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Effective October 1, 2015, 250 Membership Rewards will transfer to 200 British Airways or Iberia Avios. That’s a 20% reduction of the current 1,000 Membership Rewards to 1,000 Avios transfers.

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Source: Travel with Grant

This is a huge blow to Membership Rewards. It still has great 1:1 transfer partners like Delta, ANA, Aeroplan, and Singapore, but this majorly hurts the value of its best oneworld transfer partner.

In the past we’ve seen transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards to Avios like this year’s 40% bonus. I imagine this reduced partnership between Membership Rewards and Avios signals the end of those, but I’d love to be wrong. A 40% bonus on the new transfer rate would mean 250 Membership Rewards transferred to 280 Avios, which is 12% better than 1:1.

This worsening transfer rate from Membership Rewards isn’t the only bad news we’ve gotten about earning Avios this year. Chase also changed the British Airways Visa to only earn 1 Avios per dollar spent, down from 1.25 per dollar, another 20% drop in rates for earning Avios.

Chase Ultimate Rewards earned on the Ink Plus and Sapphire Preffered still transfer 1:1 to British Airways Avios.

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Avios are good for short, direct, economy awards on partners without fuel surcharges like airberlin; Niki; and American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines within the Americas including Hawaii. The number of Avios for Business and First Class awards rose sharply in April, but that affected very few high value awards. Here are the basics of Avios, which every American frequent traveler should understand. Here are all the 12,500 Avios awards from the mainland United States to Hawaii.

Hat Tip Travel with Grant

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I’m going to show you how to book a mega-award with seven stops to South America with Asia Miles. You already have Asia Miles because they are a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, AMEX Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints.

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Asia Miles can be used to book any oneworld airline‘s award space plus space on its partners Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines.

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Asia Miles charges fuel surcharges on award tickets when the equivalent cash tickets would have fuel surcharges. In practice, that means all Asia Miles awards will have fuel surcharges except flights on:

  • airberlin
  • Niki (Austrian low-cost subsidiary of airberlin that flies to these destinations)
  • S7 (Russian airline)
  • American Airlines flights within the Americas
  • LAN Airlines (South American airline)
  • TAM Airlines (Brazilian Airline with Paraguayan subsidiary)
  • Alaska Airlines

Since I like to avoid fuel surcharges, I would almost exclusively book those flights with Asia Miles. Asia Miles awards that don’t include a segment on Cathay Pacific (which I would book with American Airlines or Alaska miles, not Asia Miles) can have 5 stopovers, 2 open-jaws, and 2 transfers. I’ll discuss these rules in detail later.

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Add up the distance flown on all the flights, and then read the award price off this distance-based award chart.

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As you can see, there are a number of sweet spots in economy since the price barely rises from 1,001-4,000 miles flown or from 4,001-7,000 miles flown or from 10,001-20,000 miles flown.

In Business Class, the prices rises more steadily, but just under 9,000 miles flown looks pretty sweet.

The First Class chart is largely irrelevant because the only First Class by an airline on the no-fuel-surcharges list is American Airlines First Class, which isn’t that great and is being removed from most planes.

Rules for Awards

There are two award charts, each with its own set of rules. This post will only focus on the chart for awards that contain:

  • Two oneworld alliance airlines, where Cathay Pacific or Dragonair is not included; or
  • Three or more oneworld alliance airlines when Cathay Pacific or Dragonair is included.

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Cathay Pacific and Dragonair don’t fly to South America, so we’ll always be on the “oneworld Multi-Carrier Awards Chart.”

The big rule of the multi-carrier award chart is:

  • You can make a maximum of five stopovers, two transfers and two open-jaws at either origin, en-route or turnaround point, subject to airline partners’ terms and conditions.

Ideally I’d book several Asia Miles awards on my own to figure out what the rule means in practice, but that’s impractical because my Award Booking Service clients rarely request an award for which Asia Miles make sense, and I don’t have a need for such an award myself at the moment.

So I’ve investigated the next best way: by reading threads on FlyerTalk to see the reported experiences of others. With that in mind, here’s what I’ve figured out:

