airline to use the $200 credit.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines does sell e-gift certificates here, but there are no reports on the small FlyerTalk thread about anyone using their AMEX Platinum to buy them. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence to make a conclusion either way, but I might try to talk my dad into being the guinea pig since he is a frequent inter-island flyer.

JetBlue Airlines

There have been no successful reimbursements reported in the short FlyerTalk thread about JetBlue gift certificate purchases. This does not appear to be a viable option.

Spirit Airlines

There are no datapoints on FlyerTalk nor MilePoint about any reimbursements. I would choose another airline to use the $200 credit.

Southwest Airlines

Recent posts in this FlyerTalk thread indicate that this door might be closing. Reports from 2011 and early 2012 show that getting reimbursement for $50 or $100 gift certificates was no issue. However, it appears now that the reimbursements are not automatically posting. I would proceed with caution if choosing Southwest. If a gift certificate purchase does not post, there are not a lot of other uses for the credit. Southwest does not charge for checked bags or change fees, and doesn’t have any airport lounges. To purchase physical or e-gift certificates, click this link.

United Airlines

This thread on FlyerTalk notes that many are having success with gift card purchases and quick reimbursements. $50 and $100 increments appear to have the highest success rate, while a one time $200 purchase has been hit or miss in being covered by American Express. ($200 worked for me!) To play it safe, I would purchase four $50 certificates or two $100 ones to not draw attention to the transactions. To purchase, simply go to this link and click on the Purchase button. Note that I had some trouble with a flight I purchased using my United gift certificates bought with my AMEX Platinum. For more details, read my post, American Express/United Gift Card Trouble.

US Airways

Though the thread is scarce with recent anecdotes, it appears that purchasing US Airways gift certificates will work. Some have reported success with one $200 purchase while others have been buying two $100 certificates. Be warned, though, as US Airways does not have e-gift certificates. The physical cards must be mailed, and any order you place will incur a $15 shipping fee. If you purchase two $100 certificates, the total will come out to $215, and AMEX should reimburse up to $200. To purchase gift certificates line, follow this link.

Recap

The American Express Platinum card appears to have a high $450 annual fee. However, you can greatly reduce the fee by using your $200 airline credit each calendar year on gift certificates.

This thread has summarized which airlines’ gift certificates American Express is reimbursing.

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