American

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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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This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free one ways on United and US Airways awards.

A free one way is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free one ways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free one ways on its awards in April 2014 by nixing all free stopovers because free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport. Delta killed its free one ways on January 1, 2015 with the elimination of free stopovers on its awards (though in return, we do now get to book one way Delta awards.)

What’s the current state of free one ways with major frequent flyer programs?

If you get confused during this post, please read my Introduction to Free One Ways.

Alaska Airlines

Free one ways are possible on one way Alaska Airlines awards. That means you can book two free one ways per roundtrip awards.

Alaska has an amazing group of partners:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways (fuel surcharges)
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Fiji
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska (flights within Alaska)
  • PenAir (flights within Alaska)

Unfortunately you must book only one partner each one way award (you may add Alaska Airlines flights as well.) And unfortunately most Alaska Airlines awards need to either start or end in the United States.

Abide by those rules, though, and enjoy some amazing free one way opportunities.

For full details, see Free One Ways on Alaska Airlines Awards.

American Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with American Airlines miles. Free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport, and American has eliminated the chance to take any free stopovers on awards.

British Airways

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with Avios. Every flight on an Avios award has a mileage cost (determined exclusively by its distance and the cabin you book.) If every flight has a cost, there’s no way to get one for free as a free one way.

Delta Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on Delta awards since stopovers were eliminated on January 1, 2015.

United Airlines

Free one ways are possible on both international United awards and awards between the mainland and Hawaii. Free one ways are not possible on awards wholly within the mainland United States and Canada.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.24.10 PM
Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.24.16 PM

You can either have a free one way BEFORE your main roundtrip award TO your home airport or AFTER your main roundtrip award FROM your home airport.

United’s routing rules are pretty lenient for free one ways. You can do some amazing backtracking. You can also do “cheap one ways” where you fly the extra leg to a distant land and pay far fewer miles than you “should.”

You will get a lot of errors trying to book free one ways on united.com because united.com’s multi-city search tool is broken. Don’t despair. Find all the space you need with one way searches, then call in to book.

For full details, see Master Thread: Free One Ways on United Awards.

While American, US Airways (by ending its mileage program), and Delta killed its free one ways recently, and free one ways have never been possible with Avios, free one ways are still possible on awards booked with United and Alaska miles.

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4

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We’ve been getting bad news in the miles world lately, so let me state unequivocally: miles still offer unmatched value to travel the world more, better, and cheaper.

Here’s a round-the-world (RTW) trip you can take with miles that took me me about 10 minutes to find the award space for.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.54.14 AM

There’s nothing particularly important about the cities or even the regions where this trip stops. It just shows an easy RTW award using one way awards. (This is the way to construct RTW awards now that American and Delta eliminated their true RTW awards in 2014.)

The Award

  • Virgin Australia flat bed Business Class from Los Angeles to Sydney: 80,000 Delta miles
  • Etihad First Class on its A380 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi: 60,000 American Airlines miles
  • airberlin flat bed Business Class from Abu Dhabi to Berlin: 25,000 British Airways Avios
  • airberlin and US Airways economy from Berlin to Los Angeles: 20,000 American Airlines miles

That’s 185,000 miles for an award that features mostly flat beds.  One person could get the necessary miles from four credit cards.

There’s nothing crucial about choosing the three cities I chose for stops. You can choose other cities–or see many cities in each region.

The Search

The searching took me about 10 minutes. I chose a November/December time frame for the search to maximize the weather in Sydney and Abu Dhabi and because many people get some free vacation days around Thanksgiving.

I did not search sequentially. I started my search by looking for Etihad First Class award space, which is the second part of the trip. This follows the basic principle to always search the hardest leg of a trip first. Not that Etihad First Class award space on its A380 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi is hard to find, but it is harder to find than the other awards on this trip, which are all gimmes.

Sydney to Abu Dhabi Search
Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 12.27.11 PM
A seat plus a couch/bed in First on the Etihad A380

First Class award space from Sydney to Abu Dhabi is excellent in November. All those days below that say “Miles 121597″ have award space you can book for 60,000 American Airlines miles.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.37.40 AM

But note that there are two daily flights, and only the evening one is on the A380.