  1. As usual a transfer is a layover of less than 24 hours. A stopover is a layover of more than 24 hours.
  2. If you need more transfers than the 2 allowed, you can ask an agent to count a transfer as a stopover. As an example, say you want to have 3 transfers and 3 stopovers–something like JFK-MIA-BOG; BOG-LIM-SCL; SCL-EZE; EZE-MIA-JFK where the stopovers are denoted by a semicolon after the airport code–this is illegal. But if you make a transfer a stopover, now you have 2 transfers and 4 stopovers, which is OK. Ask the agent to make the first Miami transfer a stopover even though it is under 24 hours.
  3. You get 5 stopovers and zero destinations for 5 total 24+ hour stops. Ordinarily if an award is allowed one stopover, like a roundtrip United award, that’s in addition to your 1 destination, so you really get to stop 24+ hours in 2 places. Here you get 5 total, not 5 + 1.
  4. Open jaws do NOT count as a stopover. As an example, a super-simple award like Miami to Lima, returning Quito to Miami has 1 open jaw, zero stopovers, and zero transfers. That is an award that sees two places with no stopovers.
  5. That means your 5 stopovers plus 2 open jaws, which each can see two places without burning a stopover is already 9 places you can see. Add in the under-24 hour transfers, and you can see 11 places.
  6. Unfortunately not all agents are well trained on the point that open jaws do NOT count as stopovers. Some agents will count open jaws as stopovers, but you should just ask them to try putting your routing into the system and the system will accept a routing with 5 stopovers plus 2 other open jaws. You may have best results calling the agents on the Cantonese line and then speaking English with them because these are the best-trained agents.
  7. An open jaw may be at any point during the award or even between where the award begins and ends. Some agents say that if there is an open jaw between the first and last city of an award, both cities must be in the same country.
  8. You may be able to later transit your origin region or even stopover there (which would allow you to combine two separate trips onto one cheap award. Here is an example of someone who ticketed Brazil/Argentina/Peru and a later trip to San Francisco onto one award.)
  9. The Asia Miles website suggests filling out a form to request your award. FlyerTalkers all call in to book their awards
  10. The ticketing time on awards–the time from your call until you receive a final confirmation that everything is ticketed–is between 15 hours and one week.

Here’s am award that follows all those rules that sees 11 cities in South America.

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  • Miami to Baranquilla, Colombia (1) on American Airlines. Stopover #1
  • Baranquilla to Bogota, Colombia (2) on LAN Airlines, layover of less than 24 hours, enough time to see a few museums and go out for a night. Transfer #1
  • Bogota to Lima, Peru (3) on LAN Airlines. Stopover #2
  • Lima to Santiago, Chile (4) on LAN Airlines. Stopover #3
  • Santiago to Buenos Aires, Argentina (5) on LAN Airlines. Stopover #4
  • Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo, Brazil (6) on LAN Airlines, layover of less than 24 hours, enough time to eat at a churrascaria and go out for a night. Transfer #2
  • Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguacu, Brazil (7) on TAM Airlines. Open Jaw #1 because you will not fly out of Foz do Iguacu
  • Porto Alegere, Brazil (8) to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (9) on TAM Airlines. Stopover #5
  • Rio de Janeiro to Natal, Brazil (10) on TAM Airlines. Open Jaw #2 because you will not fly out of Natal
  • Recife, Brazil (11) to Miami on American Airlines.

There are holes in two spots in Brazil that you can fill with buses or separate cash or award tickets.

The flown distance is 12,330 miles according to Great Circle Mapper, so this award would cost 85,000 Asia Miles in economy or 115,000 Asia Miles in Business Class plus government taxes. There would be no fuel surcharges.

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Practical Considerations

If you don’t live in Miami or Dallas, you’ll probably need to use your two transfers to get to and from those cities. The vast majority of South American flights on oneworld leave from Miami and Dallas, so if you live somewhere like Los Angeles, you will probably need one transfer in each direction to start and finish the award.

Here is an award from Los Angeles with four stopovers in South America, two transfers in the United States, and zero open jaws.

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That’s not to say that all international flights to the Americas leave from Miami and Dallas. The following cities all have international flights on American, Alaska, or US Airways. The black dots mostly have flights to Mexican vacation destinations, of which only Cancun is well connected to South America.

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Open jaws are so powerful because they don’t cost you a stopover and you get two see two places. Some easy open jaws:

  • between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, which is served by a two-hour ferry
  • between Foz do Iguacu, Brazil and Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, which is a short car ride (and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay is right there too, but that is the sketchiest and most boring city I’ve visited in South America)
  • Punta Arenas, Chile and El Calafate, Argentina are a five-hour bus ride apart
  • Many Central American capitals are very close
  • Santiago, Chile and Mendoza, Argentina are a common bus-ride apart
  • Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina are not convenient A to B, but an open jaw between the two would allow you to explore Patagonia by boat, bus, and small airplane like I did last December

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Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires all have at least two major airports. I do not know whether flying into one airport and out of another airport in those cities counts as an open jaw or whether the airports are considered coterminal like JFK/LGA/EWR usually are in New York.

Fun Considerations

LAN flies to the Galapagos Islands (GPS is one airport) from Guayaquil and Quito, Peru.

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LAN flies to Easter Island from Santiago and Lima.

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There’s no reason your award has to start in the United States. It could make sense to book awards from the United States to South America and then just hop around in South America on an Asia Miles award. This one would be 35,000 miles in economy, and you can still add more segments and stops.

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If you convince an agent to let you stopover in your city of origin, you can have two trips on a single cheap award. This award is Dallas to Cancun roundtrip, followed months later by Dallas to Bogota to Lima, open jaw returning Cuzco to Lima to Dallas. It would cost 65,000 Asia Miles in economy and 95,000 in Business Class.

