American

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From February 1, 2016, Emirates will fly daily between Dubai and Panama City, which will be the longest scheduled commercial flight at over 8,500 miles. The flight is blocked for 17:35 heading west. Hopefully the flight will be bookable with Alaska miles, and it will definitely be bookable with Japan Airlines miles.

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I have a special interest in long flights because when I am flying an ultra-luxurious First Class, I don’t want the flight to end. Eight hours–a typical transatlantic flight–are not enough. I want 12 hours, maybe 16 hours.

Right now the top ten longest flights include five that are bookable with American Airlines miles. That’s important because American has the cheapest award chart, and for a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months. One of these flights costs only 67,500 miles in First Class.

  • #1: Dallas to Sydney on Qantas: 8,578 miles and 16:55
  • #3: Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles on Etihad: 8,390 miles and 16:30
  • #7: Abu Dhabi to San Francisco on Etihad: 8,168 miles and 16:15
  • #8: Dallas to Hong Kong on American: 8,123 miles and 17:05
  • #10: New York to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific: 8,067 miles and 16:15 (my trip report)

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What’s the Award Space on These Ultra-Longhauls?

#1: Dallas to Sydney

The longest current flight in the world is operated by a Qantas A380. “That’s awesome!” you might be thinking since the Qantas A380 has a fantastic First Class product.

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Yes, but Qantas releases almost no First Class award space on its A380 routes to America.

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Right now there is decent economy award space in both directions on the route. And there are exactly two days with a Business Class award seat from Dallas to Sydney in the next 11 months. (Here’s my review of Qantas Business Class on the A380.)

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.25.32 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.26.07 PM

When First Class space does appear, it is usually 8-11 months out and a single seat. It costs only 72,500 American Airlines miles one way.

#3 and #7: Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles and San Francisco

Award space in First Class is pretty good (and sometimes great) on Etihad’s flights to California. You can search on etihad.com as described here. All Guest Seat award space can be booked by calling American Airlines.

The Los Angeles flight is operated by a 777-200LR (trip report here).

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.00.12 PM

Award space is mainly available this week and next Spring, though award space is scattered throughout the calendar. Look for days that say “Miles 144,024.” You will not pay that price because American charges only 90,000 miles one way in First Class between the United States and the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent.

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San Francisco is operated by a leased Jet Airways plane (trip report here).

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Award space is very available on this route–this week next Winter, and next Spring.Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.59.07 PM
Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.59.42 PMNearly every day has award space in Etihad First Class on the San Francisco route.

#8 Dallas to Hong Kong

American Airlines has released zero Business and First Class on the route for the next 11 months. It is being very stingy with longhaul premium cabin award space on its own flights at the moment. Thank god for partners.

The award would cost 67,500 American Airlines miles one way.

#10 New York to Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific releases tons of Business and First Class award space on its several daily fights from New York to Hong Kong.

The best times to look are in the few days before departure and 11 months out on ba.com. Then book by calling American Airlines.

Tomorrow, unfortunately, there is no First Class space on the route, though one flight has six Business Class seats.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.02.43 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.02.50 PMLooking 11 months out, we see a pretty predictable pattern. Most flights have 1-5 Business Class seats, and some flights have 1-2 First Class seats.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.02.43 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.04.10 PMAmerican charges 55,000 miles one way in Business Class and 67,500 miles in First Class on the route.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.02.43 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.04.36 PM

I flew this exact route and loved it. I slept for eight hours early on and enjoyed the service and entertainment for about eight hours. (See my trip report.)

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Bottom Line

American Airlines miles can book five of the world’s 10 longest flights, each 16 hours or longer. If you can snag one of these flights in Business or First Class, you are in heaven. You’ll enjoy a full night sleep, two full meals, and plenty of time to take advantage of the entertainment options.

Award space varies on the route from zero (AA’s DFW-HKG flight) to very little (Qantas’ DFW-SYD flight) to tons (Etihad’s California routes and Cathay Pacific’s JFK route.)

Right now, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months. That’s enough miles to book several of these routes one way.

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

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

Let’s talk about how to use American Airlines miles for awards to Europe. This is not the best use of American Airlines miles because award space isn’t great, and American collects fuel surcharges on two partners to Europe. But there are routes with no fuel surcharges and good award space that you should know about.

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Me at Trakai Castle in Lithuania

What You’re Reading

For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months. That means you’ll have 82,500 American Airlines miles after meeting the spending requirement. That’s enough miles for two roundtrips to Europe.

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Included in the $450 annual fee, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers Admirals Club lounge membership, meaning you can access over 90 American Airlines Clubs in airports around the world whenever you’re flying–even if you’re not flying on American. Plus you can bring in any two guests for free OR your spouse and all children under 18 for free on each visit.

If you find this guide to redeeming the most valuable miles in the world to be useful and want to apply for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®, please use my link. The commission is what allows me to dedicate the time to writing this series.

“Redeeming American Airlines Miles” Series Index

The Partners for Europe Awards

Here are the American Airlines partners with direct flights from North America to Europe:

  • American/US Airways
  • British Airways
  • Iberia
  • airberlin
  • Finnair

Award space on all the partners except Iberia is searchable on aa.com. Here’s how to search aa.com.