For full details on searching etihad.com, the A380 First Class Service, and award space on the route, see Amazing Award Space for 2 on Nicest First Class in the World? 14 Hours in Etihad A380 First Class for 60,000 Miles.

Los Angeles to Sydney Search

After picking November 22 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, I circled back to the beginning and searched from Los Angeles to Sydney. There is award space nearly every day in Business Class on Virgin Australia on the route. It costs 80,000 Delta miles per person and is searchable on delta.com.Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.38.14 AM

I picked November 12 for the Los Angeles-to-Sydney leg. Look at the award space that day:Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.39.32 AM

  • Delta’s nonstop bed is 175,000 miles.
  • Connecting in Korea is 80,000 miles but adds 10 hours.
  • Virgin Australia’s nonstop bed is 80,000 miles.

Easy choice with the Virgin Australia bed.

For more info on the search, product, and award space, see Award Space for 12 to Australia over Christmas and New Year.

Abu Dhabi to Berlin Search

airberlin, the oneworld member, has daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Berlin. airblerin flights do not have fuel surcharges, so they are a great way to use Avios.

Award space is exellent on the flights in economy and flat bed Business Class.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.42.04 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.42.13 AM

The award costs 12,500 Avios in economy and 25,000 Avios in Business Class plus nominal taxes.Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.43.20 AM

This award will go up to 37,500 Avios in Business Class with the April 28, 2015 devaluation of Avios.

Here’s how to search on ba.com.

Berlin to Los Angeles Flight

For the last award, I wanted to book economy. Early December is part of American Airlines’ off peak season for economy awards between the United States and Europe (October 15 to May 15 every year.) These awards cost only 20,000 American Airlines miles.

Since we’re looking at daytime flights, economy seems bearable.

I found the following award for 20,000 AA miles + taxes.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.52.04 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.52.08 AMairberlin space is excellent to the United States this winter.

The full trip looks like this.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.54.14 AM

 

  • November 12: Los Angeles to Sydney in Virgin Australia Business Class
  • November 22: Sydney to Abu Dhabi in Etihad First Class
  • November 25: Abu Dhabi to Berlin in airberlin Business Class
  • December 2: Berlin to Chicago to Phoenix to Los Angeles in airberlin/US Airways economy

The total cost is 80,000 Delta miles, 80,000 American miles, and 25,000 British Airways Avios plus about $190 in taxes, no fees or fuel surcharges.

Getting the Miles

American Airlines miles are super easy to get.

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards, and that would earn more than the 80,000 American Airlines miles needed.

The third card you’d want is the Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-BenzThe Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card has a $475 annual fee in the first year. But it comes with huge benefits like airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, and hotel status. For more info on setting up and maximizing the benefits, see Get the Most Out of Your Platinum Card.

The last card is the next Membership Rewards or Delta co-branded card that offers a 50,000 point/mile bonus. These offers are frequent, but I don’t know of any others right now besides the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card above.

With these four cards, you’d have 106,000 American Airlines miles and either 100,000+ Membership Rewards or 50,000+ Delta miles and 50,000+ Membership Rewards. Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 to Delta miles and British Airways Avios, so you can spread them around to have 80,000 Delta miles and 25,000 Avios.

Bottom Line

It’s really easy to put together a dream RTW trip with miles because miles still offer an incredible value. There’s nothing special about living in Los Angeles or visiting Sydney, Abu Dhabi, and Berlin as in my example. No matter where you live and want to go, these great deals exist. (I felt sad not including this flight in my example.)

What is your favorite string of one way awards that creates a RTW award?

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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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American Airlines, United, Delta, and US Airways all release several co-branded credit cards with various benefits, bonuses, and fees.

I have attempted to summarize the following cards on one table for easy comparison:

I consider these to be the “basic” personal card for each of the four legacy carriers in the United States. Each airline also has a lower-tier cards which earn miles at a lower rate and come with no sign up bonus. And several of the airlines have higher tier cards that come with gigantic annual fees and even better benefits. But these are the four basic cards.

