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Last week I published How to Consistently Buy Business Class Tickets to Europe for about $1,000, which explained how to purchase Avianca miles and use them to book award tickets, so that the total cash outlay is far less than just purchasing a ticket.

Yesterday, I had the chance to book my friend into Lufthansa Business Class from Tallinn, Estonia to Chicago for $1,050 for a flight this weekend.

Booking one way flights at the last minute is usually extremely expensive. The cheapest one way in economy on the day he wanted to fly was over $700 and had two stops. The cheapest pleasant itinerary was over $1,100 in economy.

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For Business Class, you’d have to pay over $2,000 to get a one stop itinerary without an overnight stay somewhere.Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 2.37.38 PM

He’s paying less money than the cheapest one stop itinerary in economy for a Business Class itinerary with a fully flat bed.

Why LifeMiles?

LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, a Colombian airline that is a member of the Star Alliance. You can use Avianca miles to book awards on all Star Alliance members including United, Lufthansa, Austrian, Brussels, Singapore, TAP, Turkish, and other airlines with service to and within Europe.

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Of the many types of Star Alliance miles you can use for awards to Europe, LifeMiles stand out for how cheaply it sells miles, and the fact that it imposes no fuel surcharges on awards, allowing for ~$1,000 one way Business Class tickets to Europe.

Three Steps

  1. Sign up for an Avianca LifeMiles account and select a country of residence in Europe.
  2. Buy 26,400 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus sale for $396.
  3. Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+.

The Steps Broken Down

1. Sign Up for a LifeMiles Account

My friend signed up for a free LifeMiles account here a few months ago because I told him that you need to have an account at the start of a LifeMiles sale to participate.

When signing up, he selected Estonia as his country of residence, which confers an advantage over selecting the United States. During the most recent sale (Step 2), accounts registered in North and Central America got a 100% bonus on miles purchased. Accounts from other countries got a 120% bonus.

2. Buy 26,000 LifeMiles during a LifeMiles Sale

You can always buy LifeMiles for 3.3 cents each. Every few months, LifeMiles offers a bonus on the purchase of miles of at least 100%. The most recent bonus was from May 5 through May 29 and was a 100% bonus for North and Central America and a 120% bonus for the rest of the world. That made the price 1.5 or 1.65 cents per mile total.

If the next sale is identical–I bet it will be–you can buy 12,000 miles with 14,400 bonus miles (26,400 total) for $396. Or if for some reason you’ve signed up with an American address, you can buy 13,000 miles with 13,000 bonus miles (26,000) for $429.

I will cover the next sale on MileValue, so check back daily or sign up to receive one free daily email with all of the day’s posts.

During the last sale, my friend bought 105,600 LifeMiles for $1,584. That was 48,000 miles purchased and 57,600 bonus miles.

Why 105,600 miles? Because a one way Business Class award costs 63,000 LifeMiles but LifeMiles allows awards to be booked with 40% of the necessary miles–26,000 in this case–by putting up cash to pay for your miles discount (Step 3).

He bought 26,000 miles for each one way Business Class ticket he thought he’d want to book in the next few months, and 105,600 miles was as close as he could get to 104,000 miles (four one-ways.)

There is a limit of 150,000 miles purchased per calendar year including bonus miles during sales, so you are limited to booking five Business Class one way tickets per account per calendar year. But you can always open multiple accounts, since LifeMiles accounts can always be used to book tickets in anyone’s name.

3. Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+

To book a LifeMiles ticket, sign into your account and click “Air Tickets” under “Enjoy.”

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Search for your cities, date, number of passengers, and cabin. If you’d like, you can select the carrier you want to fly or have the engine search all Star Alliance carriers. We selected Lufthansa because that’s the most convenient itinerary and best product from Estonia to Chicago.

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Ideally the search reveals award space on several options like his did.

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However, award space is far from guaranteed (as I’ll discuss below in the caveats section.) Not all flights have award space in all cabins.

Once you’ve decided on your flight, select it and at the bottom of the screen, toggle “More Money” to the maximum. This will change the price from 63,000 miles and $0 to 26,000 miles and $557.10.

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Clicking “Continue” takes you to the screen that shows the total price, which will include all applicable government taxes and a $25 booking fee. Estonia has low aviation taxes, so he’s dinged only $58 by the governments of Estonia, Germany, and the United States.

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He’s using one-fourth of the miles he bought for $1,584 in Step 2, which is $396 worth. The award costs those miles plus $640.36 for a total price of $1,036.36 for a one way Business Class flight from Europe to the United States. How else can you consistently get Business Class tickets to Europe for around $1,000?

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He’ll get to use a lounge in Tallinn, a Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt, and fly the Lufthansa 747-8 for the longhaul flight from Frankfurt to Chicago in this seat/bed.

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Confirmation

The confirmation number that Avianca emails to you include a six digit alphanumeric record locator. You can use that record locator on this page to select options like your seats and meals and to check in on lufthansa.com.

