Best Of

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There are a lot of reasons to collect miles and points.

  • For free luxury hotel stays and First Class flights
  • To travel to more countries than you could otherwise afford
  • To take your family on vacation
  • To visit home for the holidays
  • To earn big rewards for everyday spending

Whatever your reason for coming to MileValue, there is a rewards card that suit your needs.

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Swimming in a Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

In the last few years, I’ve been to dozens of countries, travel that would have been completely impossible without miles and points earned from credit cards. This has been my life thanks to miles:

And I’ve generally flown Business or First Class between those adventures on tickets that cost me not thousands or hundreds of dollars, but tens of dollars.

If you don’t have the money to take your dream trips, the good news is that you don’t need much money. By maximizing the sign up bonuses on rewards cards, anyone with good credit can take a dream trip anywhere in the world.

Where I've Been Through July 2016
Where I’ve Been Through July 2016

Here are, in my opinion, the top ten rewards credit cards right now.

1. Ink Plus

The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.

For the reasons presented in this post, this is one of the first three cards I recommend you get if you can get a business card.

The Ink Plus earns 5x points on internet, phone, and cell phone bills; 5x points on purchases at office supply stores; 2x points on hotels and gas; and 1x points on everything else.

The $95 annual fee is not waived.

While I can not directly link to the current Ink Plus offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

2. AAdvantage Executive

Until August 31, 2016, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® comes with 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

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The card also comes with Admirals Club lounge membership, which explains its $450 annual fee. Admirals Club membership means you can access over 90 lounges worldwide for free no matter what airline you’re flying, and you can bring in two guests for free.

You can even add up to 10 authorized users who can get into Admirals Clubs with two guests for free. That’s 33 total people off one card.

The card offers 10,000 American Airlines status miles if you spend $40,000 on it in a calendar year. Cardholders also get a free checked bag for themselves and up to eight companions when they fly American Airlines, priority boarding, 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, and no foreign transaction fees.

Application Link: Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®

3. Hilton Visa Signature

Until August 31, 2016, the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card comes with 75,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months, automatic Hilton Silver status, and no annual fee.

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This is a huge sign up bonus for a card with no annual fee.

The card offers 6x points at Hilton hotels; 3x at supermarkets, drugstores, and gas stations; and 2x on all other purchases. Plus any year you spend $1,000 at Hiltons, you get 10,000 bonus points.

Free night awards start at 5,000 points per night and because the card gives you free Silver status, cardholders get the fifth night free on all awards.

Spending $2,500 on the card (of which at least $2,000 is in the first three months) will give you 80,000 Hilton points, enough for 4 five-night stays at Category 1 hotels, 20 total nights!

Application Link: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card

4. Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a personal card that earns 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, Singapore, British Airways, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.

For the reasons presented in this post, this is one of the first two cards I recommend everyone get.

You also get 5k bonus points for adding an authorized user while applying, so I think of this as a 55k bonus point card. (Adding an authorized user does not prevent that person from getting the card at the same time or in the future as a primary account holder and getting the full sign up bonus.)

The Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on dining and travel. Dining includes bars, restaurants, and fast food. Travel includes airfare, hotels, taxis, rental cars, tolls, parking, and much more.

The Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee the first year, then $95 thereafter.

While I can not directly link to the current Sapphire Preferred offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

5. Citi Prestige® Card

The Citi Prestige comes with the best perks of any credit card and big bonus points as well. Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. You can read my full review of the Citi Prestige here. 

You’ll also get a $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year, which can be applied twice within the first year card membership for a total of $500 in Air Travel Credit.

You’ll also receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Pre √®, and a complimentary 4th night for any hotel stay at hotels booked through Citi Prestige® Concierge.

Transfer points to 12 airline loyalty programs or 1 hotel program for the most outsized value. Points are also redeemable for 1.33 cents each on any airline’s cash tickets (sign-up bonus is worth $532 redeeming this way).

The category bonuses are stellar as well: earn 3x points on air travel and hotels and 2x points on dining at restaurants and entertainment. This is a great card to put the majority of your spending on as I assume all of us as avid travelers spend a good amount within those categories.

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

6. British Airways Card

The British Airways Visa Signature card comes with 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months on the card.

Spend $15,000 in the first 12 months for another 25,000 bonus Avios. The maximum bonus is 75,000 total Avios for spending $15,000 in the first 12 months of which $2,000 came in the first three.

The card comes with 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on other purchases.

British Airways Avios are perfect for short, direct, economy flights on British Airways partners that do not levy fuel surcharges like these partners.

For instance, the west coast to Hawaii on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines flights for 12,500 Avios or only 4,500 Avios between Cuzco and Lima, Peru are two of the sweet spots.

The card has a $95 annual fee that is NOT waived.

While I can not directly link to the current British Airways Visa offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

7. Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Membership Rewards transfer to around 20 hotel and airline programs including Delta, Singapore, and British Airways.

The card has a $475 annual fee in the first year. But it comes with huge benefits like airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, and hotel status. For more info on setting up and maximizing the benefits, see Get the Most Out of Your Platinum Card.

Landing Page: Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

The “regular” Platinum card is worse than this offer because it has a smaller sign up bonus and only a $25 lower annual fee.

8. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card is the best card for giving you free luxury hotel nights. The card comes with two free weekend nights at Hiltons worldwide after spending $2,500 in the first four months. The free nights are best spent at top-tier Hiltons and Conrads that can go for $1,000 or more per night.

This card is perfect to get aspirational stays at top tier properties like the Conrad Koh Samui that goes for 95,000 Hilton points per night and costs more than $1k per night.

The card also comes with Hilton Gold Status, so you can enjoy free internet and breakfast on those free stays.

The card earns 10x points on Hilton stays, 5x on airlines and car rentals, and 3x on all other purchases.

There card has no foreign transaction fee. The annual fee is $95.

Application Link: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

9. Barclaycard Arrival Plus

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® comes with 40,000 bonus Arrival miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.

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The card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. You can redeem the miles to offset any travel expense greater than $100 inside your Barclaycard account within 120 days of the purchase. Here is How to Redeem Arrival Miles.

Arrival miles can be redeemed for any travel expense like any flight (no blackouts), taxes and fees on award tickets, hotels, airbnb, car rentals, cruises, and more. You also get a 5% rebate on all redemptions.

After meeting the minimum spending requirement on the card, you’ll have at least 46,000 Arrival miles, which you could redeem to offset a $460 charge.  And when you redeem the miles, you get the 5% rebate back instantly, so redeeming 46,000 would offer 2,300 miles back, worth another $23. It’s great for travel as it has no foreign transaction fees and is a Mastercard, which means you will probably pay less in currency conversion fees.

While I can not directly link to the current Arrival Plus offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

10. Freedom Unlimited

The Freedom Unlimited comes with 15,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $500 in the first three months and 2,500 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user.

For the reasons presented in this post, this is one of the first two cards I recommend everyone get.

The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on all purchases.

Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed at a rate of 1 cent each– that’s why all the marketing of the card features cash back language. BUT if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card (#1 and #5 on this list), there is a second way of redeeming the Freedom Unlimited’s Ultimate Rewards: transfer them to your Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus account and from there to airline miles or hotel points. I call this the Freedom Two Step.

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I value several of the transfer partners’ miles in the 1.6 to 1.8 cent range, so the Freedom Two Step should allow you to get far more than 1 cent of value from those same Ultimate Rewards.

Check out my full post on the Freedom Two Step for more explanation, screenshots of the process, and high value awards with the partner programs.

The Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee.

While I can not directly link to the current Freedom Unlimited offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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Updated 8/16/16 with Citi’s new sign-up bonus rule.

Will you be approved for a new card? Will you get its bonus?

What if you’ve already had that card and gotten its bonus before?

The answer to these questions depends on the issuing bank of the credit card. The issuing bank is not the payment network like Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. The issuing bank is the bank that gives you the card, collects interest, and provides customer service. For rewards cards, the main issuing banks are Chase, Citi, American Express, Barclaycard, and Bank of America.

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Let’s look at the rules for each issuing bank, which vary widely.

Chase

  • If you have 5+ new credit card accounts with any bank in the last 24 months, you will be denied all Chase personal and business credit cards. However if you were targeted for a Chase offer, you can still be approved even if you have 5+ new credit cards in the last 24 months.
  • You can only get the bonus on the same Chase card once every 24 months. This 24 month clock starts when you got the last bonus (which may be several months after you got the card).
  • You can be approved for multiple cards on the same day. I know people who have been approved for two personal and one business card from Chase on their first ever credit card applications.

American Express

  • You can only get the bonus on an American Express card once per lifetime. However if you were targeted for an American Express offer, you can still be approved even if you have 5+ new credit cards in the last 24 months.
  • You are limited to holding four American Express credit cards. Both personal and business count toward this limit. (AMEX Gold, Everyday, Delta, and SPG are credit cards.)
  • Separately, you are limited to holding four American Express charge cards. Both personal and business count toward this limit. (AMEX Platinum is a charge card.)

Citi

  • You can be approved for no more than one Citi card in an eight day period. If you want two Citi cards, get them on days 1 and 9.
  • You can be approved for no more than two Citi cards in a 65 day period. If you want three Citi cards, get them on days 1, 9, and 66.
  • You are only eligible to earn a sign up bonus if you haven’t opened or closed a card from the same type (brand or co-brand) within the last 24 months. For example, Let’s say you opened a Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card seven months ago. That means for the next 17 months (a full 24 months after you opened it) you are not eligible for the sign up bonus from the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card, the other Hilton co-branded card issued by Citi. If you close that Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, the 24 month clock will start over again and you won’t be eligible for any other Citi Hilton cards for 24 months past the date you closed it.

Barclaycard

  • Applicants with zero Barclaycards may be able to get several at once.
  • Applicants who have a Barclaycard will not be approved for another for at least six months since the last application.
  • Barclaycard denies people for having too many Barclaycards, not enough spending on existing Barclaycards, too much credit with Barclaycard, or too many accounts with other banks.

Bank of America

  • At least for the Alaska Airlines personal and business cards, the only cards worth getting, you can get as many as you’d like at one time. I get one of each every 91 days, but people have gotten multiple at once or waited less time between applications.

Bottom Line

Every issuing bank has different rules on how often you can apply for its cards and how often you can get a new bonus on a card you’ve had previously. The rules are changing, and the general trend is toward a tightening of the rules. The rules are sometimes written down and sometimes figured out by aggregating data points on FlyerTalk or good, old-fashioned experimentation.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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This is about the math behind one of my hotel stays. But the same concept applies to all your hotel stays and flights when deciding between an award and cash.

This week I stayed in the Holiday Inn Express in Belgrade, Serbia. The hotel came to my attention because it was a PointBreaks hotel, which means I could buy points for about $29 and book it “for free” with those points. But I ended up paying $61 for a paid night instead to get a big bonus from the current IHG Rewards promo. Here was my thought process.

Free Now or Free Later

Occasionally this hobby requires a little math to figure out the best deal among several good ones. Don’t shy away from that math, and don’t expect anyone else to be able to do it for you since it often requires your personal valuation of miles and points. Luckily the math is always easy!

Here was my math.

I had 6,000+ points in my IHG account, enough for one free night at the Holiday Inn Express in Belgrade, which was 5,000 points per night because it was on the IHG PointBreaks list.

IHG also runs near constant promotions for bonus points on stays, and for the current promotion, here was my targeted offer.

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That’s 6,000 bonus points on my first stay if it was by May 31–5,000 for me and 1,000 to share that I can “share” with myself. My stay was May 29.