  • Which cards have the best sign up bonus?
  • Which have the best benefits?

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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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Sometimes you can go really far for not very miles by finding underpriced countries on your favorite award chart.

Award charts, by their nature, group several countries together for a single price. The countries at the extremes of each group are often underpriced relative to the rest of the group, leaving you the chance to get a great deal with your miles.

Here are five examples of underpriced countries on the American Airlines, United, Delta, US Airways, and British Airways award charts.

1. Peru, by American, United, and Delta

Peru is the farthest south country in Northern South America on the American Airlines, United, and Delta charts. I’ve previously called Peru the Best Destination for Lie Flat Seats because it is the only country in its region with lie flat seats offered by United, Delta, and American’s partner LAN.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 11.45.37 AM
The most distant country in Northern South America is Peru

You can book a one way award from the United States to Peru for as little as 15,000 American Airlines miles each way in economy on these dates: between January 16 – June 14 and September 7 – November 14. That’s only 2,500 miles more than a one way award within the continental United States and cheaper than an award to Hawaii despite Peru being farther award from the continental United States than Hawaii.

You can fly flat beds to Peru for:

  • 30,000 American Airlines miles each way (LAN)
  • 35,000 United miles each way (United)
  • 90,000 Delta miles roundtrip (Delta) [45,000 miles each way starting 1/1/15]

That’s cheaper than flat beds to Hawaii, despite Peru being farther away from the continental United States. Those prices are also a huge discount on the prices to Chile, Brazil, and Argentina which are just a few hours more of flying.

Peru also happens to be my favorite country to visit. Here’s my Top Ten Things to Do, Eat, and See in Peru.

  • What are the other four underpriced countries?

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Update on 9/23/14 to Remove Reference to American Airlines award stopovers and free one ways, which are no longer possible.

Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to visit, and judging by the number of inquiries I get about booking awards to Hawaii, it’s clear that many people agree. There are a number of cheap ways to get there that I’ll list in order.

1. Allegiant Air $358+ roundtrip- Allegiant Air is a super-low cost carrier that announced flights to Hawaii that will start in November. Flights to Honolulu from Bellingham, Eugene, Fresno, Las Vegas, Monterey, Santa Maria, and Stockton; and flights to Kahului from Bellingham begin in November. The flights are as cheap as $308 roundtrip, but a carryon will cost $50 roundtrip and a checked bag is $70 roundtrip. Additionally if you want to select your seat or board early, you have to pay extra.

But if you live in one of the cities serviced by Allegiant, don’t mind a middle seat for five hours, and can travel with only one bag, $358 roundtrip to Hawaii is the best deal in my opinion.

One key caveat is that Allegiant flights don’t earn any frequent flier miles or credit of any kind. Since normally flying from the west coast to Hawaii earns about 5,000 miles, and I value 5,000 miles at around $85 depending on the carrier, Allegiant flights must be $85 or more cheaper than the legacy carriers for this to be a good deal. Since the legacy carriers want $600+ from the west coast to Hawaii right now, Allegiant easily meets the criterion.

You can always pay for your Allegiant flights, bag fees, seat fees, and food with a Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®. Then you can redeem Arrival miles to remove those purchases from your statement. You could even use your Arrival miles for an airbnb stay in Hawaii or interisland flights.

2. Avios Award 25,000+ Avios and $11+ roundtrip- I love that Avios is a distance-based award chart. Flights like the west coast to Hawaii cost only 12,500 Avios each way plus taxes. For 25,000 Avios and $11, you can fly on AA planes from LAX to the four major Hawaiian airports.

Alaska Airlines has way more gateways on the mainland to the four major Hawaiian airports. For 25,000 Avios and $36, you can fly from Anchorage, Bellingham, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle to Hawaii. The extra $25 on Avios awards comes from the fact that awards on Alaska Airlines can’t be booked on ba.com, and calling BA incurs a $25 phone fee.