Caveats

I hope you’re excited, but don’t rush off to copy my friend without reading these important caveats:

  1. These are the current prices from LifeMiles, but the only thing certain with miles is eventual devaluation. One day, LifeMiles will charge more than 63,000 miles one way in Business Class. When that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a lot of miles in your account. That’s why you should go slowly and only buy enough miles to cover your very likely trips. Even then, you cannot completely eliminate devaluation risk.
  2. There is not award space on every flight in Business Class. You could buy the miles and then not be able to use them when you want to use them. However, I think this is only a minor concern because there is award space on most days from the United States to Europe with Avianca miles as long as you book within a few weeks of departure, which is when I assume most people who routinely book paid Business Class book their tickets. Here is award space from Chicago to Paris for the next two months. All green and blue days have Business Class award space for one passenger.
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    This is peak time and space is almost perfect. Space is bout the same to other cities in Europe because intra-Europe space is a gimme. Space is a bit worse to the west coast of the United States and much worse if you need to book more than two seats on the same flight.
  3. Every flight of a LifeMiles award must be in the same cabin. If you want Business Class across the Atlantic, you must also fly Business Class intra-Europe and United First Class (considered a business class) within the United States. This isn’t much of a problem intra-Europe, since almost all planes have Business Class, but there are many one-cabin planes in the United States operating to small airports. These cannot be booked with LifeMiles on a Business Class award. To see if your route is affected by this silly rule, go to united.com and search your award. Any award with a “Mixed Cabin” icon is off limits.

Bonus

Buy your LifeMiles in Step 2 and book your ticket in Step 3 with a Citi Prestige® Card for $250 off the first purchase and 3x points on all purchases. With the Citi Prestige® Card, the first $250 in award taxes, fuel surcharges, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the LifeMiles miles purchases and award purchases.

 

The card also comes with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, international lounge access, and a host of other features.

Bottom Line

For most people, the best way to get transatlantic Business Class is to open credit cards and use the sign up bonuses for the free flights.

For businessmen who fly the routes too often to get all free tickets and ordinarily pay $4,000 to $8,000 for a roundtrip in Business Class, there is a better plan. Buy LifeMiles and book Business Class awards for around $1,000 each way.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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Cash is great because it can buy everything from travel to your basic necessities. But sometimes miles are better. There are a lot of things I can easily do with miles that I would never do with cash (at least until my bank account had a few more zeroes.)

Dream big with your miles. Better yet, dream big before your miles. Then get the right miles to turn that dream into a reality. Here are five dreams, five things I can do with miles that I wouldn’t do with cash.

  1. Fly Singapore Suites, a double bed in the sky
  2. Fly Lufthansa First Class and access the First Class Terminal
  3. Fly Etihad First Class for its shower, couch, and bed
  4. Fly Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy to London for a big upgrade from economy
  5. Hop around South America to 11 cities on one award with Asia Miles

1. Singapore Suites Los Angeles to Singapore: $8,700 or 92,000 miles + $276

Singapore Suites is famous for its double bed. The two middle seats in the 1-2-1 configuration can have their divider lowered to form an enclosed double bed that no other First Class cabin matches.

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Singapore is also famous for its food and wine selections and service from the Singapore girls. I flew Singapore First Class and would love to fly Suites Class, but I wouldn’t pay $8,700 for the one way flight from Los Angeles to Singapore.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 6.13.23 PM Instead I’d pay 91,375 Singapore miles + $276 (or less to fly Los Angeles to Tokyo or New York to Frankfurt.)Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 6.14.22 PM

Singapore miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi, Chase, AMEX, and SPG, so getting just two cards like the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier with 50,000 ThankYou Points each after spending $3,000 in the first three months is enough to fly one way anywhere that Singapore Suites flies.

2. Lufthansa First Frankfurt to Washington: $8,700 or 40,000 points + $300

Lufthansa First Class is the most widely available excellent product between the United States and Europe.

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Within two weeks of departure, Lufthansa releases a lot of First Class award space to partners. If you can only fly Lufthansa First Class one way, fly it home from Europe via Frankfurt, where Lufthansa has an entire First Class Terminal. Spend a few hours at the buffet, a la carte restaurant, cigar room, and in the bathtubs with your own Lufthansa rubber ducky.

I flew Lufthansa First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC once. I never would have done that if my only option were to pay $8,730 one way.

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Luckily you can book the same flight for 50,000 Asiana miles (40,000 SPG points transfer to 50,000 Asiana miles) + ~$300 in taxes and fuel surcharges.

3. Etihad A380 First Class New York to Abu Dhabi: $16,700 or 90,000 miles + $6

Etihad begins flying its A380 from New York to Abu Dhabi on December 1, 2015. Award space has been intermittently very good and completely non-existent on the route. (Right now, it is non-existent.)

When space was very good last month, I booked myself an award from India to Los Angeles with the longest part in First Class on the Etihad A380. I am eager to fly in am enclosed suite with a couch/bed and seat. The amount of space is unreal. Plus the cabin features a shower, only the second airline that offers that.

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I’m not an oil sheik, so I can’t pay the $16,653 one way fare from New York to Abu Dhabi.

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But the same flight can be had for 90,000 American Airlines miles + $5.60, what you can get from two credit cards. Or you can connect anywhere in the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent for zero extra miles.

4. Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Washington DC to London: $2,800 or 22,000 points + $235

Flying Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy from the United States to London is like flying domestic First Class within the United States. You get the bigger seat with more leg room and more recline, better food, free drinks, and better service.

Virgin Atlantic charges quite a premium, though, at $2,764 one way.

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Why pay that when the seat can be booked with 27,500 Virgin Atlantic miles + $234.60? Especially right now when Citi ThankYou Points have a 25% transfer bonus that makes the award cost 22,000 ThankYou Points + $234.60.

You can get enough points for two people by opening either the Citi Prestige or Citi ThankYou Premier with 50,000 ThankYou Points each after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

5. 11 City Tour of South America: thousands of dollars or 85,000 miles + a few hundred dollars

Yesterday I broke down the Asia Miles award chart and rules. Asia Miles allows you to book 11 city awards. I recommend going to South America to avoid the fuel surcharges you’d normally pay on Asia Miles awards.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 6.56.24 PMWhile booking a trip like this with cash would cost thousands of dollars–I’d estimate around $5,000–the same trip would cost 85,000 Asia Miles + taxes–I’d estimate around $300.

Asia Miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi, AMEX, and SPG, so getting just two cards like the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier with 50,000 ThankYou Points each after spending $3,000 in the first three months is enough to fly an Asia Miles award with up to 20,000 miles of flying!

Bottom Line

Everything is bookable with cash, but sometimes the price is so outrageous that only multi-millionaires would consider the ticket a good value.

With miles, the premium cabins and the mega-awards are democratized. Open one or two credit cards and enjoy the nicest cabins in the world like Singapore Suites, Etihad First Class, and Lufthansa First Class; the biggest adventures in the world like an 11 city trip in South America; or the simple pleasure of a little more space and comfort in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy.

What’s an amazing thing you’ve done with miles that you wouldn’t have done with cash?

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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Updated June 3: The Asiana miles showed up today, meaning the transfer took 14 days. My last transfer in September 2014 took 17 days. In the interim, I’ve decided not to book Lufthansa First Class from Europe to the United States in June, but the Asiana award chart is so good that I don’t mind have 60,000 points on hand. That’s almost enough for Business Class one way USA to Argentina (35k) + First Class USA to Hawaii (27.5k).

You can book Lufthansa First Class for 50,000 Asiana Club miles–40,000 Starpoints–one way. This is Asiana’s award chart from the mainland United States for roundtrip awards. One ways are half price:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.39.26 PM

There are a lot of STEALS on the chart. This post will focus on Europe for 40,000 miles one way in Business Class and 50,000 miles one way in First Class. How good of a deal is this?

  • United charges 57,500 to 70,000 miles one way in Business Class to Europe
  • United charges 80,000 miles one way for its First Class and 110,000 for Lufthansa First Class.

Even with the mild fuel surcharges on Asiana awards of Lufthansa flights, these are great deals. And if you want to avoid fuel surcharges, book United flights with Asiana miles.

Test #1: Lufthansa First Class

I wanted to call Asiana and price out awards to see whether I could get agents to follow the award chart and to see what the taxes and fuel surcharges would be.

I’m considering flying Tallinn, Estonia to Washington, DC next month, so I took a look at that routing though there’s nothing special about it.

Lufthansa First Class would be awesome to get into the Lufthansa First Class Terminal again, and to enjoy the luxury onboard.

First I found this award space on two Lufthansa flights.

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In case you’re not adept at reading united.com (which is where I searched because Asiana should have access to all Star Alliance space found on united.com):

  • There is award space in Business Class from Tallinn to Frankfurt
  • There is award space in Business and First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC

I noted the date, flight number, and cabin of the award space. I called Asiana and these are the prices I got:

  • For Business Class on both flights (what United is charging 70,000 miles for), Asiana charges 40,000 miles + $311.44.
  • For Business Class on the short hop and First Class on the long one (what United is charging 110,000 miles for), Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $311.44.
  • Drop the short hop altogether. For just Lufthansa First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC, Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $348.34.

A few notes:

  1. I can’t quite figure out how they got that amount of dollars though each agent was consistent.
  2. One agent priced Business + First at 75,000 miles, but two priced it at the 50,000 price quoted above.
  3. Taxes and fuel surcharges vary by country and route, so fewer flights actually can actually result in higher charges.

1. The Dollar Amount

I would expect Lufthansa to collect the taxes and fuel surcharges of an equivalent paid ticket. Here’s the equivalent paid ticket to Tallinn to Frankfurt to Washington DC in Business and First Class.

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That’s 223.37 euros ($248) of taxes and fuel surcharges. Asiana wanted $311. I don’t know why.

2. Differing Miles Prices

I called Asiana a few times, and I got different miles prices. Two out of three agents priced the short hop in Business plus longhaul in First Class at 50,000 miles total. One said 75,000 total. When pressed she explained that it was because I had the shorthaul Business Class segment, which was another 25,000 miles on the Asiana chart. Her computer was adding inta-Europe Business (25k) to Europe-to-USA First (50k.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.53 PM

I believe she was wrong and that Asiana agents should price your Lufthansa First Class award, even if there is an intra-Europe segment, at 50,000 total miles.