On the night of my stay, the advanced purchase rate was 54.30 euros ($61)

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The normal earning rate is 10 points per dollar at most IHG brands, including Holiday Inn Express, so my paid stay would earn 6,610 points between bonuses and normal earning.

So here’s the math: a paid stay costs me $61 more and leaves my account with 11,610 more points (6,610 earned plus 5,000 not spent) than a free stay. Which do I value more? If I value points at more than 0.525 cents each, the right move was to pay for the stay.

That’s almost exactly what I value IHG points at, 0.5 cents each. In the end, I decided to pay for the stay because not paying would have left me with 1,000 points in my account, and it’s really important to always have at least 5,000 IHG points to be able to use this trick to buy more points for 0.63-0.7 cents each.

Bottom Line

Should you use cash or an award? Whether with airline miles or hotel points, it is a simple math problem adding up the costs of each in miles and points and applying your value for the miles or points.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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I get questions all the time like this:

Hi, I have a million American Express Membership Rewards/Chase Ultimate Rewards/Citi ThankYou Points, what is the best transfer partner to go from [here] to [there.]

There are basically two ways to answer the question:

  1. Look at award charts of all the points’ transfer partners and then look for award space using the cheapest miles. I used this method to suggest to my friend that he transfer his Membership Rewards to Flying Blue miles to get from Denver to Tel Aviv. I covered this method extensively in Best Way to Get to Israel with Miles, which is a much broader post than the title suggests.
  2. Look for award space on all airlines that fly from [here] to [there], then figure out the cheapest way to fly the itinerary you most like. I’ll cover this second method in this post.

My friend messaged me last week saying that she had access to a few hundred thousand American Express Membership Rewards and wanted to fly from Buenos Aires to New York on June 3 or June 6.

Since she had such specific dates and not that many airlines fly from Buenos Aires to New York, I thought the best strategy was to search award space, then figure out which transfer partner to use to book what I found.

The airlines to search were:

  • American
  • United
  • Delta
  • AeroMexico
  • Copa
  • Avianca
  • LATAM
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Air Canada

The cool thing is that all these airlines can be searched on three sites:

  1. United.com shows United, Copa, Air Canada, and Avianca award space
  2. Delta.com shows Delta, AeroMexico, and Aerolineas Argentinas award space
  3. BA.com shows American Airlines and LATAM award space

If you search those three sites (without signing into united.com) and find Saver award space on any of the airlines, it should be bookable with any type of miles that can book that airlines’ award space. That’s just another way of saying that airlines usually release all their Saver award space equally to all partners.

So I went to search (except I cheated and subbed aa.com for ba.com because I didn’t expect to find good LATAM award space, so going to ba.com would just be slower.)

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aa.com search
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delta.com search
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united.com search

Search Results

AA.com

On aa.com, I hit the jackpot–direct Business Class award space in a flat bed from Buenos Aires to New York on American Airlines at the Saver level.

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American charges 57,500 miles one way for that space, but that is irrelevant because American Airlines is not a partner of Amex. We’d have to transfer to a partner of American’s to book the space, and different programs charge different prices for the same awards.

Amex has four partners that could book the flight:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • British Airways Avios
  • Iberia Avios
  • Etihad Guest Miles (added April 2016)

The oneworld partners are distance-based programs, and unfortunately this is quite a long flight at over 5,200 miles flown. British Airways and Iberia charge an insane 150,000 Avios one way for the flight in Business Class. Cathay Pacific Asia miles charges 70,000 miles one way.

Etihad is a region-based program that is not a member of any alliance but has American Airlines as a partner. Amazingly Etihad uses American Airlines’ pre-devAAluation award chart for American Airlines flights, so this flight would be only 50,000 Etihad miles.

Unfortunately, my friend was looking to fly within the week, and Etihad Guest’s terms say:

9.3.5. Redemption travel on Partner airline flights must be booked no less than 14 working days prior to the date of travel via the Etihad Guest Service Centre only.

Delta.com

The results on delta.com were not very good. She could book an economy award on Delta for 47,500 Delta miles or Business Class for 147,500 miles. (These would not be bookable with Delta partners’ miles because this is not Saver award space.)

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United.com

United pulled up Saver Business Class award space on Copa on June 3 with one stop in Panama.
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It also found Saver economy award space on United on June 6, and Saver economy and Business space on Air Canada/United for June 6.Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.48.04 PM Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.59.53 PM

This Star Alliance award space is bookable with the following Membership Rewards partners:

  • ANA Mileage Club
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Singapore KrisFlyer

ANA requires roundtrip tickets, and she was only booking one way. For one way awards, Singapore charges 50,000 miles in Business Class from Argentina to the USA; Aeroplan charges 55,000.

The clear best option in her opinion was to book Business Class on Copa on June 3 with 50,000 Singapore miles. (By the way, here’s a Copa Business Class trip report from when I flew the airline in January to Chile.)

What She Needs to Do

The Amex points she’ll use are not in her account. That adds an extra step, the redemption nominee form step.

  1. Open a Singapore KrisFlyer account in name of the person who has the Amex points. This is important because the owner of the Amex points cannot transfer them to an airline account in my friend’s name.
  2. Fill out a “redemption nominee form” in that KrisFyler account with my friend’s information. This is important because while all American airline programs allow an account owner to redeem awards for anyone, Singapore only allows you to redeem for people who you have listed as nominees first. This process is really simple and I detailed my experience with it here.
  3. Transfer 50,000 points from her friend’s Amex account to her friend’s new Singapore account.
  4. Wait. It will take 12-36 hours for points to arrive as Singapore miles. In this time, the award space could disappear. (It probably won’t, but it could.) In that case, my friend would be stuck with one of the other options from united.com.
  5. When the miles arrive, call Singapore Airlines at 800-742-3333 and tell the agent the dates, cabins, and flight numbers of those Copa flights. Here’s my experience booking awards with Singapore miles. She should do this immediately when the miles post because you must book Singapore partner awards at least three days before departure.

Bottom Line

There is usually no way to answer the best transfer partner from [here] to [there] without researching. The two main research ways are to check charts first and then find award space or check award space first and then figure out the best way to book it.

In general, I’d use the charts first method from my other friend’s Israel trip if you have more date flexibility and if more airlines fly the route. I’d use this award space first method if you have less date flexibility and there are are fewer award search engines you’d need to search.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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A Delta mile does not equal an Alaska Airlines mile. The former has a more expensive award chart, imposes fuel surcharges in more situations, and has access to less Saver award space.

All miles are worth different amounts.

In this post, I’ll list the top 11 most valuable miles to me and my valuation for those miles. First a few caveats:

  1. I am not including transferable points. For reference, I value Starpoints at 2.5 cents, Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards at 2 cents, and ThankYou Points at 1.9 cents.
  2. The value of a mile depends on how many of that mile you have. Your 100,000,000th American Airlines mile is worth nothing because you can’t redeem that many. For all my valuations, I’m valuing the miles assuming you have a balance of around 50,000 to 200,000, which is a few awards worth.
  3. The value of your miles tends to go up the more types of miles you have. If you only have British Airways Avios and want to travel all over the world, you’ll probably average 1 cent of value per Avios or less. But if you have Avios and several other types of miles, so that you can use your Avios only on high value Avios awards, you can squeeze a lot more value out of them. I am assuming you are like me and have lots of types of miles.
  4. The value of a mile depends on the trips you like to take. My favorite places to start and end trips, Hawaii and South America, happen to be fuel-surcharge free. That means I value miles that normally collect fuel surcharges–but don’t collect them on trips to Hawaii and South America–very highly. If you only want to go to Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia, these miles will be much less valuable.

Here’s my top 11 list (note that programs #1 and #4 will be combined in the next few years, I’d guess in 2018):

1. Virgin America points (2.3 cents each)

High Value Awards: Getting 2.3 cents per point toward Virgin America cash fares. Los Angeles to Australia in flat beds on Virgin Australia for 80k Virgin America points roundtrip with no fuel surcharges.
Get the Miles: Virgin America credit cards with tiny sign up bonuses, but 1 point per dollar on spending. SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Virgin America points with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 transferred. Membership Rewards and ThankYou Points transfer 2:1 to Virgin America points though both run transfer bonuses.

You can use the points toward any Virgin America flight with no blackouts. You will get 1.5 to 2.3 cents per point of value. The number of points needed is determined by the equivalent cash ticket’s price.

Or you can redeem points for Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Emirates, Hawaiian, and Singapore flights. Each has its own award chart. Virgin America collects fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic and Emirates (plus doesn’t allow Emirates First Class redemptions.) Virgin America does not collect fuel surcharges on Hawaiian, Virgin Australia, or Singapore flights (and Singapore Suites Class is bookable.)

All the award prices are deflated compared to other American programs.

  • Los Angeles to Australia in Virgin Australia Business Class: 80,000 points roundtrip
  • Auckland to Honolulu: 35,000 points roundtrip

Oddly, one way awards are usually about 60% of the roundtrip price, not 50% like we like or 100% like we hate.

2. Asiana miles (2 cents each)

High Value Awards: USA to Southern South America in Business Class for 35k Miles and no fuel surcharges, USA to Europe in Lufthansa First for 50k Miles Plus Fuel Surcharges
Get the Miles: Transfer Partner of SPG

To some regions, Asiana’s award chart is so under-priced that some awards are a good deal even after fuel surcharges. Plus, as mentioned above, I love flying to South America, and no Star Alliance flights to South America have fuel surcharges, meaning I get the insanely good award chart without having to pay much cash out of pocket.

If only Asiana miles were easier to get.

3. Singapore miles (1.75 cents each)

High Value Awards: Mainland to Hawaii in United First Class (30k), Intra-South American Business Class (20k), and Singapore Suites starting at 32k miles
Get the Miles: Transfer partner of UR, MR, TY, and SPG. Right now the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offer 50,000 and 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points respectively after $3,000 in spending that can be transferred to Singapore miles.

I probably value Singapore miles more than you. My travel preferences are heavily South America and Hawaii based. These miles are awesome for flying Flat Bed First Class to Hawaii and Business Class from Colombia to Argentina.

Watch out for fuel surcharges on most awards, but not within the Americas or on United flights.

4. Alaska miles (1.75 cents each)

High Value Awards: USA to Fiji to New Zealand or Australia for only 55,000 miles one way in Business Class with a free stopover in Fiji
Get the Miles: Churnable personal and business cards. Transfer partner of SPG. Decent mileage sales around 2 cents each.

Alaska has a diverse and interesting set of partners. I do wish you could combine partners on one way awards though, and I wish you could book all Emirates flights. Currently you can only book Emirates awards from the United States to Asia, Africa, and Europe and vice versa.

5. & 6. Iberia and British Airways Avios (1.6 cents each)

High Value Awards: short, direct, economy flights on partners/routes with no fuel surcharges like 12,500 Avios from the west coast to Hawaii
Get the Miles: British Airways Visa. Transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and SPG.

I value Avios highly because I use them a lot from Hawaii to Los Angeles and sometimes for hopping around on the East Coast, in South America, in Africa, and in Australia.

You might value them even more highly if you live at an American Airlines hub like Dallas or Miami. You probably value Avios very little if the only trips you ever take are from your small home airport to Europe in Business Class.

Iberia and British Airways Avios are very similar but have slightly different award prices. Iberia Avios are slightly more valuable because they can book Iberia flights with lower fuel surcharges and because they offer a lower miles price on Business Class from the United States to Europe. You can freely transfer the two types of Avios if both accounts have been open for a few months.