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Getting the Miles

Asia Miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points. The transfer takes one business day. You can get 106,000 ThankYou Points by opening the Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi Prestige eight days apart. You can use 106,000 ThankYou Points for up to 20,000 miles flown in economy on a single award or 10,000 miles in Business Class.

Asia Miles are also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and SPG Starpoints.

Searching

The relevant airlines for a South America awards are American Airlines, US Airways, Alaska Airlines, LAN, and TAM.

American, US, and Alaska are best searched on aa.com. You can only use MileSAAver award space.

LAN and TAM are best searched on ba.com. You can use any award space you see there.

Booking

Once you’ve found the award space, call Asia Miles at 866-892-2598 to book the award. Feed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight you found with award space.

If your award comes close to maxing out the 5 stopovers, 2 open jaws, or 2 transfers, I would proactively lead the call by saying things like, “Next is Bogota to Lima on January 10 on LAN flight 123 in economy. Bogota is my first open jaw because I continue the award from Quito. The next flight is…” The agents seem to have some discretion in their counting, so you want to suggest how they count.

If you’re having trouble with the Asia Miles agents at that number, call the Cantonese line at +852 2747 3838 from your gmail account for 2 cents per minute.

Bottom Line

Asia Miles offers a distance-based award chart that allows you to visit 11 places on a single 9-flight award by maximizing the 5 stopovers, 2 open jaws, and 2 transfers.

Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints.

Asia Miles awards have fuel surcharges when an equivalent cash flight has fuel surcharges. Avoid fuel surcharges by flying to and around South America. (There are also European partners with no fuel surcharges, which I’ll cover in a separate post.)

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I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored by those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

  • Which miles do I consider broadly useful?
  • Which programs do I consider niche programs?
  • What are the niche programs’ strengths?

Broadly Useful

None of these programs is perfect, but I consider all the following programs to be broadly useful programs in which a person could exclusively collect miles and still get a fair deal on the vast majority of potential redemptions:

  • American Airlines
  • United
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Ultimate Rewards

American Airlines

American Airlines miles offer good value on most routes in all cabins. The oneworld alliance great members like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and LAN, and American miles can be redeemed on 24 airlines.

There are some weaknesses with American Airlines miles:

  • American Airlines collects fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. British Airways award space is the most available award space to Europe and Africa. If you avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles, you are hamstrung to Africa especially.
  • I–and the experts–anticipate a devaluation announced in late 2015 for awards booked in early 2016 or later.
  • Awards to the Middle East and India are overpriced.

United

Even after 2014’s devaluation, I still think United miles are among the most broadly useful airline miles to stockpile for a few reasons:

  • Award space is good on United and partners.
  • United is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest alliance in the world, with good coverage of every continent.
  • United never imposes fuel surcharges on awards.
  • United’s economy awards are fairly priced.
  • United’s Business Class awards on its own planes are not outrageously priced.

Of course, the big problem is that partner First Class awards are basically out of reach. Who has 240,000 United miles for one roundtrip to Asia in First Class?

Still, I’ll almost always be happy when folks come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of United miles.

Ultimate Rewards

Since Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles, Ultimate Rewards are at least as useful as United miles. With the added flexibility of transferring to niche programs like British Airways, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, and Korean plus hotel programs, Ultimate Rewards are the second most flexible currency overall.

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

The most flexible and broadly useful points are Starpoints, which transfer to American, Alaska, and 27 other airline programs mostly at favorable rates. Every day, 20,000 Starpoints transfers to 25,000 American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles.

The big drawbacks with Starpoints:

  • Most transfers take days.
  • 2 Starpoints transfer to 1 United mile. Since United devalued, I’d love that transfer to get revalued to 1:1 like with American, Delta, Alaska, and dozens of other airlines.

Intermediate Usefulness

These three programs have bigger warts than the programs above, but are too broadly useful for me to call “niche” programs.

  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

Delta

Delta has some definite strengths:

  • There are good value awards and decent space to Australia (Virgin Australia), Africa (Air France), Europe (various partners), Asia (various partners), and South America (AeroMexico). Very few of these awards have fuel surcharges.
  • The often-times higher prices are offset by the ease with which you can earn Delta miles from Delta cards, Membership Rewards-earning cards, and Starpoints-earning cards.
  • Since January 1, 2015, Delta allows one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips.

But the weaknesses are far greater than with competing US-based airlines:

  • Delta doesn’t offer much Saver award space on domestic flights, making it hard to get to a gateway to connect to partner award space abroad. This is a huge drawback.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on a bunch of its partners.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on all awards originating in Europe. This essentially means that its miles can be used for one ways to Europe, but are a terrible value for one ways home.
  • Delta miles cannot be redeemed for three-cabin international First Class.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has a hodge-podge of partners that fly all over the world.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.54.32 AMAlaska has access to some of the world’s most coveted award space like Emirates First Class space with no fuel surcharges.

Some of the award charts are very cheap–there is a different one for each partner to each region–you can book one way awards for half the roundtrip price, and you can even get a stopover on one way awards.