The agent who said 75,000 miles said the computer had priced it like that. That might be because I had first priced Business/Business with her and then switched to Business/First and for that reason the computer saw my trip as two awards.

Bottom line: please report if a connecting segment in Europe drives up your miles price in the comments, but I don’t believe it will happen.

3. Taxes and Fuel Surcharges Vary

The dollar price went up by dropping the Tallinn to Frankfurt segment. That’s just because airlines price fuel surcharges by origin/destination city pair and taxes and vary by country.

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Play around with your country of origin if the taxes and fees are very important to you.

Test #2: United Premium Cabins

Asiana doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on United award flights. I tested that out by pricing out this itinerary on the same route.

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I tested out:

  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United Business Class FRA-IAD (57.5k United miles above)
  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United First Class FRA-IAD (80k United miles above)

The agents all priced them at:

  • 40,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the all Business Class award
  • 50,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the mostly First Class award

The short Lufthansa flight had slight fuel surcharges plus the rest is taxes. Overall, these are steals.

Searching

Asiana is a member of Star Alliance. You can book any of these partners with Asiana miles.

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Almost all of these are searchable on united.com very quickly, so that’s where to search. Here’s how. When you find award space in the Saver column, note the date, cabin, and flight number.

You will pay a different number of miles and dollars than the amount shown on united.com.

Booking

Booking, or pricing out awards is a bit of a hassle. You have to call Asiana at 800-227-4262 from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM Pacific Time Monday through Friday.

First you need to talk to reservations and have them piece together and price the award. Then you are transferred to Asiana Club to pay.

When the phone connects, hit 2-5-# to get to reservations. You need an Asiana Club account. If you have zero miles, just tell the agent you want to know the price in miles and taxes and fees before transferring points to Asiana Club. There is occasionally a language barrier, but you can usually get done what you need to.

Asiana can only ticket departures that are more than 72 hours in the future.

Pay your award taxes with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes and fees.

Getting Asiana Miles

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles with the customary 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred. At that rate:

  • 35,000 Starpoints transfer to 40,000 Asiana miles
  • 40,000 Starpoints transfer to 50,000 Asiana miles

Unfortunately, in my experience, SPG points take 14-17 days to show up in my Asiana account.

The bonus on the SPG card is 25,000 Starpoints, and the minimum spending requirement just dropped to $3,000 in three months.

Bottom Line

It’s a bit of a hassle to book Asiana Club tickets and tough to get the miles, but you can’t argue with 40,000 miles + $131 for United flat bed Business Class to Europe or 50,000 miles + $311 for Lufthansa First Class.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

I just booked myself a trip to Cuba with miles. One direction I am flying on a single award from the United States to Cuba. On the return, I am flying two awards: Cuba to Colombia and Colombia to the United States.

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I used American Airlines, Asiana, and Lufthansa miles, all of which are easily available to Americans.

Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Here is the State Department’s page on visiting Cuba.

I am going to travel to Cuba on a general license as a journalist. A “general license” means that I do not have to contact any government agency in advance to receive permission. Here are the 12 categories of general licenses:

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I’ll need a valid passport and a tourist card to enter Cuba. I can buy the latter for $20 in Panama before boarding my flight to Havana.

It is still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for the purpose of tourism. Figure out for yourself whether you can fit one of the 12 general licenses, so you can legally travel to Cuba.

Awards

In a previous post, I ruled out charter flights to Cuba because they’re impossible for folks traveling to Cuba on a general license, and I ruled out paid flights via third countries as very expensive. I was determined to book my trip to Cuba with miles.

But booking a trip to Cuba with miles is not 100% straightforward.

If you go to united.com and type Havana into the search box, you get no results. The US-based airlines are not going to let you use their miles to fly to Cuba for the time being, even if you just want to use the miles to fly from Panama to Cuba.

Any awards you book to Cuba will have to be with foreign miles. There are a lot of options:

  • Avianca LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer miles, Asiana Club miles, Lufthansa Miles & More miles on Avianca or Copa to Cuba
  • Air France Flying Blue miles from Mexico City to Havana, flying AeroMexico

I looked into using Singapore, Asiana, Lufthansa, and Avianca miles. Here was my experience.

Searching for Award Space

I tried to use the miles of four Star Alliance carriers, all of which have equal access to Saver award space released by Avianca and Copa on their flights to Cuba. As I mentioned, not all award search engines will display award space to Cuba, but lifemiles.com will. Search for Star Alliance award space to Cuba on lifemiles.com.

There are several routes to Havana from the Americas on Star Alliance carriers: Copa, Avianca, Air Canada, and Air China.

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There are also routes to Cayo CocoCayo Largo del SurHolguínSanta Clara, and Varadero on Star Alliance carriers.

To search for any of these routes on lifemiles.com, click on Air Tickets under the Enjoy tab.

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You may need to log in to a LifeMiles account to search. Sign up for a free account here.