7. & 8. United and Copa miles (1.6 cents)

High Value Awards: Six Under-Priced Awards on the United Award Chart
Get the Miles: United personal, business, and Club cards; Ink Plus; and Sapphire Preferred. Transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards. (Those are ways to get United miles. There is no easy way to get Copa miles.)

United and Copa used to both use the MileagePlus program jointly. Copa broke free this year to create the Connect Miles program, but its chart is basically identical to United’s, so I value the miles equally. If only there were an easy way to get Copa miles.

I’m as bummed as anyone that the vast majority of United partner awards in First and Business Class are terrible values (though not this one), but there are enough good deals in United economy and United Business Class to keep me interested. Plus the Star Alliance has great availability to every continent in economy and good availability in Business Class to most continents, which is a huge plus for United miles.

9. Korean miles (1.6 cents)

High Value Awards: Korean First Class from 45,000 miles one way, Delta First Class to Hawaii for 45,000 miles roundtrip
Get the Miles: Transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards and SPG

You can book a roundtrip from anywhere in the United States to Hawaii on Delta flights for 25,000 Korean miles. First Class is only 45,000 miles roundtrip. That makes my 1.6 cents per mile valuation look way too low, but I’ll stick to it because Delta doesn’t release enough award space to Hawaii to make this a consistent award–instead you’ll need to be very flexible.

I also love Korean First Class awards, which are widely available from the United States to Northern Asia for 80,000 miles and mild fuel surcharges each way.

10. Avianca LifeMiles (1.6 cents)

High Value Awards: 63,000 miles in Business Class to Europe (~$1,000 at 1.5 cents per mile purchased)
Get the Miles: Buy them during frequent sales for 1.4 to 1.65 cents each.

Like United and Copa miles, Avianca has a Star Alliance program with a mostly fair award chart and no fuel surcharges. I bumped up the value of LifeMiles in January 2016, since LifeMiles began to allow mixed-cabin awards like every other airline allows. I often need to book an award that has one segment in Business and another in economy or one in First Class and one in Business Class, so this was an important change for me.

11. American Airlines miles (1.5 cents each)

High Value Awards: Off peak to Caribbean, Mexico, Central America for 12,500 miles one way, Business Class to Europe or Southern South America for 57,500 miles one way, Business Class to Peru for 30,000 miles one way, others
Get the Miles: Several AA Credit Cards including the the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®

Even after the March, 2016 devaluation, American Airlines miles still have plenty of solid uses, plus they are very easy to get from a variety of sources.

While I don’t love award availability to Africa or Europe, I find acceptable space to Asia, Australia, the Middle East/India, and throughout the Americas. Plus there are no fuel surcharges on American Airlines awards unless you fly British Airways or Iberia.

…..

Somewhere much farther down the list:

?? Delta SkyMiles (1.3 cents)

High Value Awards: Coolest Things You Can Do with 12,500 to 92,500 SkyMiles
Get the Miles: Delta Gold, Platinum, and Reserve personal and business cards from American Express. Transfer partner of Membership Rewards Rewards and SPG

The reason SkyMiles are worth so much less than American and United miles is an expensive chart, the worst award space of any American airline, and the fact that Delta collects fuel surcharges on more partners than United, Delta, and Alaska combined. Delta even charges fuel surcharges on all awards that originate in Europe, including one way awards back to the United States.

Basically there are a lot of times when Delta miles are nearly useless, so if you find a time when a Delta award costs nearly the same number of miles as an American, Alaska, or United award, burn those Delta miles.

Your Take

What’s too high? What’s too low? What’s missing from the list?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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This is a post I am writing to illuminate how my friend can get from Denver to Tel Aviv with Amex Membership Rewards. I highly recommend you read it even if:

  • you don’t live in Denver
  • you don’t want to go to Israel
  • you don’t have Membership Rewards

Why? This post explains how I figure out how to get from anywhere to anywhere with any type of miles.

My friend emailed me:

Who has the best economy award redemption chart to middle east? Trying to get three of us to Tel Aviv this winter, and have ~125k amex points to transfer. Assuming that won’t cover all 3 of us, but if I could cover 2 that’s a good start. I also have some amount of United, delta, and American miles already.

First Step: Look at Award Charts

American Express Membership Rewards transfer to more than a dozen airline partners. Instead of looking up all of their charts individually, I headed to milez.biz to search pretty much every award chart at once.

The two deals that caught my eye were:

  • Air France Flying Blue for 25,000 miles each way from Denver to Tel Aviv. It is so cheap because Israel and parts of Northern Africa are inexplicably in Flying Blue’s Europe region as I always mention in Promo Awards posts. Unfortunately Flying Blue awards will have fuel surcharges, but maybe they won’t be so bad.
  • ANA for 65,000 miles roundtrip from Denver to Tel Aviv. ANA awards will have fuel surcharges unless they fly United, which does fly from Newark and San Francisco to Tel Aviv.

Second Step: Creativity

Europe tends to be a much cheaper award that Israel, so how about flying one award to Europe and then getting to Israel with Avios or a low-cost carrier. I wrote up this idea fully three years ago, and the only thing that has really changed is that American Airlines charges 22,500 miles one way during a shorter off peak window to Europe (compared to 20,000 miles and a longer window when the post was written.)

So he could perhaps use 45,000 American Airlines miles plus taxes and no fuel surcharges to fly Denver to Europe roundtrip and then book a separate Avios or low-cost carrier flights on to Israel. The disadvantage is the complexity of multiple tickets. The advantage–if he has the time–is he can see two European cities for as long as he’d like, one on the way there and one on the way back.

If he went this route, I’d recommend booking his awards from Denver to Cologne or Berlin to take advantage of 10,000 Avios awards to Tel Aviv on airberlin. (What are Avios?) That would be 45,000 American Airlines miles and 20,000 Avios roundtrip to Israel per person.

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Or he could book the American Airlines awards to/from one of these cities with low-cost carrier flights to Tel Aviv (which I found on Wikipedia.)

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I’m going to drop this creative plan for the rest of the post, since I fleshed it out so fully in a previous post, and since I think the other options in the next step look really good.

Third Step: Look at Award Space

The prices of 50k Flying Blue miles and 65k ANA miles roundtrip are just theoretical if there is no award space.

Searching Flying Blue Award Space

Sign in to airfrance.us and search. You’ll find that winter 2017 has amazing award space between Denver and Tel Aviv, with nearly every day having award space for two people at the 25,000 miles one way price.
Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.44.03 PM Unfortunately, you are generally looking at three flights each way. The ones that fly Delta across the Atlantic have only $50 in taxes and fuel surcharges.Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.45.07 PM The ones that fly Air France have another $55 in fuel surcharges.Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.45.23 PM The returns have about $85 in taxes and fuel surcharges with Delta flying across the Atlantic plus another $55 if you fly Air France to the USA.Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.45.51 PM My friend absolutely can book two people a roundtrip from Denver to Tel Aviv for 100,000 Flying Blue miles (an instant 1:1 transfer partner of Amex) + $269. The drawback is the ~$165 extra out of pocket compared to the ANA/United option below and the three flights per direction.Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.46.13 PM

Searching United Award Space

The last section was about searching Flying Blue award space. It didn’t matter much which Flying Blue partner he flew as the fuel surcharges are minimal.

This section is about using ANA miles, but the only partner he would want to fly is United. Flying United, ANA doesn’t collect fuel surcharges. If he flies another partner, say Lufthansa, the fuel surcharges would probably exceed $1,000 for two people roundtrip.

To see only United award space, he should go to united.com and NOT sign in. (Signing in will bring up extra award space ANA cannot book if he is a United elite or credit card holder.) On the home screen, he should click “All search options” in the search box.
Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.46.41 PM

Then he needs to scroll down and click “My search preferences.”Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.46.54 PM

He needs to select “United and United Express only” to exclude results like those fuel-surcharge-infested Lufthansa flights.Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.47.00 PM Now his searches should bring up only United results. (Unfortunately the calendar will show both United and partner results. I wrote about this glitch last month.)Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.47.25 PMAny award space he finds on united.com, he can book on ana.com. (Here’s how to book on ana.com.) I pulled up award space for two people on ana.com on United flights, and it priced at 130,000 ANA miles + $105 for two people.

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Unfortunately I could only pull up Denver to Tel Aviv and vice versa connecting in Newark on ana.com. There’s no reason I can see that ANA couldn’t book the connections in San Francisco that united.com brought up, so if my friend wants to book those, he should call ANA instead of booking online.

Planning, Transferring, Booking

My friend has some planning to do. Does he prefer the 100,000 Flying Blue miles and $269 Flying Blue awards with three segments or the 130,000 ANA miles and $105 ANA awards with two segments. Or does he want to stop each direction and explore Europe on an American Airlines off peak award to Europe, supplemented by separate flights to Israel?

If he prefers the Flying Blue award, he can find award space on airfrance.us, transfer instantly from Amex to Flying Blue, and book online tonight. Or he could try to get 25,000 more American Express, Chase, or Citi points or 20,000 SPG points, all of which would combine with his 125k Amex points to get him enough points for three award tickets.

I’d recommend the Sapphire Preferred with 50,000 bonus Chase points. While I can not directly link to the current Sapphire Preferred offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

If he prefers the ANA award, he needs 5k more Amex points, so a few months of spending should get him there. Then he can search for award space, transfer from Amex to ANA, wait approximately 36 hours for the miles to post, and book.

If he prefers the American Airlines award, he should put it on hold for five days, book the segments to and from Israel, then ticket the American Airlines award.

Bottom Line

The outlook is good for my friend’s trip to Israel. He has great options through a few obscure foreign airline programs. The key is to find the good deals on the award charts, including getting creative about where you book your award, and then make sure there is actually award space available for that price.

The process is basically the same no matter where you want to go and no matter what points you have. If it seems too complex, hire my Award Booking Service to plan and book your award for you.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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It is cheaper to book the exact same Delta flights to Hawaii with Korean miles than with Delta miles.

  • Delta charges 22,500 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii or 50,000 in flat bed Delta One
  • Korean charges 25,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 45,000 miles roundtrip in First Class or Delta One between the mainland and Hawaii

That’s a humongous difference. Instead of costing 90,000 Delta miles to get two people from your home airport to Hawaii and back, you could pay 50,000 Korean miles. Instead of paying 160,000 Delta miles for two roundtrip First Class tickets, you could pay 90,000 Korean miles–even theoretically for flat beds!

To reiterate, these are the exact same flights with vastly different prices depending on which miles you use.

Korean has access to all the same Level 1 award space Delta releases to people with Delta miles, but no other Delta award space.

What’s the catch? For bookings to Hawaii, there are two:

  1. You can only book Korean awards for yourself or immediate family members, with proof of relationships.
  2. Korean awards are the same price roundtrip or one way, so you have to book roundtrip (although an open jaw is allowed.) Delta awards can be booked one way (and then you can return home with another type of miles.)

However there are a number of benefits to booking Korean awards to Hawaii:

  1. Korean awards cost fewer miles than Delta awards
  2. Korean awards have no change or cancellation fees if your plans change
  3. Korean awards of Delta flights to Hawaii do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of $11 roundtrip.
  4. Korean offers a stopover on roundtrip awards to Hawaii. Delta doesn’t.
  5. Korean miles are easy to get

Getting Korean Miles

Korean miles are a partner of two of the four major transferable points program:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards, 1:1
  2. SPG Starpoints, 1:1 with a bonus. Every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus, so the ideal transfers are in exact increments of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 Korean miles.

Right now, the two best cards to get Korean miles are the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus because both earn Ultimate Rewards that transfer 1:1 to Korean miles.