The only thing that holds Alaska miles back from being more widely useful is that you cannot freely combine partners on Alaska awards. Each direction needs to be all one partner’s flights or all one partner’s flights plus Alaska flights. This rule hampers your options incredibly, especially if you don’t live in a city where Alaska flies!

Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards have a large number of partners, but none of them is in the most useful category above. All are 1:1 partners in case otherwise noted.

  • Delta Airlines
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Alitalia Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • British Airways Avios
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EL AL Israel Airlines 1,000 MR to 20 EL AL point
  • Air France & KLM Flying Blue
  • Emirates
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Avios
  • JetBlue 250 MR to 200 TrueBlue Points
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin America 200 MR to 100 Elevate Points

Delta is in this intermediate category, and the rest of the programs are in the niche category below including Virgin Atlantic, Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways Avios,  Flying Blue (Air France), Hawaiian, and Singapore. The big problem is that all the global partners impose fuel surcharges on most of their awards.

You can creatively mostly avoid fuel surcharges, but you have to work hard enough that this program can’t be in the “Broadly Useful” category.

Citi ThankYou Points

ThankYou Points now transfer to 11 airlines at a 1:1 rate:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Qantas miles

I don’t know of a single high value use of the eight programs that are not in bold. But between Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and the ability to use ThankYou Points for 1.25 to 1.6 cents each toward any flight on any airline, this program belongs in the intermediate category.

Singapore miles allow fuel-surcharge-free awards on United flights often for fewer mile than United would charge for the same award including to Hawaii, Europe, South America, and within the continental US; they’re the only way to book Singapore Suites; and they have awesome stopover rules.

Flying Blue miles allow you to book some Delta flights for fewer miles than with Delta miles, and allow access to Promo Awards like 12,500 miles one way to Europe or Israel.

Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t just about 17,500 mile awards to London or 27,500 mile Premium Economy awards to London. They also allow 45,000 mile roundtrips to South America on Delta and a few other high value awards.

Citi partners with American Airlines. If Citi ever adds American Airlines as a 1:1 transfer partner, ThankYou Points will shoot to the most useful category.

Niche Usefulness

The absolute wrong conclusion to draw about the programs in this section is that they are not useful. Each program listed here–and many programs not listed here have some incredible, high-value awards. But most of their awards are a poor value.

You shouldn’t focus all your miles collecting in these programs, but you should know their strengths in case your travel goals overlap with their strengths, and you have transferable points. Here are some of my favorite niche programs and their strengths:

Of course, each of these programs has major flaws. Southwest points can’t be used for First Class, international travel beyond the Caribbean, or any partners. Any Avios awards with layovers get pricey very quickly. Almost all the international programs collect big fuel surcharges on most awards (but not on the awards mentioned above where there are no or small surcharges.)

Because of the weaknesses, I rarely collect miles in niche programs unless there’s an extremely attractive credit card sign up bonus, but I constantly consider the programs as transfer options for my Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints to take advantage of their one or two sweetspots.

Action Item

If you’re currently collecting niche miles with your day-to-day credit card spending, put more of your spending on cards that earn more widely useful miles and points like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months, which earns the most versatile points of all.

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Your Take

Are any of the programs listed here mis-categorized for you? Is one of the niche programs perfect for all your awards? Does one of my “generally useful programs” never seem to offer you value? Am I letting United miles off too lightly for its big devaluation last year?

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American Express Membership Rewards transfers to Virgin Atlantic miles will come with an automatic 25% transfer bonus from now through April 30, 2015. We last saw a 35% bonus in November 2014.

This transfer bonus allows you to fly:

  • One way from the US to London for only 14k Membership Rewards and $131.
  • One way from the US to London in Premium Economy for 22k Membership Rewards + $231.
  • Roundtrip from the US to Buenos Aires (or anywhere else in South America) for 36k Membership Rewards and $77.
  • Tons of other great routes for low mileage, taxes, and fees.

Virgin Atlantic is a London-based longhaul carrier best known for its Upper Class cabins and Clubhouse lounges. (Do not confuse it with Virgin America or Virgin Australia, which are all independent airlines.) It is not part of any alliance, so its dozen airline partners span the globe and all the alliances.

  • Should you transfer Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic?
  • What are the key features of Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club?
  • How can you get to Europe for 14k Membership Rewards and to South America roundtrip for 36k Membership Rewards?
  • How can you get Membership Rewards?

Until April 30, 2015, you can transfer increments of 1,000 American Express points to 1,250 Virgin Atlantic miles automatically at membershiprewards.com.

 

There are three main reasons you would want Virgin Atlantic miles.

1. Among the Cheapest Economy and Premium Economy Awards to Europe (in Miles)

The first reason to get Virgin Atlantic miles is that economy class awards to Europe require far fewer miles than competitors’ charge. From Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago, you only need 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles (14k Membership Rewards) for a one way flight to the United Kingdom.