On the search screen, next to “Preferred carrier,” select the carrier that serves the route you’re searching. Not specifying an airline will cause the search engine to miss results.

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My Searches

I was interested in combining Cuba with Colombia. I need to start and end my trip in Washington DC. I searched:

  • Washington-Dulles <-> Havana on Copa
  • Havana <-> Bogota on Avianca
  • Bogota <-> Washington-Dulles on American and Avianca

I searched all three itineraries in both directions because I was willing to visit Bogota and Havana in either order. I let my search results dictate my order.

In the end, I found much better award space on my dates from Havana to Bogota than vice versa, which sealed my plan to fly USA to Cuba to Colombia to USA.

Spending an Afternoon in Panama City

Here are sample results for economy awards from Washington to Havana.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.28.55 PM

All of the options go from Washington to Panama City to Havana on Copa with varying layovers in Panama City. I decided to choose a seven hour layover in Panama City. From a quick search, I learned that I can visit the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal with a five hour layover. That sounds fascinating, and I plan to save money by hiring taxis instead of a tour company.

American Airlines Space to the United States

I was hoping to book Avianca’s direct flight from Bogota to Washington-Dulles for my return. There is award space on the flight in economy on many dates (yellow on the calendar below), but I couldn’t make it work for my trip.

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My back up plan was American Airlines miles with one stop in Miami. The benefit is that American Airlines charges only 15,000 miles one way between the United States and Northern South America for much of the year. United would have charged me 20,000 miles one way for the Avianca flight.

American Airlines award space is wide open between Bogota and Miami, and from there to anywhere else in the United States or Canada for the same 15,000 mile price.

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I noted the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space to Cuba on Copa, to Colombia on Avianca, and to the United States on American Airlines. Now it was time to book.

Booking the Award

I wanted to get all three of my awards or zero. The first step was to put the American Airlines award on a free five day hold while I investigated my booking options with Star Alliance miles for the Star Alliance flights.

Avianca LifeMiles

Selecting the Copa award flights from Washington-Dulles to Havana brings up a price of 17,500 Lifemiles + $31.85. Or you can toggle the “More money” button to book the award for 7,500 Lifemiles and $181.85.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.29.42 PM

The problem is that I don’t have LifeMiles. Getting LifeMiles is a bit of a challenge. You basically need to buy them. They are often on sale for 1.65 cents each, though not currently. Once you have 7,500 LifeMiles, you can book the award for another $181.85.

I would consider buying the 7,500 miles when they are on sale for 1.65 cents each which happens every few months, but right now they cost 3.3 cents each.

The Havana to Bogota award was only 10,000 LifeMiles, but that was 10,000 more than I had.

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I went looking for other foreign Star Alliance options to book the flights.

Lufthansa Miles & More

Lufthansa is also a member of the Star Alliance, so it partners with Copa and Avianca. The Miles & More award chart shows a great price of 17,000 miles one way from the United States to Cuba or Colombia to Cuba.

I called the Miles & More call center for the United States and tried to book Washington to Havana. The agent said he could not book flights to Cuba.

Next I called the British service center at  +44 371 – 945 97 37 for 1 cent per minute via gmail. I fed the agent the Copa flights from Washington to Havana and she priced them at 17,000 Miles & More miles and 4.5 GBP ($7.) These were the same flights that the agent at the US call center couldn’t price.

She priced Bogota to Havana at 17,000 miles + $15.

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Fantastic! I had 18,000 Lufthansa miles, so I could book one of the awards with Lufthansa miles.

I continued my research.

Singapore KrisFlyer

The Singapore award chart shows a price of 17,500 miles from the United States to the Caribbean. Havana to Bogota would be 25,000 miles.

I called KrisFlyer and tried to price my Copa award. Three different agents priced it at 35,000 miles one way. For whatever reason, the computer wanted to collect Washington to Panama and Panama to Havana as two separate awards.

I didn’t bother to price Havana to Bogota because I knew it would be cheaper with Lufthansa miles, but I am confident it would have cost 25,000 Singapore miles.

Asiana Club

The Asiana chart shows Colombia to Cuba costing 17,500 miles and the United States to the Caribbean at 17,500 miles also.

I priced out Havana to Bogota at 17,500 miles + $15.

I didn’t bother to price out Washington to Havana because I had all the information I needed.

How I Booked

I had the perfect amount of Lufthansa and Asiana miles to book the two Star Alliance awards. If I hadn’t had those perfect amounts, I would have transferred Starpoints to Lufthansa miles. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Singapore, Lufthansa, and Asiana miles. And every 20,000 points transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus.

When the Asiana agent priced Havana to Bogota at 17,500 miles one way, I immediately booked. I got the following email a few minutes later with my confirmation number.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.02.29 AM Next I called Lufthansa back. Because of the time of day, I called the Australian Miles & More center at +61 1300 – 655 727 for 2 cents a minute through gmail. I booked Washington to Havana for 17,000 miles + $7. My confirmation came quickly via email.Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.02.42 AM

 

Last I signed into my American Airlines account and ticketed Bogota to Washington, which I had held earlier in the day. It cost 15,000 miles + $95 (though I’ll get about $35 back upon check in.)