Avios is also the best option for anyone who lives close to one of the airports mentioned in this section, since a short hop flight only adds 4,500 Avios and $2.50 to the price each way. That means Tuscon to Los Angeles to Lihue roundtrip would be 34,000 Avios and $16.

Avios can be used for oneway awards at half the price of a roundtrip award, which means that if you can’t get the Avios deal both ways, it’s still a good idea to go oneway for 12,500 Avios and use another oneway deal.

See here for an Anatomy of an Award post for a step-by-step breakdown of the time I booked a oneway award from Honolulu to LAX with Avios.

3. Hawaiian Airlines Award 35,000 miles and $11- Hawaiian Airlines awards start at 35,000 miles for Hawaiian Airlines branded card holders. The normal price is 40,000 miles. While this price is no cheaper than an American Airlines off peak award to Hawaii, I think it’s a better deal because Hawaiian Airlines miles are worth less than most programs’ miles. (The reason Hawaiian miles are worth less is their lack of partners, junk long haul first class product, and lack of destinations.)

Hawaiian also has the only direct flight from Honolulu to JFK, which at 35,000 miles and $5 is a fantastic value in terms of low cost and getting a direct flight. The other flights Hawaiian operates from Honolulu to the mainland go to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle.

Hawaiian miles can be used for oneway awards at half the price of a roundtrip award, which means that if you can’t get the Avios deal both ways, this can be combined with a oneway Avios deal.

See here for an Anatomy of an Award post for a step-by-step breakdown of the time I booked a oneway award from LAX to Honolulu with Hawaiian miles. The post also includes information on the very useful mile pooling allowed by Hawaiian.

4. Star Alliance options from as little as 35,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 60,000 miles in First.

See this post.

 

15

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

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 1.56.52 AM

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

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

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

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There is:

  • widely available
  • underpriced
  • economy award space
  • for two passengers
  • for all of 2014
  • to Australia
  • with the opportunity to stop in Hawaii for a few days in either direction.

If you have 75,000 American Airlines miles and about $100, you can fly a roundtrip award from the United States to Australia on almost any day you want this year. Stop in Honolulu, stop in Los Angeles, or stop in each place one direction to make the trip even more interesting!

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 3.00.02 AM

How can you book this incredible award space online? What are your stopover options?

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I recently booked two flights for only $102 total on Asian low-cost carriers. Asian low-cost carriers are so cheap that there are effects on United and American awards you might be considering booking.

I booked Kuala Lumpur to Lankawi for $27 on Air Asia, and I spent another $75 on a Firefly flight from Penang to Phuket. (I ferried between Langkawi and Penang for $19.)

What important effects do Asian low-cost carriers have on award booking strategy?

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I think it’s a big mistake to be a hub-captive. There’s no reason that the credit cards you open have to be related to the dominant carrier at your airport.

Your life will be better if you instead open up the best card for the trip you want regardless of the airline that dominates your home airport.

Why should you ignore your hubby?

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Early planners are looking to book their summer trips to Europe for 2014 right now, since award space is loaded 11 months in advance. Our Award Booking Service is currently handling a lot of these requests, and award space in premium cabins is awful at the moment.

But don’t despair, there is award space in business class to Europe for next summer.

Where can you find business class award space to Europe for next summer?

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United scared me a lot on Friday when it tweeted that changes were coming to MileagePlus.

United still hasn’t told us what those changes are, but insists we’ll like them.

It’s very unlikely I’ll like them much. It could be a minor enhancement, but there are very few things I would change about United MileagePlus that United would also change. (That is, I would love for the change to be that all awards now cost 5,000 miles, but that won’t happen.)

But there are a lot of negative possible changes that could come like award chart devaluations, restrictions on routing rules, more surcharges and fees, or a throttling of ultra-premium availability.

In this post I’ll lay out my single biggest fear for each of several major programs’ next round of changes.

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There are a lot of reasons to use an Award Booking Service, like the MileValue Award Booking Service. One great reason is because you have miles in several accounts and want to use the most efficient type for the trip you have in mind. Different miles have different best uses.