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

Combine a one way from the eastern United States to Europe for 14k Membership Rewards plus $131 and return from a low tax country–like Spain or Switzerland–to the United States on a one way award with United or American miles for a very cheap European vacation.

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

Or you can fly one way from parts of the United States to the United Kingdom in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy for only 27,500 miles (22k Membership Rewards) and $231.

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

2. Incredible Value Partner Awards

Virgin Atlantic has several airline partners.

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Each has its own award chart, and the values can be good, especially with this transfer bonus. Best of all, on many partners, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t collect any fuel surcharges!

Last year I called Flying Club at (800) 365-9500 and priced out several awards.

The call was fairly smooth although the agent told me that Atlanta to Buenos Aires on Delta wasn’t bookable with Virgin Atlantic miles. When I pressed him to double check, he came back with the news that it indeed is bookable. As always, you may know more than the phone agents, so be polite but firm.

Award prices including unavoidable government taxes (none include fuel surcharges):

  • Atlanta to Buenos Aires in roundtrip economy on Delta: 45k miles (36k MR) + $77.32
  • New York to London in roundtrip economy on Delta: 40k miles (32k MR) + $190.60
  • Atlanta to Los Angeles in roundtrip economy on Delta: 25k miles (20k MR) + $11.20
  • New York to Paris in roundtrip economy on Delta: 60k miles (48k MR) + $90.66
  • New York to Honolulu in roundtrip First on Hawaiian: 130k miles (104k MR) + $11.20
  • New York to LAX in roundtrip Main Cabin Select on Virgin America: 50k miles (40k MR) + $11.20 from Tuesday to Sunday over Thanksgiving

I learned a few key things about partner awards from the call:

  • Delta awards have no fuel surcharges, just the same government taxes as booking with Delta miles.
  • The Delta award chart is way underpriced to Southern South America. Buenos Aires for 36k Membership Rewards roundtrip is a steal. If you transferred Membership Rewards to Delta miles to book the exact same seats, you’d need 60k Membership Rewards.
  • There are no fuel surcharges on Hawaiian Airlines award flights.
  • The Hawaiian award chart says economy roundtrips are “from 40,000 miles” and first is “from 80,000 miles.” Those prices only refer to roundtrips from the western US. The roundtrip price to/from JFK is quite a bit higher.
  • There are no fuel surcharges on Virgin America award flights.
  • Not all Virgin America flights have award space that Virgin Atlantic has access to. There’s no way to check without calling Virgin Atlantic that I know of. Before calling, I didn’t know what to expect with respect to Virgin America space since Virgin America’s program is revenue-based and doesn’t include a concept of “award space.”

3. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic’s Business Class–called Upper Class–is one of the best in the world with many folks comparing it to First Class. I am anxious to fly it.

Virgin Atlantic offers its Flying Club members the best award availability, but the catch is the fuel surcharges (plus departing London taxes) of around $1,000 per roundtrip award in Upper Class.

While the out-of-pocket cost is a big drawback, the miles prices are very low. New York and Chicago to London are only 80k miles (64k Membership Rewards) roundtrip in Upper Class and Los Angeles and San Francisco to London roundtrip in Upper Class are only 100k miles (80k Membership Rewards).

Roundtrip Miles Prices to UK with Flying Club Miles listed Economy, Premium Economy, Upper Class from left to right

If you want to avoid fuel surcharges, Delta miles can be used to book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for 125k miles plus taxes and no fuel surcharges. But Delta SkyMiles members don’t have access to the same award availability as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members.

4. Other uses?

Did I miss any great uses of Virgin Atlantic miles? These small foreign programs get so few expert eyeballs on them, so I know that many have hidden gems. Hopefully I’ve exposed some with the partner flights in this post. If you know of others, share them in the comments please.

Getting the Miles

Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards both transfer 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic miles. Ultimate Rewards have never had a transfer bonus, and I like to use my Ultimate Rewards with United miles, so I strongly favor transferring Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic miles if you want Virgin Atlantic miles.

Membership Rewards are earned by all Platinum and Gold cards.

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Right now, there is also a “90,000 mile sign up bonus” (not really, for reasons explained here) on the Virgin Atlantic credit card.

Recap

The 25% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic has some highly valuable uses including cheap one ways to Europe on Virgin Atlantic, access to better award space in Upper Class with low mileage outlays, and partner awards at very low mileage prices with no fuel surcharges.

Have any of the award possibilities piqued your interest?

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Well, it’s January 31. So today is your last chance to transfer. Since I posted this initially, I have two other posts on Avios:

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American Express Membership Rewards transfers to British Airways Avios will come with an automatic 40% transfer bonus from now through January 31, 2015.

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Is this British Airways transfer bonus a good deal? Should you take advantage of the 40% transfer bonus?

Until January 31, 2015, you can transfer increments of 1,000 AMEX points to 1,400 Avios automatically at membershiprewards.com.

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If you have a use for Avios, this is a fantastic deal.

Avios are great for short, direct, economy tickets on airlines and routes without fuel surcharges.