Award space on Iberia is searchable on ba.com. Here’s how to search ba.com.

Pricing

From North America to Europe, American Airlines charges:

  • 20,000 miles one way in economy from October 15 to May 15
  • 30,000 miles one way in economy from May 16 to October 14
  • 50,000 miles one way in Business Class
  • 62,500 miles one way in First Class

These miles prices are the same whether you fly directly or with connections, so even your tiny home airport to Mykonos, Greece with a few connections and flying multiple partners costs the same number of miles.

These prices are significantly less than United and Delta charge for the same awards.

In addition to the miles, you pay government taxes on all awards. In addition to taxes, you pay fuel surcharges on American Airlines awards that fly British Airways and Iberia. The fuel surcharges on British Airways flights are humungous: over $400 each way.

Washington to London in British Airways First Class is 62,500 American Airlines miles + $442.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.05.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.06.05 PM

Washington to Madrid roundtrip in British Airways First Class is 125,000 American Airlines miles + $1,026.

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Because of the fuel surcharges, I won’t be mentioning British Airways flights again in this post, which is a bummer because it is the American Airlines partner offering the most award space to Europe.

Fuel surcharges on Iberia are much smaller, at under $100 each way.

Routes & Award Space

American Airlines has a decent route network to Europe from New York and Philadelphia.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.51.45 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.54.28 PM

American also flies transatlantic flights from Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, and Raleigh.

Award Space on AA Flights

Award space varies by destination and season, but the general pattern on American Airlines flights to Europe is OK economy award space and poor Business and First Class award space.

For instance, Raleigh to London is typical in having good award space in economy and basically none in Business Class.

All calendars show award space for two passengers unless otherwise noted.

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There are exceptions to the basically-no-Business-Class-award-space “rule.” Let’s look at some of the American Airlines routes with more award space.

New York to London has award space in economy daily outside of peak travel times.
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And it also has Business Class award space on Mondays through Wednesdays.
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New York to Paris has less of a pattern of Business Class award space, but it is available if you are flexible.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.59.22 PM

Oddly I often see more premium cabin award space on longer American Airlines flights. For instance, Dallas to London has more First Class award space than New York to London.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.03.08 PM

Chicago to London has pretty regular First Class award space.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.04.38 PM

Your secret weapon for Business and First Class award space to Europe will be American Airlines flights to Madrid (and from there to anywhere else in Europe on connecting Iberia flights.) There is great Business Class and First Class space from Madrid to Miami.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.09.36 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.09.40 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.10.16 PM

Unfortunately, American Airlines does not open up last second award space in premium cabins on its European flights. Here is the award space from New York to London this week. There is some economy space, but nothing in Business or First.

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Iberia, Finnair, and airberlin Award Space

Iberia, Finnair, and airberlin fly from six American cities to Europe, including four American Airlines hubs. Let’s go through their award space one at a time.

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Finnair

A lot of Finnair award space shows up on aa.com, but it is nearly all phantom award space. Check the real space on ba.com, and don’t get your hopes up.

airberlin

Airberlin has the best award space of these three partners, and is your best way to get to Europe with American Airlines miles other than the routes mentioned in the American Airlines section above.

For instance, Dusseldorf to New York has a lot of Business Class award space in March 2016.

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Award space in Business Class is not nearly as good from New York to Dusseldorf in May or June, but there is still some.Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.29.33 PM

Instead check out New York to Berlin, which has great economy and good Business Class space in June 2016.Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.32.35 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.32.40 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.32.48 PM

Dusseldorf and Berlin are both airberlin hubs with connections all over Europe.

Iberia

Iberia has great economy award space and OK Business Class award space as long as you book in advance. For instance, here are the days with Iberia Business Class awards in the first week of May 2016 from New York, Miami, and Chicago to Madrid.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.25.49 PM Here is the economy space the same week on the same routes.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.26.00 PM

What about last minute award space? Here is the economy award space this week on the same three routes. There is no Business Class award space this week on Iberia flights on the three routes.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 3.26.28 PM

 

From Madrid, you can connect all over Europe on Iberia.

Booking the Award

Search segment-by-segment if necessary to find award space from your airport to an international gateway, the transatlantic flight, and any connecting flights in Europe.

If all your award space is searchable on aa.com, book online. If your award includes Iberia flights, you need to book by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880. The good news is that you will pay zero phone booking fee, since that fee was waived when an award can’t be booked online.

Pay your award taxes with your Citi Prestige® Card, since it comes with a $250 Air Travel Credit every calendar year that will cover the award taxes and fees on these ticket. If you haven’t used the credit yet, buy pay the taxes with your Prestige, and you will receive an offsetting credit on your next statement.

Even if you’ve already used your $250 credit for this year, the card offers 3x on all airfare purchases.

Bottom Line

American Airlines are not very good to Europe. There are some American Airlines, some Iberia, and some airberlin routes with decent award space if you know what to search and can be flexible. But I’d rather use my American Airlines miles to Asia and South America and book Europe with United, Delta, Flying Blue, or Virgin Atlantic miles.

If you find space though, awards to Europe with American Airlines miles are cheap.

Right now, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months.

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

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

I 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.

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Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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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