Recently I was contacted by a friend who had mid-six-figure account balances in his American, United, and Delta accounts. He wanted a simple open jaw trip to Europe in economy class. From Washington-Dulles to Nice and returning from London to Dulles.

Below is the email I sent to him. The only edits are that I have inserted images that I attached to the email, and I have added some hyperlinks to other posts that expand on a point I am making in the email.

In the email you’ll see the options I presented, and how I was able to book him a free oneway and an award that got him 2.3 cents of value for each United mile!

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Hey [buddy],

I wanted to let you in on what I’ve found.

First, I don’t know if you have any flexibility, but when possible on open jaw trips I recommend flying into London and out of France. The UK has the highest departure taxes in the world of about $155.

The UK departure taxes is if he went ahead with his trip plans.

This is more of an issue when flying business class where it’s more like $250. But you could save money by reversing the directions of this trip. If that’s possible, let me know.

United miles

I started with United miles as you directed. The return is super easy. There are four direct flights on your preferred date, all with space in economy. These are all the saver price of 30k miles.

Four perfect, direct options on the return.

The outbound is a lot trickier. The best option, and the only one that gets you in on your desired day leaves the day before and has an overnight in London. It’s one of those weird daytime flights to Europe, then a night at an airport hotel and London-Frankfurt-Nice then next day, arriving at 2:05 PM on your desired day. This is the earliest arrival possible. It’s not ideal, but it is the best 30k saver option.

Daytime flight to London connecting to…

 

…after an overnight in London, it’s two more flights to Nice to arrive in the afternoon.

The other option for the outbound is to book a “standard” award for 55,000 miles. The itinerary is a lot better, since it is one stop, a redeye across the Atlantic, and doesn’t require an overnight en route.

Ideal itinerary, but an extra 25k miles.

 

I hate to book “standard” price awards, but this might not be horrible for a few reasons. One, the roundtrip award would only be 85k miles + taxes, which is a steal compared to the $2,200 itinerary you found, and the award itinerary would actually be more convenient than the paid one you mentioned. [The paid itinerary he was considering had a one-stop return.] Second, within a week of departure United and Lufthansa tend to open up a lot of award space if seats are unsold–especially in business and first, but also in economy. When that happens, we can rebook that space.

If we rebook to saver economy, the award would be 60k miles like we want. If there is no saver economy space, but there is saver business, that would be an 80k mile award. It would save 5k miles and get you in business one way as a surprise treat. The one drawback of a last minute rebooking is the $75 fee for making a change within 21 days of departure, but that is swamped by saving 25k miles or saving 5k and upgrading to business class.

There are no guarantees with award space, but I would estimate the chances of a good saver economy itinerary opening up at 50%; a good saver business has an 80% chance of opening up.

American Airlines miles

For good measure, I looked at award space with AA miles next. The big problem is that if you book British Airways flights with AA miles, you incur fuel surcharges of about $300 per transatlantic segment. This is a big enough drawback on business awards, but on economy awards like this one, it’s a near deal killer.

I didn’t find any transatlantic award space that we could use on the no- or low-surcharge AA partners. I did find space on a BA flight, leaving and arriving one day later than you want. It cost 30,000 AA miles and $315.

A nasty surcharge on an AA award on BA flights is deal-killer in economy.

This compares to taxes of about $40 to $60 on the outbounds with United miles.

There were no good return options with AA miles.

Delta miles

Finally I checked space with your Delta miles. This was a bust. I didn’t find any good space on Delta or any of its partners. (I even looked at routing you through Russia on Aeroflot, which surely would have been an adventure!)

Putting it All Together

Both United and American can be used to book oneway awards. The return should pretty clearly be on your preferred flight of the four direct LHR-IAD flights on United.

For the outbound, you can choose the overnight in London, the “standard” award with the great schedule, or the fuel-surcharged and day-late BA itinerary.