For more information on Avios partners (all 18 of them), searches, award rules, fees, and how to avoid fuel surcharges, see: FREE FIRST CLASS 2014: BRITISH AIRWAYS AVIOS BASICS

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Starting in 2015, you will only be able to transfer 250,000 Membership Rewards to Delta miles per year and 200,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points to 250,000 Delta miles per year. See Delta FAQ.

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Delta imposed the rule on American Express and Starwood, but it’s so easy to work around that it’s no big deal.

Here’s what membershiprewards.com says about the new rule:

“Beginning January 1, 2015, the maximum number of Membership Rewards® points you will be able to transfer out of a single Membership Rewards account to one or more SkyMiles accounts will be limited to 250,000 points per calendar year. Additionally, the maximum number of Membership Rewards points you will be able to transfer into a single SkyMiles account will also be limited to 250,000 points per calendar year.

You are able to transfer Membership Rewards points to a SkyMiles account without any annual limitations through December 31, 2014.”

  • What is the exact limit on transfers?
  • What are the workarounds to basically get unlimited Delta miles from Membership Rewards and Starpoints transfers?

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I’ve created comparison charts of how many mile a certain award costs with United MileagePlus miles versus the same award with Singapore KrisFlyer miles. Why?

  • Singapore Airlines miles can be used to book all the same Saver award space that United releases to its non-elite members without any fuel surcharges. That makes it a relevant comparison.
  • For many routes, the Singapore KrisFlyer program charges fewer miles to book a United flight than United charges to book the same flight. That makes it a profitable comparison.
  • Singapore miles are extremely easy to get since you can transfer all of the major transferable points to Singapore KrisFlyer miles. That makes it a useful comparison.

The major transferable points are:

I’ve compiled three charts to show whether Singapore miles or United miles are cheaper to any given destination that United serves in economy, business, and first class.

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

Fuel Surcharges

Singapore miles are useful to book Singapore Business Class, First Class, and Suites Class because Singapore doesn’t release all that award space to its partners. Singapore miles are also useful to book United Economy, Business, and First Class.

Awards booked with United miles never include fuel surcharges.

Awards booked with Singapore miles almost always include the fuel surcharges that would be present on a paid ticket. You can verify fuel surcharges by using the ITA Matrix.

The one exception is booking United flights with Singapore miles.

United flights to Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia have fuel surcharges, but Singapore awards do not collect fuel surcharges on any United flights, not even these flights. We want to take advantage of this awesome loophole and book United flights with Singapore miles.

For this reason, all of the charts in this post compare using Singapore miles versus United miles to book United flights.

United awards and Singapore awards that only include United flights should have the exact same government taxes. You may notice a tiny variation because of currency conversions. United awards price in US dollars, and Singapore awards price in Singapore dollars.

Economy Award Charts

All award charts show the one way price in thousands of miles.

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In economy, Singapore offers cheaper prices on flights from the continental United States to Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

United offers cheaper prices on most other international routes, and the two offer the same price to several countries.

Business Class Award Charts

The United column shows the award price for awards booked on United planes. Premium-cabin United awards booked on partner planes cost more miles.

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Singapore offers cheaper business class awards within the United States including to Alaska and Hawaii. On these routes, United markets the best cabin on its two cabin planes as “First Class,” but you are only charged the business class price to book it. This even includes the flat beds you can book to Hawaii.

Singapore also charges fewer miles to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the Middle East, and North Africa on United flights than United does.

United awards cost fewer miles to most of the world, and both programs charge 30,000 miles each way in business class to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

United BusinessFirst as its international business class is known is an underrated fully flat bed I’ve enjoyed several times.

First Class Award Charts

The United column shows the award price for awards booked on United planes. Premium-cabin United awards booked on partner planes cost more miles. I believe these are the only regions to which United flies three-cabin planes other than the occasional domestic flight.

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Singapore charges fewer miles in first class to the Middle East. Oddly, Singapore charges fewer miles in first class to the Middle East than to Europe. I’ll have more on this tomorrow.

United charges fewer miles to the rest of Asia and Australia. To Brazil and Europe, Singapore and United charge the same number of miles to fly United Global First.

United Global First is a solid business class product in my experience, but not a world class First Class.

Getting Singapore Miles

Getting Singapore miles is extremely easy now.

Citi ThankYou Points transfer 1:1 in 22-36 hours to Singapore miles. If I had all four types of points in this section, transferring ThankYou Points would be my first choice. This is the best ThankYou Points transfer partner, and the other options like redeeming the points for 1.25 cents each toward any flight aren’t nearly as valuable.

To get 55,000 ThankYou Points after spending $5,000 over 15 months, start with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

 

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  • Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Annual Fee: $125 (fee waived for the first 12 months). On  4/19/2015, this fee will be reduced to $95 on all accounts
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

The card also offers 3x points on dining and entertainment and 2x points on travel. (These categories flip flop on April 19.)

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

This card has a $125 annual fee that is waived the first year, but you will have to pay it once in year 2 to get the full 50,000 point bonus.