Bottom Line

Lufthansa, Avianca, Singapore, and Asiana are all willing to ticket award tickets to Cuba, even if they begin in the United States. Copa has several destinations in America from which you can get to Cuba with only one connection in Panama. If you don’t live in one of those cities, you can connect on United and Copa flights to Panama and then to Havana on your Miles & More award.

Search for the award space on lifemiles.com and call the non-US call center of the airline whose miles you want to use. You can book a roundtrip for as little as 34,000 Lufthansa miles, which is 29,000 Starpoints.

To get Starpoints, open the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first six months. Just meeting the minimum spending requirement gives you more than enough points for a roundtrip award to Cuba.

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Earn up to 20 free hotel nights after meeting spending $2,500 in the first 90 days on the Club Carlson Visa.

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I’m considering a trip to Cuba next month, so I wrote about the paid flight and award flight options last week. I can now confirm that Americans can use Lufthansa Miles & More Miles to book Avianca and Copa flights to/from Cuba.

You can even book these commercial flights from the United States to Cuba via Panama, and the awards are super cheap.

In Cheapest Flights and Awards To & From Cuba, I mentioned that there is award space from the United States to Panama to Havana on Copa Airlines.

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These flights are not bookable with United miles because United pretends like Havana doesn’t exist online and by phone.

These flights appear to be bookable with LifeMiles. Unfortunately the only easy way to get LifeMiles is when they are on sale for 1.65 cents each (not currently), and I don’t have any.

I went looking for other foreign Star Alliance options to book the flights. Lufthansa–the German airline–is also a member of the Star Alliance, so it partners Copa and Avianca. Its Miles & More award chart shows a great price of 17,000 miles one way or 35,000 miles roundtrip to Central America or the Caribbean from the United States. I called Lufthansa to try to book awards to Cuba, and it worked!

First I tried to book Bogota to Havana on Avianca because I may want to combine Cuba with a return to Colombia, but the flight costs $400+ one way between Colombia and Cuba.

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I searched lifemiles.com for award space on the direct Avianca flight. I found plenty of award space in both directions. (I believe partners have access to all the space in the “Limited Seats” columns.)

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I called the British Miles & More service center at +44 371 – 945 97 37. Perhaps the American service center would be just as able to book Cuba flights, but at 1 cent per minute via gmail, I’d rather just call a foreign service center.

I fed the agent my date, and she priced the Bogota to Havana segment at 17,000 LifeMiles + $15. Fantastic!

I asked her to check on the award flights I’d found from the United States to Havana.
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She priced that award–Washington-Dulles to Havana–for 17,000 Miles & More miles and 4.5 GBP ($7.)

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We got to me handing over my credit card, and I disconnected. I’m still not 100% sure I’ll travel to Cuba, but hopefully I’ll decide this week and book my flights.

Will I Have Trouble in Washington?

When I check in at Dulles, and the agent sees I have a flight to Cuba, will my flights be cancelled? I don’t know. In a worst-case scenario, I’d ask her to just print my boarding pass to Panama, and I’d collect my boarding pass to Havana there. If anyone has booked an award from the United States to Cuba and actually flown it, please share your experiences.

Bottom Line

Lufthansa is willing to ticket awards from the United States to Cuba for 17,000 miles one way plus minimal taxes. Copa has several destinations in America from which you can get to Cuba with only one connection in Panama. If you don’t live in one of those cities, you can connect on United and Copa flights to Panama and then to Havana on your Miles & More award.

Lufthansa Miles & More is a 1:1 transfer partner of SPG Starpoints, and every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus. You can get the 35,000 miles you need for a roundtrip to Cuba by transferring 30,000 Starpoints to Miles & More.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Off peak awards allow us to stretch our miles further by booking discounted awards to select regions during certain pre-determined dates. Off peak awards are offered by several airlines, and this post will put all the off peak awards I know of in one place.

While off peak awards are often less desirable dates, there are some off peak dates that are actually my favorite times to visit a country. For instance, March is a fantastic month in Argentina, and you can book an award to Buenos Aires or Bariloche every March for 10,000 fewer American Airlines miles than if you travel in July, a worse time to visit in my opinion.

Bariloche, Lake District of Patagonia, in March

American and US Airways have set off peak awards every year to select regions. Air France Flying Blue and Lufthansa Miles & More have discounted awards that are kind of like off peak awards. United and Delta occasionally have award sales that are like off peak awards, but are not as regular as American and US Airways’ off peak awards.

  • What are the off peak awards offered by American, US Airways, Delta, United, Lufthansa, and Air France?
  • What dates are they offered?
  • Do you have to fly the airline offering the deal or can you fly a partner?

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Lufthansa First Class is one of the nicest ways to travel between the United States and Europe. Plus if you fly out of Frankfurt in Lufthansa First Class, you get to access the First Class Terminal, one of the nicest lounges in the world.

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Lufthansa First Class Terminal from Outside

The problem is that for a few years you have usually only been able to book Lufthansa First Class award space up to 15 days before departure with partner airline miles like United miles.