If you choose to overnight in London, the total cost will be 60k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $210. The cool this is that you can add a FREE ONEWAY to this trip. By that I mean that sometime between your return from London and April 2, 2014, you can fly a oneway trip on United from Dulles to somewhere else–pretty much anywhere else. If that somewhere is in the continental US or Canada, it will cost $2.50 and zero miles to add to the award. If that somewhere else is in Hawaii, it will cost 2,500 miles and a few dollars. If it’s in Peru, it will cost 10,000 miles. Let me know when and where, and we’ll book the award to include the free or cheap oneway.

If you choose the perfect outbound via Frankfurt, the total cost will be 85k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $220. This trip would be eligible for the same additional free or cheap oneway (although some of the cheap oneways’ mile costs will be slightly different than those quoted in the last paragraph.)

If you choose the day-late outbound on BA, the total cost will be 30k United miles, 30k AA miles, and taxes/fees of about $500. This trip would be eligible for a free oneway but only between now and your departure date from anywhere in Canada, the US, or Mexico to Washington on AA or an AA partner.

Please let me know your thoughts on how you want to proceed. If you select something, I should be able to put it on hold for you to call in and ticket.

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I wanted to give an example of how I think, how I search, and how I communicate about award bookings. As you can see, I left a ton out of this email. For instance, I obviously searched for business class options instead of the “standard” option via Frankfurt, and I searched other dates near his date. But I left those searches out of the email for brevity.

I didn’t write a treatise on free oneways into the email, perhaps confusing someone who had never heard of them before. He did decide to book one to San Francisco once he understood the concept.

Once he made his selection, I held the award online. This did not go smoothly as United had its most common problem on multi-city searches: not showing all the options. I held something online using Bill’s trick, and I called in to edit the reservation to the correct flights.

Although it is not part of the ordinary service, I will be checking for award space to make a last second change to his award.

In general, I think the award booking went well. He was certainly thrilled with the results. I was a bit bummed to be booking an award that was dinged by UK departure taxes and included a “standard” (high-miles-price) component, but a lack of flexibility necessitated those choices.

I think something approaching good value was still achieved with the addition of a cross-country free oneway with a sticker price of $214 and not having to buy a ticket with a sticker price of $2,200.

The Mile Value Calculator says he got 2.3 cents of value per mile!

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The merger of American Airlines and US Airways, announced today, is no news in the near term, fantastic news in the medium term, and bad news in the long term for me and similarly situated frequent flyer mile hackers.

No News in the Near Term

Your US Airways Dividend Miles are still there. They can still be used to book all the same awards as you’re accustomed to on Star Alliance partners.

Your American Airlines AAdvantage miles are still there. They can still be used to book the same awards as you’re accustomed to on oneworld partners.

Fantastic News in the Medium Term

In the next 12-36 months, the value of AAdvantage miles and Dividend Miles will both rise. Why?

  1. We are unlikely to see chart devaluations for two or more years. There are other things to do in a merger, and angering loyal customers is at the bottom of the list.
  2. We are likely to have the ability to transfer miles between our US Airways and American Airlines accounts. This was a feature of the United/Continental merger. This is still an incredible feature of the Southwest/AirTran merger.
  3. We are definitely going to have our US Airways and American miles combined at some point. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One big balance gives you more options than two medium ones.

The US Airways chart has to be devalued soon. It is way too generous. I’ve written a handful of posts on its sweetspots to South America, within South America, to Australia via Asia, within South Asia, and to North Asia.

The American Airlines chart was possibly the next devaluation. Its off peak awards, and prices to Australia and Asia were happily below market price.

The merger will postpone the devaluations because the new American wants to keep its loyal customers loyal.

Until the two loyalty programs of the former US and former AA merge, there will be two award charts. And if this merger is anything like United/Continental or Southwest/AirTran, we will be given the option to link our US Airways and American Airlines accounts and transfer miles between them freely.

That would be fantastic news in the medium term because not only could you combine your miles for more incredible awards, but you could select the better chart for each award you do book and have access to all of the Star Alliance and oneworld.