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Singapore miles in about a week. Like all SPG 1:1 transfer partners, for every 20,000 points transferred, you’ll get 5,000 bonus miles. Try to transfer in exact 20,000 Starpoint increments to maximize this 20,000:25,000 transfer ratio.

You can earn Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express.

Chase Ultimate Rewards earned from the Ink Plus and Sapphire Preferred transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Points from the Freedom can transfer to any of those three cards‘ accounts and from there on to Singapore.

Ultimate Rewards are the only one of the four points that also transfer 1:1 to United miles, so people with Ultimate Rewards should definitely bookmark this post.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Any Gold, Platinum, Green, EveryDay, or corporate card will earn Membership Rewards.

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Recap

Singapore KrisFlyer miles can book all the same Saver United award space open to non-elites with United miles. Singapore doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on United flights, so the out of pocket expense on Singapore and United awards should be the same when booking United flights.

To some destinations, Singapore miles are cheaper, including 25% cheaper in flat bed United First Class (priced as business class) to Hawaii. To others, United miles are cheaper, like premium cabins to East Asia. And to many destinations, the price is the same.

If you have Ultimate Rewards, which transfer to either United or Singapore miles, pick the cheaper award chart when you want to book a United flight.

You can also transfer Starpoints, Membership Rewards, and ThankYou Points to Singapore miles.

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card offers a 50,000 ThankYou Point bonus spread over two years and awesome category bonuses like 3x points on dining and entertainment.

See Also

See also my United Award Chart vs. LifeMiles Award Chart post and United Award Chart vs. Lufthansa Award Chart post from a few weeks ago.

See also my posts on booking Singapore Suites, booking Singapore awards to Central America with free one ways to Hawaii, and booking Singapore awards to South America with free one ways to Hawaii.

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There is a 20% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards to Hawaiian Airlines miles until June 23, 2014.

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This can be a good way to top up your Hawaiian Miles balance if you’ve recently gotten The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard® with 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days.

  • Is this a good deal?
  • What is the fee to transfer Membership Rewards to Hawaiian Miles?
  • What are the best deals with Hawaiian Miles?

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I have talked about how Uber is the world’s best taxi app because it has clean, courteous drivers and the easiest taxi-ordering app imaginable. Tap, tap, tap, and a cab whose progress you can track towards you is on its way with a constantly-updated ETA.

And now it has gotten even better. Uber just announced that Americans with iPhones will earn 2x Membership Rewards when they pay with an eligible American Express card (a great deal) and can even use Membership Rewards to pay for their ride at a rate of 1 cent per point (not a great deal.)

Uber Rewards Email Screenshot

 

This is in addition to the current offer where new Uber users can get $20 in free rides when they sign up through my referral link. You need to sign up and take your first ride by June 16, 2014 for the $20 credit. If you miss that deadline though, you’ll still get $10 in free rides.

(I know that clicking that link takes you to a page that says $10 free credit. But I can confirm it is paying out $20 until June 16, 2014 as my targeted Uber email claimed.)

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  • Why is Uber the best taxi service?
  • Why is paying with Membership Rewards not a good deal?
  • What are the best current offers for American Express Membership Rewards cards?

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There is currently a 30% transfer bonus on Membership Rewards transfers to Virgin America.

Until April 30, 2014, 200 Membership Rewards transfer to 130 Elevate points. (The normal rate is 200 Membership Rewards to 100 Elevate points.)

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What are the sweetspots on the Virgin America chart that might make a transfer worthwhile?

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Alaska Airlines flies a direct flight between Anchorage and Honolulu.

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I love interesting routes from Hawaii–like the Island Hopper across the Pacific–since moving to Oahu, but I think this route has some cool possibilities for everyone, like one vacation that combines Alaska and Hawaii this summer.

Anchorage and Honolulu are 2,777 miles apart. This is a sweet spot on British Airways’ distance-based award chart. The approximately six hour flight costs only 12,500 British Airways Avios + $2.50 in taxes.

Combine a one way British Airways award between Alaska and Hawaii with a few other one way awards, and you can create a really cool triangle trip to see the 49th and 50th states for as little as 40k points.

Possible Summer Trip for a Chicagoan
Possible Summer Trip for a Chicagoan

What are the best awards to combine with the Alaska Airlines flight between Hawaii and Alaska? What is the award space on these routes? In what program, do you need to amass only 40k miles to take the whole trip?

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

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Air Canada Aeroplan miles are roughly line with other award charts for travel to Central and South America, though a bit better value than United miles for awards to Southern South America (e.g. Brazil and Argentina).

Air Canada charges 60,000 miles (30k oneway) for roundtrip business class awards to Central & Northern South America and 85,000 miles (42.5k oneway) for first class awards. Southern South America awards are 95,000 miles (47.5k oneway) in business and 135,000 miles in first class.