The Sapphire Preferred is one of the best personal credit cards on the market. It offers:

  • 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel and dining purchases
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • no annual fee the first year and $95 thereafter

While I can not directly link to the current Sapphire Preferred offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

The Ink Plus is easily the best business card on the market. It offers:

  • 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations and hotel accommodations
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee

While I can not directly link to the current Ink Plus offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

Starpoints also transfer to Korean miles, and both SPG cards are in the middle of their biggest bonuses ever.

Searching for Award Space, Transferring Miles, and Booking the Awards

You will have to search for award space on the Delta flights on delta.com; then you will call Korean Airlines and possibly email them some documents to ticket the award.

Searching Delta.com

On the home page of delta.com run an award search from your home airport to Oahu (HNL), Maui (OGG), Kauai (LIH), or the Big Island (KOA). I prefer one way searches because I think they display the results more clearly.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.14.11 PM

At the top of the search results, select “Delta Only” to avoid Alaska Airlines flights showing up in the results (they can booked with Korean miles, but at a higher price) and change the calendar to “5 Weeks” if you are extra flexible.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 5.55.00 PM

Here are the results for this fall from Los Angeles to Maui for two passengers. Days that say 22,500 have Level 1 award space that we can book with Korean miles. Other days do not.
Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.15.39 PM Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.15.45 PM

Similarly, here is Kauai to Los Angeles for two passengers. Again, I see surprisingly good economy award space this fall.Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.16.04 PM Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.16.09 PM First Class award space is not nearly as good. Level 1 space is 40,000 miles each way per person, so that’s what you need to find.Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.16.59 PM Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.17.03 PM Once you find the award space you want that prices at the Level 1 price, note the date, cabin, and flight number. For instance, here is an economy trip with Level 1 award space from Minneapolis to Maui, returning from Kauai to Minneapolis.Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.20.15 PM

Flat Beds

Delta flies flat beds from Atlanta to Honolulu, but award space is terrible on the route. These flights would still be 45,000 Korean miles roundtrip even though they are 50,000 Delta miles one way at the Level 1 price. Let us know in the comments if you find any award space on these routes.

Booking Process

I have never booked an award with Korean miles. I am relying on this post from One Mile at a Time. Basically:

  1. You call (800) 438-5000 to put the award on hold. Tell the agent that you want to book a Bonus Award and feed her the date, cabin, and flight numbers of the Delta segments you found on delta.com. For cabin, call the forward cabin on Delta’s planes “Business Class” even though Delta calls it something else.
  2. Complete the Bonus Award Application. You can only book awards for yourself, parents, grandparents, siblings, children, grandchildren, parents-in-law, and children-in-law. You have to provide proof of the relationship too, which might mean scanning and emailing a marriage certificate or birth certificate. Insane, I know, but you can literally save about $1,000 worth of miles for two people taking a roundtrip to Hawaii.
  3. Call back to ticket the award.
Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards to Korean are instant, so put the award on hold before transferring.

SPG transfers take approximately five days. Also initiate these after putting the award on hold because Korean award holds are of essentially limitless duration.

Picking Seats

To pick your seats and confirm that your reservation was ticketed correctly, call Delta.

Get Creative (Routing Rules)

Here are the routing rules when redeeming Korean miles to fly SkyTeam partners, like Delta:

  • Roundtrip and one way awards are the same price, so book roundtrip awards
  • You get one stopover per roundtrip award in addition to the destination
  • You can have three segments maximum in each direction
  • You get one open jaw, at the destination only

You can get a stopover on the mainland an open jaw in Hawaii, so you can book something like:

  • Your home airport to Los Angeles
  • Hang out in LA for a few days (or weeks or months)
  • Los Angeles to one Hawaiian island
  • Another Hawaiian island to your home airport

That leaves just a single interisland flight to be booked separately (or several interisland flights depending on how many islands you want to see.

Bottom Line

Use Korean miles instead of Delta miles to book economy and First Class awards to Hawaii on Delta flights. You’ll pay fewer miles, lower fees, and be able to book the exact same seats. Plus Korean awards allow a stopover en route an open jaw at the destination.

Cards that earn Ultimate Rewards are ideal, since they transfer 1:1 instantly to Korean miles.

The Sapphire Preferred is one of the best personal credit cards on the market. It offers:

  • 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel and dining purchases
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • no annual fee the first year and $95 thereafter

While I can not directly link to the current Sapphire Preferred offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

The Ink Plus is easily the best business card on the market. It offers:

  • 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations and hotel accommodations
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee

While I can not directly link to the current Ink Plus offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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1

Your ability to book affordable travel depends heavily on your knowledge of the tools available to help you. Master the following 10 resources and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a travel hacking ninja.

These resources will help you book your most ideal travel itineraries, whether that be via cheap revenue tickets or award bookings.

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Miles.biz
  3. Expert Flyer
  4. Award Nexus
  5. Kayak price alerts
  6. ITA matrix
  7. FlyerTalk
  8. Pointsbuzz.com
  9. Award Wallet
  10. Seatguru

10 Tools That Will Make You a Better Travel Hacker

1. Wikipedia 

Perhaps the biggest deterrent to using miles is the relative difficulty of finding award space.

Just typing where you live and where you want to go into an airline’s award search engine may not reveal Saver award space even when there is a legal, possible award–especially when a small airport is involved. But just because nothing shows up on an airline search engine doesn’t mean no award itinerary is available.

Searching segment-by-segment–starting with the hardest segment–can yield itineraries that the search engine missed.

One of the most important steps in the segment-by-segment searching process is using Wikipedia to research possible routings.  To explain, take this example: You want to fly from San Francisco to London using United miles. When you do an initial simple search on United.com, no Saver space comes up.

You can pull up London-Heathrow‘s wikipedia page and look for flights on airlines that are a member of Star Alliance (since you will be using United miles) that fly to the US/Canada…

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…so now you have potential routes to search to get to London that United.com might have missed or left out because they weren’t the most direct, like:

  • San Francisco > Vancouver > London
  • San Francisco > Houston > London

Then you could move forward searching each segment individually, beginning with the most difficult (in this case, transoceanic) leg first.

Segment-by-segment searching skills are especially necessary when using British Airways or All Nippon Airways’ award search engines– both are known for being bad at finding flight itineraries with connections.

2. Miles.biz

Have a dream trip in mind but no idea how many miles it would cost? That’s where Miles.biz comes in. This website has two primary functions:

  1. Determines how many miles a desired award would be depending on the mileage program being used. This way you can also compare how much it would cost using different types of miles, in the probable case that you have different kinds and want to get the best value per mile. The mileage calculator is on the home page.
  2. Provides inspiration if you have a big stash of rewards and don’t know the best way to use them. They have another tool called the Suggestions Engine where you input how many miles you have with a program and your home airport, and up to five suggestions are given of where you could fly to and for how many miles.

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They track 79 frequent flyer programs so chances are the type(s) of miles you have are covered.

3. Expert Flyer

I use Expert Flyer mainly for finding award space that I can’t find elsewhere, like Air Tahiti Nui and Aer Lingus for example. It provides at least some award search capability on all these airlines.

I also use Expert Flyer for several other things like searching Maximum Permitted Mileage, finding published fares, and setting award space alerts.

It is a paid service–$100 per year/$10 per month for the premium package, or $5 a month if you only need the basic package. Click here to see the difference between the premium and basic package. You can also try it free for a five day trial.

4. Award Nexus

Imagine you’ve searched for award space, and there is none on and in your ideal date/flight/cabin. You could give up or you could hope that space opens up.

If you choose to hope it opens up, you can search frequently, but that is a time waster, and you might forget to search some days. An award alert solves the problem by automating a daily search of the award space and emailing you if space opens up.

You can set an alert for almost any award space on Award Nexus, so that you will be the first to know if award space opens up. It will cost you though. To set an alert, you have to buy one of these premium accounts (and you pay for the alerts with the points included in your package–price of the alert depends on the parameters of the search).

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On a side note, if you are specifically looking for a Oneworld Alliance member award, use Wandr.me instead–they offer free Oneworld award alerts.

5. Kayak price alerts

Kayak.com offers a service called price alerts that you can activate as long as you have an account on kayak. Kayak will send you the best price for the requested route, either every day or however often you specify out of the seven days of the week.

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I try never to use cash for flights for obvious reasons, but sometimes I can’t get good value from my miles. I have a value in mind for each of my mileage balances like 1.6 cents each for United miles and 1.8 cents for American Airlines miles. If I can’t get full value for any of my types of miles for a given trip, I use either Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® or a travel credit from my Citi Prestige® Card or my Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz.

Read more here to learn how to utilize Kayak price alerts.

6. ITA Matrix 

ITA Matrix is great for finding cheap (cash) flights and finding the fuel surcharges on award tickets.

ITA Matrix is another resource like Kayak Price Alerts that helps me find cheap flights when I can’t find a good enough value using my miles.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 5.52.22 PMIt also breaks down a ticket price into base fare, taxes, and fuel surcharges, which is helpful if I’m trying to estimate the out-of-pocket costs on an award that I know will have fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 5.57.48 PM
YR = fuel surcharges. If you see a charge for something labeled YQ, that is also a fuel surcharge.

Read more specifics here about how to search for cheap flights and identify fuel surcharges on a ticket.

7. FlyerTalk

FlyerTalk is, most importantly, an online forum where people discuss the endless nuances of travel credit cards, mile and point earning and spending, frequent flyer programs, hotel loyalty programs, and general travel advice. It is probably the most useful source for comparing data points– i.e. if you’re trying to figure out something that is solely based on others’ experiences, which is a lot of the times the case in this hobby full of fine print.

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Stumped about where to start looking with a miles question? Try a google search of the pertinent topic + “flyertalk”, and see if that turns up anything.

8. Pointsbuzz.com

Pointsbuzz is an aggregation of 30 of the most popular miles/travel deal blogs out there. I love Pointsbuzz. It’s a fast way for me to stay updated on all the latest news in the frequent flyer world.

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Each blog has a dedicated feed of the latest 10 posts.

9. Award Wallet

This hobby requires you to have a lot of accounts open with different loyalty programs. Award Wallet is a free service that aggregates and easily organizes all of your separate accounts.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 2.49.17 PMIt tracks your balance, status, user name, and password in nearly every airline, hotel, credit card, rental car, and loyalty program in one place– so much more efficient than checking all of your accounts individually.

Read this to learn more about how Award Wallet can make your life easier. 

10. Seatguru

SeatGuru is an online compendium of airline seat maps.

Screen-Shot-2013-02-28-at-5.22.39-PMUsing SeatGuru can be the difference between picking an award routing with a fully flat bed in Business Class versus an angled lie flat seat. It can be the difference between sitting in privacy and sharing an elbow rest with a stranger. I use it primarily in three ways:

  1. to figure out the best product on a given airline
  2. to figure out the type of seat a plane features
  3. to get the best seat in cabin

Read more here about how to utilize Seatguru and optimize your onboard experience.

Bottom Line

The websites and tools listed above will greatly increase your arsenal for travel hacking. Investing a little time to familiarize yourself with each will surely provide a tangible return.

After all your planning and mile collecting, if you still want some help connecting the dots so you get the most value out of your miles, you can contact my Award Booking Service.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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6

A few years ago, I created a manual for award booking. I thought the best way to organize it was to explain the key concepts of all awards in the beginning, and then explain each major program in detail afterwards. Here is the first section of the manual–nine key concepts of all award bookings. I’ve edited it slightly today to make sure it is up to date.

Are there any other key concepts you would add to a manual of award booking?