That means all of US Airways sweetspot awards, oneway bookings through American, the Star Alliance’s strength to Europe, and oneworld’s strength to South America could all be harnessed whether you currently have a stash of US miles, AA miles, or some of each.

Of course, you couldn’t get all those on the same award. You would either have to transfer to US Airways and use its strengths or transfer to AA for its strengths. But I am salivating at the possibility. Unfortunately this remains only a possibility because no details were given on whether this transferring would be allowed. I sure hope it is.

We can be almost positive that when the two loyalty programs officially merge into one programs our miles will be combined. That’s good because one larger balance is always worth more than two smaller ones. Among the many benefits of one larger balance will be the increased likelihood you have enough miles for American Airlines Explorer Awards–their most valuable awards, which I’ll be discussing in depth in the next week.

Bad News in the Long Term

The merger is good news for the airline industry and bad news for consumers in the long term. Fewer airlines will mean less competition. We’ll see higher fares–and far worse–fewer credit card offerings possibly with lower sign up bonuses.

In a few years, instead of seeing the Citi American Airlines cards and the Barclay’s US Airways cards, we’ll see just the New American Airlines cards, wherever they are issued.

How to Exploit the American Airlines/US Airways Merger

While the two airlines are still separate and issuing their own credit cards and miles, I am going to try to rack up as many as possible of each kind.

As I’ve said, best practice is to apply for one personal card from each issuing bank every 91 days. Normally I get the card with the most valuable sign up bonus at the time, but there are occasionally other things to consider. The fact that Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard is virtually certain to disappear, and the Citi American Airlines cards may also disappear strongly argues for getting these cards now.

Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard Strategy

In my experience, and other reports I’ve read, you can get at least two Barclay’s US Airways MasterCards. They can be open simultaneously, and you can get the 30,000 mile bonus twice. You should apply for a Barclay’s US Airways MsaterCard today.

Application Link: US Airways Premier World MasterCard with 30,000 US Airways miles after first purchase

In 91 days, you should apply for the card again. In 182 days, you should check back here to see whether people have had success getting three.

You should be able to rack up at least 60,000 US Airways MasterCards in this way before the merger. You can use those miles on US Airways’ fantastic chart or, in the future, on the new American.

There is also a US Airways Business MasterCard with 25,000 US Airways miles after first purchase. I would consider this card too. Its sign up bonus isn’t huge, but it will disappear soon, and I don’t know of any better business cards offered by Barclay’s.

Citi American Airlines Card Strategy

Citi has several American Airlines cards. Until recently, you could get two at the same time. I think the two browser trick is dead from the reader emails and FlyerTalk reports I’ve read.

But you can still get one personal American Airlines card now for 30k miles and one business card for another 30k.

 

You can’t get a new AA personal card every 91 days. You actually have to wait 18 months between applications. With the slow pace of airline mergers, you may be able to get AA cards now and in 18 months before the merger is completed.

What Cards Will the New Airline Offer?

No one knows for sure. Since the US Airways brand is disappearing, we know its cards will too, making getting the US Airways Premier World MasterCard a more pressing matter. I hope both cards are discontinued, and a new one is released. A new card would mean a new sign up bonus we were all eligible for.

Time to Burn Miles?

I think we’ll be given several months notice whenever the status of our miles or an award chart will change, so I am not in burn mode for now. When we get that notice, we will probably be able to book under the old rules for a few months plus be able to book flights 11 months in advance. With all that lead time, I am in no hurry to burn. I will be booking awards at my normal rate for myself based on my travel desires, not a need to zero out my balances.

Recap

The American Airlines/US Airways merger is no news for now, fantastic new for the next few years, and bad news afterwards. There is no hurry to burn either type of miles, but there is a hurry to earn both types before opportunities to do so disappear. I recommend getting the US Airways MasterCard and Citi American Airlines cards now (and again later) before they disappear.

Application Link: US Airways Premier World MasterCard with 30,000 US Airways miles after first purchase

Application Link: Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard® with 30,000 miles after $1k in spending in the first three months

Application Link: CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard® with identical 30k mile sign up bonus after $1k in spending in the first three months

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