Aeroplan Award Pricing
Aeroplan Roundtrip Pricing ex-US

The Central and South American regions are broken down by Air Canada as follows:

Aeroplan Regions

Many European and Asian Star Alliance carriers must be avoided when booking Aeroplan awards, as their pricey fuel surcharges eat up any potential savings.

Luckily, there are relatively few instances of fuel surcharges when booking Aeroplan awards to Central and South America.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Central and South America? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

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

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Air Canada Aeroplan miles were once a solid value for business class travel between the continental US/Canada and Oceania. They charged 135k/190k for roundtrip business/first class award seats prior to their infamous summer 2013 devaluation.

After United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s double devaluation, Air Canada Aeroplan miles are roughly equivalent to competitors for Oceanic travel.

US Airways is the absolute best bargain for travel to Oceania (110k miles roundtrip in business, 140k in first), and you can still use Dividend Miles for awards on Star Alliance carriers until March 30th.

American’s chart is also a solid value, as it only takes 62.5k/72.5k AAdvantage miles to reach the South Pacific one way in business/first class. I was luckily able to snag a rare first class seat on Qantas last month. Scott had issues with his seat in Qantas business class, though.

Delta’s 160k business class seats on partner Virgin Australia are expensive, but the amount of available seats to Australia is sometimes jaw-dropping.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada now charges 160,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (80k oneway) for travel to the South Pacific region comprised of the countries below.

Oceanic Region

 

Aeroplan Oceania Award Chart

United miles are a better value for travel to Australia on United metal. A oneway award only costs 70k miles. First class on United should also be booked with United miles (80k oneway). Scott flew United’s GlobalFirst product from Los Angeles to Sydney and enjoyed the experience.

First class on Star Alliance partners is a better value with Aeroplan miles (110k vs. 130k), but there aren’t many bookable first class awards that fit the criteria.

As mentioned in previous posts, not all Star Alliance carriers are the same when redeeming Aeroplan miles. Air Canada collects fuel surcharges on its own flights and certain partners like Thai. Luckily, the few Star Alliance airlines that service Oceania don’t incur these fuel surcharges.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Australia and New Zealand? Is routing via Asia possible (or even worth it)?

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

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

After Aeroplan’s summer 2013 devaluation, its award chart for travel to Africa and the Middle East (especially) became expensive relative to other carriers.

Aeroplan Roundtrip Award Chart from US/Canada
Aeroplan Roundtrip Award Chart from US/Canada

Sadly, United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s double devaluation brought Air Canada Aeroplan miles in line with the likes of United and Delta.

American’s chart is decently priced for business class travel to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent. In fact, I used 67.5k AAdvantage miles for my one way award from Washington D.C. to the Maldives in business class on Etihad. Their African award chart nearly mirrors Air Canada’s.

US Airways has by far the best pricing for premium cabin travel to Africa (110k miles roundtrip in business, 150k in first), and you can still use Dividend Miles for awards on Star Alliance carriers until March 30th.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada charges 165,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (82.5k oneway) for travel to the Middle East and North Africa comprised of the countries below.

Middle East & North Africa

82,500 miles is slightly more expensive than United’s inflated Star Alliance partner award chart. United charges 70k miles oneway for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and 80k miles on Star Alliance partners.

Air Canada’s second African award chart (East/West/South Africa) encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan business class award costs 150,000 miles (75k oneway) to the below countries.

EastWestSouthAfrica

This is a better region to use Aeroplan miles over United miles, as Aeroplan business class awards will cost 5k less miles (75k oneway) than using United’s Star Alliance award chart (80k oneway).

As mentioned in previous posts, not all Star Alliance carriers are the same when redeeming Aeroplan miles. Air Canada assesses fuel surcharges on their own flights and certain partners. Luckily, most Star Alliance airlines in the African region don’t incur these fuel surcharges.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Africa and the Middle East? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

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

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Europe is an absolute award chart bargain compared to Aeroplan’s mileage requirement for Asian travel. After Aeroplan’s summer 2013 devaluation, its award chart for travel to Asia became very expensive relative to other carriers.

Sadly, United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s unprecedented double devaluation brought Air Canada Aeroplan miles in line with the likes of United and Delta. American and US Airways have by far the best pricing for premium cabin travel to Asia, but this post is meant for those lacking those two mileage currencies.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada charges 150,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (75k oneway) for travel to Asia Zone 1 which represents quite a few countries, including Thailand and Vietnam that are normally grouped in a more expensive category with other frequent flyer programs.

Asia Zone 1

Seventy five thousand miles is comparable to United’s new inflated award chart. United charges 70k miles roundtrip for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and 80k miles on Star Alliance partners. Delta begins charging 140k SkyMiles for business class awards to Asia for flights starting June 1, 2014.

Asia Zone 2 encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan award costs 155,000 miles (77.5k oneway) to the below countries.

Asia Zone 2

There are certain Star Alliance carriers that Air Canada assesses dreaded fuel surcharges. Choosing to fly certain partners could cost over $1,000 per person in addition to the miles!

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Asia? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

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