Key Concept 1

Each type of miles has its own rules. When booking an award, the operant rules are the rules of the airline whose miles you are using, not the airlines you are flying.

You always deal with the airline whose miles you’re using. You book with them. You follow their rules. You pay their fees.

The only two things you don’t do with the carrier whose miles you are using are pick seats and check in. You pick seats with each airline you are flying by calling the airlines you are flying. You check in with the first carrier you are flying each direction.

Question: You are booking an award with British Airways Avios that flies American Airlines flights. What airline’s award rules do you need to follow?

[If you answered British Airways, you’re right. If you answered American Airlines, reread the last few sentences.]

Key Concept 2

You can [almost] never transfer miles from one airline’s account to a partner airline’s account. That means if you have 30,000 British Airways Avios and 30,000 American Airlines miles, you cannot combine them even though British Airways and American Airlines are partners.

*I said [almost] never because there is one exception. You can freely transfer Iberia Avios to British Airways Avios if both your Iberia and British Airways accounts are 90 days old.

Key Concept 3

In most circumstances, you cannot combine miles from two people’s accounts in the same program in an efficient way.

For instance, you cannot combine your 30,000 American Airlines miles with your wife’s 30,000 American Airlines miles unless you pay 1.25 cent per mile–$375 in this case. That destroys almost all of the value the miles, so it is an awful choice.

Hawaiian Airlines (only if the recipient is a Hawaiian Airlines cardholder), Korean Air, and British Airways are key exceptions where you can combine miles freely between accounts.

Key Concept 4

But you can almost* always use anyone’s miles to book an award for anyone else, and you can use miles from partner airlines to book seats on the same flights.

So in the 30k Avios and 30k AA example in Key Concept 2, you could book two people on the same Miami to Lima flight on LAN Airlines because LAN is a partner of both British Airways and American Airlines, and you can use both Avios and American Airlines miles to book on LAN.

Or in the 30k American Airlines miles in your account and 30k in your wife’s example in Key Concept 3, you can book yourself a roundtrip economy ticket to Europe, booking the outbound from your account and the return from hers since

  • each direction costs 30k miles
  • you can book oneway awards on American Airlines
  • and you can book an award for anyone with anyone else’s miles (Key Concept 4)

More info on Key Concepts 2-4: Two Foundational Questions in Miles Collecting

*Korean Air only allows you to book for yourself and your immediate family (with proof of relationship.)

Key Concept 5

In general, if an airline releases Saver award space on a flight, it releases that space equally to all partners. We use this to our advantage by searching the easiest place to search for an airline’s award space no matter what miles we’ll use to book the space.

For instance, I’ll search award space for Alaska Airlines flights on aa.com whether I plan to book the space with American, British Airways, Alaska, or Delta miles because aa.com is the easiest place to search the space and all four of those partners have equal access to Alaska Airlines award space.

Key Concept 6

All flights must price at the Saver award level for an itinerary to price at that level.

Key Concept 7

Rules that are the same for nearly all miles:

  1. You can book up to 330 or more days out. This varies slightly by type of miles.
  2. There are generally three classes of service on international flights: economy, Business, First
  3. There are generally two classes of service on domestic flights: economy and First
  4. Domestic First is generally treated as Business Class. It is priced at the Business Class price and can be added to international Business Class awards without increasing the price of the award. This is true because, like Business Class, it is only better than one other cabin on the plane.
  5. Every airline has “low miles price” award seats–called Saver, Low, MileSAAver, Level 1, etc–and “high miles price” award seats—called Standard, Medium, High, AAnytime. The high price ones cost twice the miles generally. We only want low miles price seats. (more info: Do I have enough miles? A Beginners’ Guide to Navigating Award Charts)
  6. Partner award space always prices at the low miles price.
  7. American, United, Delta (kind of), Hawaiian, Air France, Air Canada, Alaska, Singapore, Korean, and others have award charts. The cost of an award is determined by the region of the departure city and the region of the arrival city. (more info: Do I have enough miles? A Beginners’ Guide to Navigating Award Charts)
  8. British Airways, Iberia, LAN, Japan Airlines and others have a distance based chart. The distance of each segment (British Airways, Iberia, LAN) or the distance of the whole itinerary (Japan Airlines) as actually flown determines the award price.
  9. JetBlue, Virgin America (redeemed on Virgin America flights), Southwest, and others have revenue-based miles. The price of an award depends on the price of the flight. There are no blackouts. For more info on all five types of miles, see: The Five Types of Frequent Flyer Miles
  10. You always have to pay government taxes on awards. Government taxes for flights departing the US are always $5.60 per direction. International flights incur much higher taxes, so $100 per ticket is common.
  11. There are certain fees that redeeming miles sometimes incurs including phone fees, change fees, cancellation fees, close in ticketing fees, and more. These vary by airline and can generally be found by googling “[airline-in-question] award fees”
  12. Using certain miles and flying certain partners incurs fuel surcharges. These can be hundreds of dollars per person per direction. Foreign programs generally add fuel surcharges to all awards and American programs add them to zero awards, though American Airlines adds them when redeeming miles on British Airways flights and Delta adds them on all awards that originate in Europe (as well as a number of other partners).
  13. Use these definitions for a stopover, and you will never be confused: On a domestic/Canada award: a layover is a stop of less than 4 hours. A stopover is a stop of more than 4 hours. On an international award: a layover is a stop of less than 24 hours. A stopover is a stop of more than 24 hours.
  14. Use this definition for an open jaw. An open jaw occurs when the origin of your outbound doesn’t match up with the destination of your return. An open jaw also occurs when the origin of your return doesn’t match up with the destination of your outbound. Holes in the middle of the outbound or return are not open jaws. They are holes. You can’t have holes. For more information: What is an Open Jaw? How Can My Award Have Two Open Jaws?

Key Concept 8

The major ways I will use to define each type of miles are:

  • Can you book a oneway trip for half the price of a roundtrip or does the airline charge the roundtrip price on all awards?
  • How many stopovers can you get on an award? Where can it be?
  • How many open jaws can you have?
  • What are the routing rules of an award? Possible routing rules include:
    • Maximum Permitted Mileage or some percentage of it. Maximum Permitted Mileage is a term of art. It is the maximum number of miles you can fly for a given origin/destination pair on a paid ticket. You can find it for a given airline and origin/destination pair at ExpertFlyer. More info: Using Expert Flyer
    • Maximum number of segments: An airline can limit the number of semgents you can fly on a single award. Think of a segment as a flight number because even if you land, if you continue on the same flight number, it is only one segment.
    • Limit the oceans you can cross or continents where you can land. An airline could prohibit routing through South America on an award between North America on Europe. An airline could say you can’t cross the Atlantic and Pacific on the same award.
  • Whether you will incur fuel surcharges redeeming the miles

Key Concept 9

Many awards allow the booking of free one ways. A free one way is a separate one way trip added onto your main award for zero additional miles. Read here about the current state of free one ways.

  • All free one ways rely on a stopover at your home airport to separate the main trip from the free one way.
  • All free one ways must be before the main award to your home airport or after the main award from your home airport.
  • Airlines don’t know what a free one way is, so your free one way will be treated as part of your main award and must be part of your outbound or return, with all that entails. Some things that might entail:
    • If your free one way is after your main award from your home airport, your return ends not at your home airport, but at the destination of your free oneway.
    • If your free one way is before your main award to your home airport, your outbound begins at the origin of the free one way. This means that if you miss this first leg, the whole award will be cancelled. (If you ever miss a segment, the rest of your ticket is cancelled.)
  • A free one way can be constructed whenever you are allowed a stopover at your home airport and an open jaw. The open jaw arises because there is now a mismatch between the start of one leg and end of the other since one of these will be your home airport, and the other will be the place visited in your free one way.

Bottom Line

Understanding these key concepts will help you lay a foundation of knowledge that enables you to book high value awards around the globe.

But if you would still like some help, contact my Award Booking Service and we can do the leg work for you.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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Last updated April 25, 2016 to remove American Airlines awards that went up in price last month and add more Singapore and Korean awards.

Until 2014, the best way to use miles to book a round-the-world (RTW) trip was to save a lot of one mileage currency and book a special RTW award with those miles. If you’ve saved up miles for years to book yourself such a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you’re probably dismayed that the best two RTW awards from American Airlines and Delta were eliminated in 2014.

You can still book RTW trips in 2016, but now the best way is as a series of one way awards across many different programs to take advantage of sweet spots on each airline’s award chart.

In this post, I’ll list some of the cheapest awards, or sweet spots, from each region. When planning your RTW trip in 2016 or beyond, refer to these lists to piece together your trip. For instance, if you know you want to visit South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, look under each of those headings to find cheap awards to the next region.

But before getting to those lists, let’s consider other types of tickets that should be part of your RTW award.

Avios & Cash

All of the awards on the lists in the next section are from programs with region-based miles. These miles usually offer the best value for international awards.

But before using region-based miles consider using Avios or cash for appropriate flights on your RTW trip.

Cash

Use cash if the possible awards are not getting you a good return on your miles (1.2 to 1.8+ cents each, depending on the miles.) This will be very likely when a low cost carrier flies the route you want to fly, especially within Europe and Southeast Asia or to Iceland.

When cash flights are the best option, you don’t need to actually use cash to book them.

You can book them with points that can be used like cash toward any flight like ThankYou Points or Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, or you can use the $250 per year airfare statement credit on the Citi Prestige.

Avios

British Airways Avios are fantastic for short, direct, economy awards especially when you can fly a partner with no fuel surcharges. There are tons of times you would want to use Avios on your RTW trip. A partial list:

  • West coast of United States to Hawaii
  • Miami, Dallas, or New York to Latin America or Caribbean
  • Intra-Latin America international flights
  • Intra-Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Ecuador (including Galapagos), and Chile (including Easter Island)
  • Intra-South Africa
  • Intra-Australia
  • Intra-Europe, especially on airberlin or Niki for no fuel surcharges
  • Boston to Ireland on Aer Lingus
  • India to Sri Lanka to change zones on the American Airlines chart from India/Middle East to Asia 2
  • Europe to Israel

Region-to-Region Awards

For the longhaul awards, you’ll almost certainly get the best value by using airline miles that allow one way redemptions with the price based on a region-based award chart. A partial list of such airline miles:

  • American Airlines AAdvantage (transfer partner of SPG)
  • Delta SkyMiles (transfer partner of AMEX Membership Rewards and SPG)
  • United MileagePlus (transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards)
  • Alaska Mileage Plan (transfer partner of SPG)
  • Singapore KrisFlyer (transfer partner of AMEX, Chase, Citi ThankYou Points, and SPG)
  • Asiana Mileage Club (transfer partner of SPG)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (transfer partner of AMEX and SPG)
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (transfer partner of AMEX, Chase, Citi, and SPG)
  • Air France Flying Blue (transfer partner of AMEX, Citi, and SPG)
  • Korean SkyPass (transfer partner of Chase and SPG)
  • Etihad Guest (transfer partner of Citi and SPG)

Some of the awards below are listed because they cost very few miles. Some are listed because they present amazing value in a premium cabin. Links take you to longer articles on that award. Any prices listed are one way unless otherwise noted. If no cabin is listed, the award is in economy. If no fuel surcharges are mentioned, the award has none. Remember to check Avios redemptions and cash tickets before booking any awards on these lists.