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Inside the Cigar Lounge of the FCT

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule though. Lufthansa is phasing out First Class on its Denver to Frankfurt route in early April 2015. In anticipation of that move, it has released 2+ First Class award seats to partners on many of its flights between now and then in both directions.

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Lufthansa First Class Bed on the 747-8

Unfortunately since February 2014, United has charged a ridiculous 110,000 miles one way in Lufthansa First Class between the United States and Europe. Luckily some Lufthansa partners charge much more reasonable prices to book Lufthansa First Class.

  • Which First Class is on the Denver to Frankfurt route? (It’s awesome!)
  • What is the award space picture?
  • What if you don’t live in Denver or don’t want to visit Frankfurt?
  • Which miles book this space cheapest?

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The 50,000 mile bonus offer has returned on the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® from Barclaycard.

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The Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® now comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days. After meeting the spending requirement, you’ll have enough Lufthansa Miles & More miles for a roundtrip in business class to Europe.

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We’ve seen the same bonus run three times in the last two years, and it has been overwhelmingly popular. The normal bonus on the card is only 20,000 miles.

On the earning side, I think every aspiring traveler should get the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® for its:

  • sign up bonus
  • frequent targeted category bonuses
  • potential secondary spending bonus

Beyond the 55,000 miles you’ll get for spending $5,000 on the card in the first three months, occasionally the Lufthansa Miles & More card offers targeted category bonuses. For the first three months of 2014, I earned 3 miles per dollar at grocery stores with my Lufthansa card. Others were targeted for 6 miles per dollar.

And many of us also were offered 15k Bonus Lufthansa Miles for Spending $500 or $750 Per Month for Three Straight Months on the card.

With these promos, I earned over 73,000 Lufthansa miles on the card in less than a year.

On the redemption side, Lufthansa Miles & More miles can be used on any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines including United, Lufthansa, and Air New Zealand. There are three types of awards where Lufthansa miles shine:

  1. Mileage Bargains awards (30k miles roundtrip to Europe in economy, 55k miles roundtrip to Europe in Business Class)
  2. Awards without fuel surcharges (Alaska, Hawaii, domestic, Caribbean, Central America, and South America)
  3. Awards you can’t book with United miles (Lufthansa First Class more than 15 days in advance, Condor flights)

But the card is not for everyone. It depends on how you want to redeem the miles because for some awards, Lufthansa miles are a terrible value.

In this post, I will go in detail on the three classes of high value awards with tons of specific examples to show the best uses of the 50,000 mile sign up bonus.

This post is also a full primer of the Miles & More program for people who don’t know much about it and explains how to book online and by phone, two ways to save miles on a Miles & More booking, and comparisons between Miles & More and United MileagePlus.

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

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics of several international airline programs which are transfer partners of one or more of the following types of points:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints
  • Citi ThankYou Points

I think of these international airlines programs as niche programs. Most of their redemption options are terrible because of fuel surcharges, but a few redemptions with each program are great because of no fuel surcharges or a super cheap miles price.

Know the great options in each program to save yourself miles and cash by maximizing these programs:

  • Singapore KrisFlyer (UR, MR, SPG, and TY)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (MR, SPG)
  • Lufthansa Miles & More (SPG, also the only one of these programs that offers a big 50k sign up bonus on an American credit card every few months)
  • ANA Mileage Club (MR, SPG)
  • Air France Flying Blue (MR, SPG)
  • Korean SkyPass (UR, SPG)

Why Collect These Miles?

Most of these programs have a sweet spot that lets you book the same flights for fewer miles than if you used United or Delta miles. For instance, pay 30,000 Singapore miles each way in First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii instead of 40,000 United miles.

Korean, Singapore, and Lufthansa miles allow the booking of mind-blowing First Class products you can’t book with Delta and United miles.

  • What airlines can you fly with these miles?
  • What are the routing rules for these awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special deals in each program?
  • What about fuel surcharges?

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Last year I wrote “How to Book Multiple Awards from Different Accounts on the Same Flights.”

The idea is that you can never transfer miles from one airline to another, even if they are airline partners, but you can book two seats on the exact same flights with two different types of miles.

Last week I used 30,000 Singapore miles and 35,000 Lufthansa miles to book myself and a friend one way First Class flights on United from Honolulu to San Francisco.

United flies one flight a day from Honolulu to San Francisco on a 767-400ER with fully flat beds in First Class (in addition to the flights to Newark and Washington-Dulles which are always on 767-400ERs.)

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Sleeping in a flat bed on a previous United flight to Hawaii

Since my friend had never flown in First Class, since I really wanted to sleep the entire flight, and since Lufthansa and Singapore have reasonable miles prices for the flight, I decided to book us two First Class tickets.

I booked one ticket for 30,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles + $5.68 and the other for 35,000 Lufthansa Miles & More miles + $5.60.

This guide will be useful whenever you want to book two or more seats on the same flight with two or more types of miles from airline partners. One common situation is to book the same oneworld flights with American Airlines, US Airways, and/or British Airways miles.

  • How did I search for the award space?
  • How did I book the awards?
  • What big risk did I take?
  • What other types of miles work together like this?