From United States

To Europe

To Korea or Japan

To China or Southeast Asia

To Central America, Mexico, Caribbean

  • with 12,500 American Airlines miles each year from April 27 – May 20 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights
  • to Central America only with 15,000 Alaska miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights
  • to Central America only with 15,000 Etihad miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights

To Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, or Ecuador

  • with 15,000 Alaska miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights
  • with 15,000 Etihad miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights

To Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, or Uruguay

To Hawaii

To Fiji

To Australia/New Zealand

From Europe

When leaving Europe, don’t fly your longhaul flight out of London. You’ll pay $200 to $300 in taxes for starting a premium cabin itinerary in the United Kingdom. Hop a low cost carrier flight from London to somewhere on the continent and fly your longhaul award to the next region from there.

Intra-Europe

To United States

  • See From United States to Europe above

To Hong Kong

To Middle East/India/Maldives

To South America

From the Middle East

Intra-Middle East

To Europe

  • See From Europe to Middle East above

To East Asia

  • in Business Class with 40,000 American Airlines miles
  • in First Class with 50,000 American Airlines miles
From North Asia

To United States

  • See From United States to Korea or Japan and From United States to China or Southeast Asia

To Australia/New Zealand

To Oceania

To Southeast Asia

From Southeast Asia

Intra-China

Intra-Indonesia

To United States

  • See From United States to China or Southeast Asia

To Europe

  • See From Europe to Hong Kong

To Australia/New Zealand

To North Asia

From South America

Flights leaving Brazil cannot have fuel surcharges, so miles that otherwise collect fuel surcharges on most awards are especially well used from Brazil to Europe.

to United States

  • See From United States to Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, or Ecuador and From United States to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, or Uruguay

to Europe

  • See From Europe to South America. Note that traveling South America to Europe is better than Europe to South America because flights leaving Brazil cannot have fuel surcharges.

Intra-South America

to Central America

  • (from Northern South America) with 10,000 United miles

to Africa

From Australia/New Zealand

Intra Australia/New Zealand

To Rest of Oceania

To North America

  • See From North America to Australia/New Zealand and From North America to Fiji

To Europe

  • See From Europe to Hong Kong

To Southeast Asia

  • See from Southeast Asia to Australia/New Zealand

To North Asia

  • See from North Asia to Australia/New Zealand

Please add your other favorite awards in the comments, and I may include them in this post. Bookmark this post for reference when you want to book a RTW trip.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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It is cheaper to book the exact same United flights to Hawaii with Singapore KrisFlyer miles than with United miles.

  • United charges 22,500 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii
  • Singapore charges 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles each way in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii

That’s a humongous difference. Instead of costing 90,000 United miles to get two people from your home airport to Hawaii and back, you could pay 70,000 Singapore miles. Instead of paying 160,000 United miles for two roundtrip First Class tickets, you could pay 120,000 Singapore miles–even occasionally for flat beds!

To reiterate, these are the exact same flights with vastly different prices depending on which miles you use. Singapore has access to all the same Saver award space United releases to people with United miles (except for some space set aside only for United elites and credit card holders.)

For a very similar example, look at this post about booking Delta flights to Hawaii with Korean, not Delta miles.

What’s the catch? For bookings to Hawaii, there really isn’t one.

  • Singapore awards cost fewer miles than United awards
  • Singapore awards are way cheaper to change or cancel than United awards if your plans change
  • Singapore awards do not have a fee for booking within three weeks of departure like United awards do (though here is how to get out of that fee on United awards)
  • Singapore awards of United flights do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of around $11 roundtrip.
  • Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles, and even share a key transfer partner.

Getting Singapore Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of the four major transferable points program:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards, 1:1
  2. Citi ThankYou Points, 1:1
  3. American Express Membership Rewards, 1:1
  4. SPG Starpoints, 1:1 with a bonus. Every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus, so the ideal transfers are in exact increments of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 Singapore miles.

Right now, the best cards to earn Singapore miles are:

  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, 5,000 more bonus points for adding an authorized user.

To compare this to earning United miles, United has its own co-branded personal and business cards plus is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards but not any of the other three transferable points programs.

Searching for Award Space, Transferring Miles, and Booking the Awards

You will have to search for award space on the United flights on united.com; then you will call Singapore Airlines at 213-404-0301 to book the awards.

Here’s how to search united.com. Make sure that you do NOT sign into united.com when searching for award space that you plan to book with another type of miles because signing in can cause award space set aside for elites or credit card holders to appear, and that space is not bookable with other types of miles like Singapore miles.

How to Interpret the Calendar

Update August 2016: This has changed slightly. Now a line represents Saver economy and dots represent Saver First Class.

The first thing you’ll notice when you search for award space to Hawaii on united.com is that it’s widely available for much of the year. Here’s a calendar from Houston to Honolulu. Yellow days have Saver economy award space; blue days have Saver First Class space; green days have Saver space in both cabins. Singapore miles can book all the Saver space that is depicted on these calendars.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.08.25 PM

How to Interpret the Itineraries

Once you select a date, the itineraries will be displayed from fewest miles in economy to most miles in economy. Most results will have three columns of award space. You can ignore the First Standard Award column. Singapore miles cannot book that space.
Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.08.52 PM

We’re looking for award space in the Economy column that says “Saver Award 22.5k” and award space in the First Saver column. Singapore miles can book all such space.

For instance, Singapore miles can book this itinerary in economy and First Class because the economy column says “Saver Award 22.5k” and because there is space in the second column (First Saver.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.10.31 PMSingapore miles cannot book this award space because the economy column doesn’t say “Saver Award 22.5k.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.09.03 PM

Two vs. Three Cabin First Class

The vast majority of United’s domestic flights have two cabins that are sold as Economy and First. Internationally, United’s two cabin flights are sold as Economy and BusinessFirst. Whenever United operates a two-cabin plane, the premium cabin’s awards are priced at the Business Class award price by United and by Singapore. And in fact, you should call the award space “Business Class” when talking with a Singapore agent.

Extremely rarely, you will encounter a plane on a domestic route with three cabins: Economy, Business, and First. Whenever any itinerary is available with any flight with three cabins, the three columns you’re used to seeing on the search results turn into five columns.

United charges 50,000 miles if any of the segments is in First Class on a three cabin plane. Singapore would charge 40,000 miles. But again, these flights are rare, and you can get flat beds in two cabin planes for 30,000 Singapore miles.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.05.53 PM

Flat Beds

Both Business and First Class on three cabin planes have flat beds.

On two cabin planes, you can occasionally find flat beds in First Class. To find out if your plane has flat beds, click View Seats on the itinerary. Regular seats look like squares with rounded edges.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.01.21 PM

Beds look like little beds.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.02.26 PM

Some 777-200s feature flat beds, and all 767-400ERs feature flat beds. Flights from Newark and Washington-Dulles to Honolulu all feature flat beds, and some San Francisco and Houston flights feature flat beds.

Mixed Cabin Awards

Many awards on united.com in the premium cabin columns say “Mixed cabin?”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.09.13 PM

Holding your cursor over “Mixed cabin” launches a pop up that says which cabin is available on each flight.
Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.09.19 PM

You always have to pay the full price of the premium cabin award even though part of the award is an inferior cabin.

Singapore Airlines also lets you book mixed cabin awards for the full Business Class price.

In April, I booked myself a mixed cabin award to Hawaii because my first flight was about 2 hours in economy, and the next was 8.5 hours in a flat bed. That seemed worth paying 30,000 Singapore miles.

Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles all take about 19-48 hours. My most recent transfer in July, 2015 from Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles were in my Singapore account when I checked 19 hours after the transfer. SPG transfers take at least as long as the other three.

Once I find award space, I initiate the transfer.

Award space changes all the time, so in a worst case scenario, your award space could disappear before your miles posted. If you can’t handle this outcome, transfer Ultimate Rewards to United miles instantly instead, and pay the extra miles.

I can handle the small chance that my award space will disappear. Maybe it will reappear later. If not, I can always use Singapore miles in the future for a different high value award.

How to Book Singapore Awards

Once your miles post, you have to call Singapore Airlines to book the award. Call 213-404-0301 and be ready with your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account number and six digit PIN.

Feed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of each flight you want.

For cabin, call United First Class on its two cabin planes “Business Class” because that is what the agent needs to search for.

The agent will charge you taxes denominated in Singapore dollars. If you convert that price to US dollars, it should be about $5.60 per person per direction, the standard taxes on domestic awards.

Within a few minutes, you should get an email from Singapore Airlines with an attachment like this.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.13.16 AM

Picking Seats

To pick your seats and confirm that your reservation was ticketed correctly, head to united.com and input the Singapore Airlines confirmation number on the home page where it says “My trips.” The Singapore Airlines confirmation number is the six letter/number code listed on your email attachment next to “Booking Reference.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.42.41 PM

United.com will recognize the Singapore Airlines confirmation number. You can select your seats and note your United confirmation number, which will be a different six letter/number code.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 2.04.58 PM

 

You can also permanently add this reservation to your united.com account, which will be convenient for checking in without having to search for it again. To do that, click “Save to my Account” from the tiny links above “United Confirmation Number.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.49.59 PM

Other Benefits of Singapore Airlines Awards Over United Awards

  1. United charges $75 to book an award within 21 days of departure. Singapore charges no fee for such bookings.
  2. United charges $200 to cancel an award booking and get your miles back. Singapore charges $30.
  3. United charges $75 to $100 to change an award booking. Singapore charges $20.

My Experience Booking United to Hawaii with Singapore Miles

April 2015

In April 2015, I found out that my mainland plans had fallen through, so I could start my trip to Hawaii a few days later. Booking so late in the game is no problem because United offers excellent last minute award space to Hawaii.

I needed to book an award from Atlanta to Honolulu, so I searched united.com and found a mixed-cabin award with Atlanta to Houston in economy and Houston to Honolulu in a flat bed in United First Class on a two cabin plane.

A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed
A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed

The award would have cost 40,000 United miles and $80.60 to book including United’s $75 fee for booking within 21 days of departure. I noted the flight number, dates, and cabins plus my KrisFlyer number and PIN.

I already had 30,000 Singapore miles in my account because I transferred Citi ThankYou points and Chase Ultimate Rewards weeks earlier in anticipation of booking an award to Hawaii in First Class when I knew what date I wanted to fly.

I called Singapore Airlines and fed the agent the information and called the First Class cabin on my United flight “Business Class.”

He priced the award at 30,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles + 7.8 Singapore dollars ($5.66.) I booked the ticket with my Citi Prestige® Card because it has no foreign transaction fees and earns 3x points for airfare purchases and got an email confirmation a few minutes later. I input the Singapore confirmation code into the United app on my phone and selected my seat and bed.

July 2015

I had to book myself a one way award from Houston to Honolulu.

From Houston to Honolulu, there is usually a lot of First Class award space if you connect in Los Angeles or San Francisco and a lot of economy space on the direct flight. If you want First Class on the direct flight, which some days features flat beds, you normally have to book within a few days or weeks of departure.

But I got super lucky!

When I searched for award space, the monthly calendar of the direct flight looked like this. There was literally one day with First Class award space, and it was the exact date I wanted to fly.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 2.08.23 PM

I transferred my 30,000 ThankYou Points to Singapore miles, and they posted within 19 hours. Within 20 hours, I had ticketed the award for 30,000 Singapore miles + $6.

Bottom Line

Use Singapore miles instead of United miles to book economy and First Class awards to Hawaii on United flights. You’ll pay fewer miles, lower fees, and be able to book the exact same seats. Plus Singapore miles are so easy to get as a transfer partner of pretty much everyone.

Right now, the best cards to earn Singapore miles are:

  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, 5,000 more bonus points for adding an authorized user.
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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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24

Forget paying 110,000 United miles one way for Lufthansa First Class. You can book the same flight for 40,000 points + $203 (and there is even a way to avoid the $203.)

Lufthansa First Class flying from Europe to the United States is a fantastic product.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.19.48 PM

The onboard First Class product is solid–a step above American carriers and a step below Asian and Middle Eastern carriers.

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And the ground experience in Frankfurt is my favorite in the world. First Class passengers have their own terminal.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.18.53 PM

In the First Class terminal, you can enjoy the buffet, a la carte dining, a bubble bath with a rubber ducky, or the Cigar Room.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.18.41 PMThen when it’s time for your flight, you are driven to your plane in a Porsche.
Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.19.12 PM You get amazing and unique, up-close views of the planes.Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.19.22 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.19.32 PM

Lufthansa First Class is bookable with all Star Alliance miles.

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Getting into Lufthansa First Class is a gimme if you can book at the last minute. Unfortunately Lufthansa doesn’t release its First Class award space to partners until 15 days before departure, but once it does, space is quite available.

The problem is that with most miles, Lufthansa First Class is a lot of miles or a lot of fuel surcharges.

  • United charges 110,000 miles one way between the United States and Europe. It doesn’t collect fuel surcharges, just taxes plus a $75 for booking within 21 days of departure
  • Aeroplan charges only 70,000 miles (Western Europe) or 80,000 miles (Eastern Europe) one way, but it collects fuel surcharges that can be as high as $500 one way.

The solution is to book Lufthansa First Class with Asiana miles from a city in Europe that has low taxes and fuel surcharges. Asiana charges only 50,000 miles one way in First Class from Europe to the United States.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.43.26 PM
Roundtrip Prices, One Ways Are Allowed for Half Price

Taxes vary by city, country, and airport. Here is a list of low tax cities in Europe. Fuel surcharges vary by market. They are much lower from Europe to the United States than vice versa. You can figure out the fuel surcharges on a route by searching ITA Matrix.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.24.59 PM

They are listed on individual tickets as YQ and YR.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.40.51 PMIn preparing this post, though, I didn’t use ITA Matrix. I just searched for awards on aeroplan.com. The taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges there should equal what Asiana charges. For instance, this Oslo to JFK one way award that has almost six hours at the First Class Terminal has 266.80 Canadian Dollars ($203) out of pocket. (Ignore the 70,000 mile price, Asiana charges 50,000 miles.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 4.42.56 PM That’s a lot better than a one way from New York to Oslo, which has $450 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 6.57.50 PM

Low Out of Pocket Cities

I searched 22 European cities on aeroplan.com to find the out-of-pocket taxes and fuel surcharges on a one way award to New York City that connects in Frankfurt. These are the results. (If you know another low out-of-pocket city, put it in the comments.)

  • Oslo $203
  • Dublin $204
  • Stockholm $220
  • Helsinki $240
  • Copenhagen $251
  • Istanbul $256
  • Prague $257
  • Riga $257
  • Warsaw $263
  • Barcelona $268
  • Madrid $284
  • Amsterdam $300
  • Lisbon $302
  • Brussels $317
  • Ljubljana $321
  • Geneva $328
  • Zurich $341
  • Rome $343
  • Frankfurt (direct) $347
  • Milan $350
  • Vienna $356
  • Munich $364

Booking the Award

  1. Get 50,000 Asiana miles
  2. Find award space from the European city of your choice to the American city of your choice on aeroplan.com or united.com (Saver space only) in Lufthansa First Class. Note the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space you found.
  3. Call Asiana at 800-227-4262 to reserve the flight with reservations. Feed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number. You will be given a reservation code.
  4. Ask to be connected to Asiana Club to ticket the award. Give the agent the reservation code.

I’ve booked myself two Asiana awards. Here is my experience.

Getting Asiana Miles

The only reasonable way for Americans to get Asiana miles is to transfer SPG Starpoints. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles.

Plus for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get 5,000 extra Asiana miles. That means you’d need only 40,000 Starpoints (=50,000 Asiana miles) to book Europe to USA in Lufthansa First Class.

In the past, transfers from Starpoints to Asiana have taken me two weeks. My most recent transfer took a little less than seven days.

Avoiding Out of Pocket

Instead of paying the $203+ out of pocket, you can pay the taxes and fuel surcharges with a Citi Prestige® Card. Since the charge is coming from an airline (Asiana), it will activate the $250 per calendar year Air Travel Credit. On your next Prestige statement, the entire charge (up to $250) would automatically be offset by a statement credit.

My review of the Citi Prestige Card which explains its many benefits like 40,000 bonus points, $250 in airfare or airline fee credits per calendar year, access to Priority Pass lounges, and 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels.

 

Bottom Line

While some luxury First Class awards are out of reach, Lufthansa First Class is actually very cheap if you have Starpoints.

Transfer them to Asiana miles and book a one way trip home from a low taxes/fuel surcharges city.

Fuel surcharges are too high to Europe for this idea to interest me. On a trip like this, I’d get to Europe on a one way award using a different type of miles.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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You can book yourself a tour around the Caribbean and South America stopping in three places for only 64,500 miles total with half the trip in a flat bed. By stopping in three places, I am referring to actual destinations, not connections that have to be under 24 hours.

This incredible deal relies on piecing together four sweet spots awards into one big trip. Even if you never take a trip like this, you should know about these sweet spot awards.

For the purposes of this example, this will be the route we examine:

Philadelphia > Aruba > Bogota, Colombia > Rio de Janeiro, Brazil > Philadelphia

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 7.46.00 PM

However the price is the same no matter where your home airport is, and no matter where you choose your destination in Southern South America to be.

You can tweak the route to your liking and keep the same prices as long as each destination falls in the right region for the pricing of the award.

What does that mean exactly?

  • Aruba could be replaced by anywhere that is in the region defined by American Airlines as Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America for no extra miles
  • Bogota could be replaced by any nearby city with direct LAN flights from the Caribbean or Mexico, though the miles price will probably go up if you choose a different city since this part of the award is flown with distance-based Avios
  • Rio de Janeiro could be replaced by any destination in South America for no extra miles

United States to Aruba

American Airlines post-devaluation award chart has flights to Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean during the off peak season priced at just 12,500 miles one way in economy.  

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.20.37 PM

The off peak season for these regions is defined as:

  • April 27 – May 20
  • September 7 – November 14

Taxes: $16

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.20.42 PM

Where to search for award space: aa.comHere’s how to search aa.com, award space is great to Aruba during off peak season

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.19.52 PM

How to Book: on aa.com

Aruba to Bogota

It costs 4,500 British Airways Avios to fly from from Aruba to Bogota, Colombia on LAN in economy.

Taxes: $49 (my ba.com is in euros for this reason)

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.18.01 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.18.11 PM

Where to search for award space: ba.comHere’s how to search ba.com. This route has the worst award space in the post, so if you copied this routing, you’d build the trip around award space on this leg. You can pick a place with better award space to Bogota (or wherever you decide to go), but the Avios price will probably be higher. Aruba to Bogota is only 605 miles flown, so it is the cheapest price of 4,500 Avios. Flights 651-1,150 miles flown are 7,500 Avios and something like Cancun to Bogota is 10,000 Avios.

How to Book: on ba.com.

Bogota to Rio de Janeiro

For 12,500 Singapore or American Airlines miles you can fly from Bogota, Colombia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Avianca/TACA (if using Singapore miles) or LAN (if using American Airlines miles). You could book the same flights in Business Class for 20,000 Singapore miles, or 25,000 American Airlines miles. 

Taxes/Fees: $62 (ignore the miles price in the screenshot, we pay the price on Singapore’s chart, not United’s chart when using Singapore miles)

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.14.19 PM

Where to search for award space: If using Singapore miles, united.com. Here’s how to search united.com. If using American Airlines’ miles, ba.comHere’s how to search ba.com. Award space is very good on Avianca’s direct Bogota to Rio flight, especially in Business Class.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.14.08 PM

How to Book: If using Singapore miles, on singaporeair.com. If using American Airlines miles, call American Airlines’ AAdvantage customer service at 1-800-882-8880.

Rio de Janeiro > United States

It costs 35,000 Asiana miles to fly Business Class on Copa Airlines, Avianca, United, or Air Canada from Southern South America to the United States. I booked Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile in Copa Business Class for 35,000 Asiana miles this year.

Taxes/Fees: $57 (ignore mileage prices below, Asiana has lower prices than United for the same flights)

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.22.31 PM

Where to search for award space: united.com. Here’s how to search united.com. There is great award space between Rio and Philadelphia.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.21.52 PM

How to Book: call the Asiana Club at +1-800-227-4262.

What Do Those Awards Add up to?

    United States to Aruba = 12,500 American Airlines miles

    Aruba to Bogota, Colombia = 4,500 British Airways Avios

    Bogota, Colombia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil = 12,500 Singapore or American Airlines miles

 + Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to United States = 35,000 Asiana miles in Business Class


    64,500 miles and under $184 in taxes

Or, if you wanted to fly the leg between Colombia and Brazil in Business Class, it would cost 72,000 using Singapore or 77,000 American Airlines miles.

Consider it from this angle as well. Heading southbound, you spent only 12,500 + 4,500 + 12,500 = 29,500 miles/Avios, and you visit three places. Normally a one way award to Southern South America would cost 30,000 American Airlines/Delta/United miles, and no stopovers would be allowed.

Why are There No Fuel Surcharges Mentioned in This Post?

Because fuel surcharges are not levied on any airline, on any ticket, w the Americas that I am aware of. Great news for our mega-trip!

How to Get the Miles and Points Needed for this Trip

American Airlines Miles

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 4.44.21 PM

Application Link: Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®

Singapore Krisflyer Miles (transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points)

The Citi Prestige® Card with 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

Asiana Miles (transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints)

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card by American Express, personal and business versions, both are offering 25,000 Starpoints each for spending $3,000 and $5,000 respectively within three months of the accounts opening.

British Airways Avios 

British Airways Visa Signature card by Chase is offering 50,000 Avios for spending $2,000 within three months of the account opening.

While I can not directly link to the current offer from British Airways Visa Signature card by Chase, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

Bottom Line

If you have some (emphasis on some, not many are needed!) American Airlines, Singapore, and Asiana miles as well as a few British Airways Avios, you can piece together an amazing multi-award trip that spans all over the Caribbean and South America with three different destinations. It would be a great way to use up smaller amounts miles hanging around in your frequent flyer accounts, leftover after larger redemptions.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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The Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express now come with 35,000 bonus Starpoints for spending $3,000 and $5,000 respectively in the first three months of cardmembership.

Links:

The normal sign up bonus is 25,000 points, the twice yearly limited time offer is 30,000 points. This is the highest public sign up bonus ever on these cards. (And some people say the hobby is dying…)

American Express recently introduced a rule that you can only get the bonus once per lifetime on each of its cards. Eligibility is separate for each card. That means if you’ve only ever had the business card, you can still get the personal card or vice versa. But if you’ve had the personal card before, you can’t get this bonus on the personal card. If you’ve had the business card before, you can’t get this bonus on the business card.

If you get both cards, you’ll have to spend $8,000 total in the first three months of cardmembership. In return, you’ll get one Starpoint per dollar spent plus a 35,000 point bonus on each card for a total of 78,000 Starpoints. I get at least 2.5 cents of value per Starpoint in the following ways, meaning a total value of at least $1,950 to me.