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Lufthansa First Class is no longer bookable using LifeMiles.

For the past few years, Lufthansa has only released first class award space to its Star Alliance partners 15 days before flight departure. LifeMiles, which is in the Star Alliance, used to be an excellent program with which to book these last-minute luxury flights.

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Recently, however, Lufthansa first class award seats have not been showing availability on lifemiles.com. When I called and talked an LifeMiles agent, he was also unable to find any Lufthansa first class availability.

This is another significant blow to the value of LifeMiles. Lufthansa first class is a great product, and enjoying the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt is on many frequent travelers’ bucket lists.

  • What’s so great about Lufthansa First Class?
  • Why is losing the ability to book Lufthansa First with LifeMiles such a big deal?
  • What other mileage programs can be used to book Lufthansa First?

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Update July 1, 2014:

The current offer on the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® is 20,000 miles after first purchase and payment of $79 annual fee.

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase or balance transfer
  • Earn up to 15,000 award miles with balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) within 30 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Companion Ticket after first purchase
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance airlines and other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee, waived for SEN and HON Circle Members

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Today (June 30, 2014) is the last day to get 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles from the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days.

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See my Miles & More Program Primer for more information on the Lufthansa frequent flyer program and six great uses for the mega sign up bonus.

The cliff notes? Lufthansa is a major member of the Star Alliance, which also includes United, Air New Zealand, Thai, South African, and 20+ others. Lufthansa Miles & More miles can be used on any Star Alliance partner.

55,000 Lufthansa miles–the sign up bonus plus normal spending needed to unlock it–will get you:

This is a card I got for myself last year, and I’ve been using the miles to fly United flights between the mainland and Hawaii, a trip that costs fewer Lufthansa miles than United miles for the exact same flights.

  • How can you use your Lufthansa miles?
  • When does the 50,000 mile offer end?
  • Who is this offer right for?

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Update July 1, 2014:

The current offer on the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® is 20,000 miles after first purchase and payment of $79 annual fee.

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase or balance transfer
  • Earn up to 15,000 award miles with balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) within 30 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Companion Ticket after first purchase
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance airlines and other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee, waived for SEN and HON Circle Members

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The Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® is offering 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles for only three more days. The offer expires Monday June 30, 2014.

All airline awards require the payment of government taxes, but some Lufthansa awards also incur fuel surcharges. The key to getting huge value from your 55,000 Lufthansa miles is to redeem the miles for awards without fuel surcharges.

You can redeem Lufthansa miles with under $5 in fuel surcharges to the following regions:

  • Within North America
  • to Hawaii and Alaska
  • to Europe
  • to Central America
  • to South America
  • to the Caribbean
  • to Africa
  • to Asia

Lufthansa miles can be used for flights on all 26 Star Alliance airlines including United. Lufthansa has a competitive award chart with many destinations costing fewer Lufthansa miles than United miles to reach. See “Comparison of United and Lufthansa Award Charts.”

I checked the fuel surcharges on Lufthansa’s partners to find partners and routes with no fuel surcharges or fuel surcharges under $5 per direction.

  • What routes and partners can you use to pay zero fuel surcharges on Lufthansa awards?
  • How can you figure out the fuel surcharges on a route without calling Lufthansa?
  • How can you search for award space for Lufthansa awards.
  • How can you book Lufthansa awards?

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Award space is still available on several Star Alliance flights to Europe this summer!

Tons of space is bookable with United miles, Lufthansa miles, or miles from any other Star Alliance carrier.

A lot of people are contacting the MileValue Award Booking Service saying they’d love to head to Europe this summer but are resigned to waiting until next summer if there’s no space. Good news! On some routes, there is plenty of space for 2-8 people in economy, business, and first class.

2 people Jun Jul Bos Fra

  • What routes still have premium cabin award space to Europe this summer?
  • What route has award space for eight people to Europe this summer?
  • Is there award space on direct flights from the West Coast to Europe?
  • What’s available this week?

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Update July 1, 2014:

The current offer on the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® is 20,000 miles after first purchase and payment of $79 annual fee.

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase or balance transfer
  • Earn up to 15,000 award miles with balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) within 30 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Companion Ticket after first purchase
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance airlines and other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee, waived for SEN and HON Circle Members

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There is one week left to get the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® with 50,000 bonus Lufthansa miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days. The offer expires June 30, 2014.

The normal bonus on the card is for only 20,000 miles. I got the card last year and racked up 73,000 Lufthansa miles. I’ve booked myself a few awards between the mainland and Hawaii, since Lufthansa charges fewer miles for the exact same United flights than United charges.

Comparing United and Lufthansa miles is natural because both are Star Alliance members with (basically) equal access to award space on all Star Alliance partners.

Between Hawaii and the mainland isn’t the only route where the United and Lufthansa award charts differ. I’ve compiled three charts to show whether Lufthansa miles or United miles are cheaper to any given destination in economy, business, and first class.

  • For which destinations are United miles cheaper?
  • For which destinations are Lufthansa miles cheaper?
  • What about fuel surcharges?

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