Here are the main ways to get value from Starpoints:

1. Free Night Awards

Starpoints can be used for free nights at any Sheraton, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points, St. Regis, Element, or Luxury Collection Hotel. Free nights start at 2,000 points per night. And the best part is: If a standard room is for sale, you can book it with Starpoints. Free night awards are not capacity controlled like award flights are.

Here is the Free Night Awards chart:

Book a four night award at Category 3-7 hotels and get a 5th night free. Here are the total prices for five nights:

There can be tremendous value in the free night awards. For instance:

These are old examples. The prices have surely changed. Just pay attention to the ideas embedded in them.

Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort, Thailand is a stunning category 2 hotel that goes for only 3,000 points on the weekends. One weekend night in January goes for $123, so that redemption would be worth 4.1 cents per point.

3k Starpoints or $123

And more importantly, 78,000 Starpoints would be enough for up to 39 weekend nights at some properties.

Starwood Cards = 23 Nights Here

As another example of Free Night Awards, the cheapest SPG property in Hawaii is the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, a category 4 property that costs 10k points per night or 40k for five nights, using the 5th Night Free pricing.

The property goes for $302 per night after taxes for a five-day stay in March: $1,510 total. Instead you could pay 40,000 Starpoints and get 3.76 cents per point in value. And more importantly, you’d be here:

Get the 5th Night Free on the Big Island
2. Cash & Points Awards

Cash & Points awards are a way to stretch your cash and your Starpoints. You’ll generally get even more value from your Starpoints through these awards though they are capacity controlled. Here is the Cash & Points chart:

As you’ll notice, a Cash & Points night requires half the Starpoints of a free night plus a cash co-pay.

Unless I were taking advantage of the 5th Night Free with Free Night Awards, a discounted weekend night, or I was cash poor at the moment, I would look to choose a Cash & Points award over a Free Night.

To see why, let’s look at the Sheraton Frankfurt Congress Hotel, a Category 3 property. For a Tuesday this month, the hotel wants 149 euros for the refundable rate. Or you could spend 7,000 Starpoints for a Free Night, or you could spend 3,500 Starpoints + $55.

Comparing them:

  • 149 euros is $163
  • 7,000 Starpoints for a free night is a respectable 2.32 cents per point
  • 3,500 Starpoints + $55 is an incredible 3.09 cents per point

And I chose this hotel because I’ll be in Frankfurt next week, not because it has an abnormally valuable Cash & Points option. I’d frankly consider 3 cents per point about average for a Cash & Points redemption.

3. Transfer to Airlines with a Miles Bonus

For people who eschew chain hotels, Starpoints are incredibly valuable to transfer to airline miles because their are so many partner airlines, and in most cases, transferring 20k Starpoints nets you 25k miles in the account of your choice, a 25% bonus!

Starpoints transfer to 30 airlines in total, mostly at favorable rates.

The best three options are Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines, and Asiana. Starpoints transfer in a 20k points to 25k miles ratio (1:1.25) to all three airline airlines, and none is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards or ThankYou Points. Click here for the reasons to transfer to those three airlines.

Other partners where I would consider transferring Starpoints include:

(Note that many of the airlines on this bulleted list are Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards partners, and I would rather transfer those points to these airlines, since I value Starpoints more.)

The one glaring weakness in the airline transfer partners is that United is not a 1:1 transfer partner, 20k Starpoints transfers to only 12,500 United miles. Avoid that transfer, and earn Ultimate Rewards instead to transfer to United.

But apart from that, the transfer partner list is astoundingly excellent. You can get on most commercial flights worldwide through one of these transfer partners.

Other Important Things to Know about the Starwood Preferred Guest Program

Status

Both the Starwood personal and business cards confer 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward elite status, and they are cumulative, so if you get approved for both cards, I’ll have 4 stays and 10 nights credited to your account, leaving you just 6 stays or 15 nights short of Gold Status.

Gold Status entitles you to free internet and a 4 PM checkout. You also get an extra Starpoint per dollar on Starwood purchases, so cardholders with Gold Status get 5 Starpoints per dollar.

Other than stays, you can also get Gold Status by having an American Express Platinum card or spending $30k per year on a Starwood credit card.

4x or 5x

Cardholders can earn 4 points per dollar on Starwood purchases, 5 points per dollar if they have Gold Status. This breaks down to 2 points per dollar for the spending normally plus another 2 points per dollar if the spending is on a Starwood card.

Combine Points

You can combine points between Starwood accounts if both parties have had the same address on file for 30 days.

This is hugely important, since certain blocks of Starpoints are critical. For instance, if you and your wife each have 10k Starpoints, you could each transfer them to your respective American Airlines accounts and have 10k miles in two accounts. Or you could combine the Starpoints and send the points to one person’s American Airlines accounts, leaving you with 25k American Airlines miles in one account after the transfer bonus.

Your Parents’ Card

Your parents like to travel, they’re jealous of your trips, and they want a rewards card. But they don’t want to keep track of category bonuses, ten programs, and tons of promotions. (OK, maybe I’m just describing my parents.)

Tell each of your parents to get the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. Of course you can do better than putting all of your spending on this card by taking advantage of other card’s bonuses, but you can do pretty well by putting all your spending year after year on this card and building a balance of valuable hotel points that can also transfer to 30 airlines. When people come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of Starpoints, I know the job will be easy.

Big Spenders

I’ve argued before that Big Spenders Should Be Using One of These Three Cards (And They Probably Aren’t). One of those cards is the Starwood card. Because of its transfer partners and transfer bonus, using the card is like earning 1.25 miles per dollar in almost any airline program.

Nights & Flights

I probably should give Nights & Flights more billing because it might be a better deal than Free Night Awards, Cash & Points awards, and airline transfers. With Nights & Flights, you get five hotel nights and 50,000 airline miles for only 60-70k Starpoints.

Unfortunately the award is limited to Category 3 and 4 hotels. But the price is unbeatable. Going back to the Sheraton in Kona discussed above, for 70k Starpoints, you could get five free nights at the property plus 50k American Airlines miles to get there (you only need 35k).

Moments

A lot of airlines and hotels, want you to blow your points on overpriced experiences and merchandise, but Starwood Moments have some good values. I spent 5,500 Starpoints for two tickets to a Captial Cities concert, plus the chance to meet the band beforehand, and free food and drinks at a reception.

All in One Place

Starwood has an awesome chart that compares many of the redemption options discussed here and some worse options not discussed here.

Referrals

If you have the personal or business card, you can refer friends to these offers and earn 5,000 bonus Starpoints for each friend who gets the card. Log in here to get your referral links. You can post or request referrals in the comments.

Recap

Currently, both the personal and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card have a 35,000 Starpoint sign up bonus until March 30, 2016, their largest ever.

Getting both cards gives you 78,000 total Starpoints after meeting their minimum spending requirements. Through Free Nights, Cash & Points, airline transfers, and Nights & Flights, you can plan to get at least 2.5 cents of value per Starpoint.

These are the set-it-and-forget-it cards. For people who don’t have that attention span, these are go-to, everyday cards to keep in your wallet for a long time to build up balances towards incredible vacations.

Further Reading:

Links:

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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9

When collecting miles, its easy to find yourself in a situation where you have a bunch of miles and points spread over a number of different programs. You might not have enough in one account for the award you want, so you might want to combine miles between programs or between your account and a friend’s in the same program. Can you do it?

Q: Can I combine miles between two accounts in the same program?

A: Yes, but there are transfer fees above one cent per mile making this a bad idea.

The fees depend on how many miles you transfer. The more you transfer, the lower the per mile cost, but transfers are always a bad deal. For instance, sharing or transferring 10,000 American miles costs $125 or 1.25 cents per mile.

I value American Airlines miles at 1.5 cents each, so you wipe out 83% of a mile’s value by transferring it.

Transferring 10,000 United miles is $180 or 1.8 cents per mile.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 6.18.13 PM

I value United miles at 1.6 cents each. That means you pay the mile is worth just to use it. That’s lunacy.

But let’s look at a workaround, so that you don’t have to transfer miles and incur huge fees.

Example: I want to fly roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30k AA miles in my account, and my brother has 30k AA miles in his. The award costs 30k miles each way.

If my brother were to transfer me the extra 30k miles I need to book this roundtrip award, it would cost $375. Instead, there is an easy way to book this award without incurring the pointless charge. Keep in mind two things:

  • Anyone can use his miles to book an award for anyone else.
  • Most airlines, including American, allow you to book one way awards for have the price of a roundtrip.

If you have enough miles, splitting the roundtrip into two one ways booked from separate accounts is an easy way to avoid the transfer fee.

I would simply use my 30k to book a oneway award for the New York to Berlin outbound of my trip, and I would use my brother’s 30k to book the Berlin to New York one way return in my name.

This basic principal can be applied in a number of ways. I recently booked a roundtrip award from Buenos Aires to Washington DC. I booked the outbound leg as a one way using my American miles, and had someone else book the return leg in my name using his United miles.

Because tickets can be booked in anyone’s name from anyone’s account, you don’t need to transfer miles as often as you might think.

There are two big exceptions of airlines that have bucked the mile transfer fee idea. Anyone who has HawaiianMiles with Hawaiian Airlines can transfer miles, for free, to anyone who holds a Hawaiian Airlines-linked Visa using the airline’s ShareMiles program. The miles sender doesn’t need to have a Hawaiian Airlines credit or debit card, but the receiver does.

Additionally, you can pool British Airways Avios with members of your household for free, as outlined by The Points Guy, meaning there is no need to transfer them.

Q: Can I combine one type of miles with another type?

A: No. You can not transfer miles/points from one airline’s account to another, even if they are partner airlines. However, partner accounts can be used to book the same flights.

This is a very common question. People think if American and British are partners, maybe they can pool the two types of miles. Unfortunately you can’t pool the miles, but you can have them work together as in the following example.

Example: I want to book the same flights as the last example–roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30,000 American Airlines miles and 30,000 Avios.

I can not transfer my American Airlines miles to my British Airways account or vice versa, but I can use either type to book airberlin flights or any other oneworld partner.

I can use my 30,000 American Airlines miles to book the outbound from New York to Berlin…

I use my 30k AA miles to book the outbound…

and 20,000 of my Avios for the return on airberlin.

…and my 20k Avios for the return from Berlin and New York.

You might notice these are the exact same flights as the last example. That’s because we can use American miles or British Airways Avios to fly airberlin, and we can book flights for ourselves from our accounts or someone else’s account.

These two examples illustrate two ways to avoid transfers. Avoiding transfers is key since transferring in the first example would have been a prohibitive $375 and transferring would have been impossible in the second example.

What About Transferable Points

Points like Citi ThankYou Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints are a different story entirely. They do transfer for free to dozens of types of airline miles, at which point they become those airline miles. Check out this post on the Citi ThankYou Points Transfer partners.

Bonus

In order to avoid a situation where you have miles spread across a bunch of partner programs, you can simply credit all paid flights to the same partner in the first place. When booking a flight, the default setting will credit the miles you earn to the airline you are booking on. However, there is usually a drop-down list of their partner airlines from which you can select.

If you travel on British Airways for work, but do most of your personal travel on American, you can have the miles you earn on those British Airways flights and the miles you earn on the American Airlines flights all credited to your AAdvantage account. Then you won’t have to worry about having some miles in one account and some in another.

Recap

With very few exceptions, you can not transfer miles to another account within the same program without incurring excessive transfer fees. However, you can often avoid these fees by booking flights in the name of the person you were going to transfer your miles to.

Additionally, you can not transfer points across programs–even if they are within the same alliance. However, you can make partner’s miles work together by using two different types of miles on the same airline partner.

 

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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