Award Booking

Let’s talk about transferring Membership Rewards to airline partners for redeeming on domestic awards. This is part three in a series that will allow you to master redeeming awards within the United States, no matter what kind of points or miles you might have.

For those of you that have already read the first and second post in this series, you will notice repeat information at points in this post (as well as the rest of them to follow) because some of the airline partners overlap between transferrable points programs. 

“How to Maximize Domestic Award Redemptions” Series Index

American Express Membership Rewards can transfer to 17 types of airline miles.

They also transfer to three types of hotel points at varying rates.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-11-at-12.49.18-PMMost have a transfer rate of 1:1. The following regarding non 1:1 transfer rates is from Membership Rewards terms & conditions (click to enlarge):

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You’ll get more value using these transfer partners’ miles when Membership Rewards offers a transfer bonus, like this 50% transfer bonus to Virgin America that happened last February for example.

Now let’s get into some of the higher value redemption options on awards within the United States when transferring your Membership Rewards to one of their 17 partner airline programs.

Flying Blue

Both Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) and Delta are part of the Skyteam Alliance. It costs 30,000 Flying Blue miles + standard taxes/fees (no fuel surcharges) to fly roundtrip in Delta economy between the mainland United States and Hawaii. You can also book one way Flying Blue Awards for half the price of a roundtrip (in this case, 15,000 Flying Blue miles).

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Delta charges 45,000 miles roundtrip between the mainland United States and Hawaii.

Stopovers are not allowed on one way Classic Flying Blue Awards. It is not clear how may stopovers you can have on a roundtrip, but definitely at least one. Travel is Free also reported that you have to call Flying Blue (1 800 375 8723) if you’d like to include stopovers as a part of your roundtrip award.


There is currently a glitch with Flying Blue’s award prices between the mainland United States and Kauai (LIH) specifically. While it should be priced at 15,000 Flying Blue miles, it’s actually priced at 12,500.


Read Flying Blue Glitch: 12,500 Miles to Kauai to learn more.

British Airways Avios

I love that British Airways Avios has a distance-based award chart. They also do not charge fuel surcharges on American Airlines nor Alaska Flights within the western hemisphere. But 250 Membership Rewards transfer to only 200 Avios, so you lose significant value. There are still instances however when transferring to Avios could be a good deal. I will calculate the loss in below to show you what I mean.

Here is the chart for award bookings of flights that touch the United States (all values represent thousands of Avios):Screen-Shot-2015-10-28-at-2.50.49-PM

To see how many Membership Rewards you would need, multiply each amount above by 1.25, and then 1,000.

For a flight between 0-1,151 miles, you would need 9,375 Membership Rewards (7.5 x 1.25 x 1,000). You can only transfer in increments of 250, so you’d have to transfer 9,500 Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios in order to have enough for the redemption.

For perspective, American Airlines charges 7,500 American Airlines miles for direct economy flights of 500 miles or less, and United charges 10,000 United miles for economy flights of 700 miles or less. Any domestic flights longer than that are 12,500 American/United miles each way. So the sweetspot for using Avios (at least in direct comparison to American and United economy redemptions) would be for flight distances between 501 and 1,151 miles.

And for only 25,000 Avios and $11, you can fly roundtrip on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines planes from the West Coast to Hawaii in economy. Here are the possible routes.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 6.21.15 PM

To adjust for the transfer ratio, you would need 31,250 Avios. That is still a very good deal when you consider that it costs 40 to 45k American Airlines miles.

The strength in British Airways chart lies in short haul, direct redemptions. You will pay the Avios prices above for every segment, not the total distance flown.

Watch out for Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios transfer bonuses as they are frequent and will greatly increase the value of your redemptions. In fact, there is a 50% transfer bonus happening right now through October 10, 2016.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta is one of the three American legacy carriers, so obviously their miles are useful in the sense that they grant access to a good deal of domestic award space. Delta doesn’t publish their award charts online anymore, so the only way to really know the price of a Delta award is to look it up on

Here are some examples I just searched for varying distances:

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Note that the above prices may be influenced by the domestic “award sale” Delta is running right now through September 30. It seems they run these sales quite often, like this one last month. I say “award sale” with quotation marks as I don’t see how you can have a sale when you don’t have published prices; not to mention when your sale appears to be a state of being rather than an actual discount.

Either way, Delta has some very cheap domestic award prices comparatively, so search when comparing your options. If you want to fly Delta One, look to book it with Virgin Atlantic miles instead. More on that in the Virgin Atlantic section below.

Etihad Guest

Etihad is a non-allied airline but it has a ton of partners– one of which is American Airlines.

Etihad Guest’s award chart for redeeming Etihad miles on American Airlines makes it appear that you cannot redeem Etihad miles on American Airlines flights within North America. However The Points Guy claims that you can book First Class on American Airlines A321T for transcontinental service (three cabin First Class), and that an agent quoted him only 25,000 miles and $92.45 to book the ticket, which is just half of what American Airlines’ charges for it (50,000 AA miles).

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I haven’t tested this myself, but if any of you have done it, let us know in the comments.

Iberia Avios

Just like British Airways Avios, 250 Membership Rewards transfer to 200 Iberia Avios. You don’t see transfer bonuses as often to Iberia Avios, however you can freely transfer the two types of Avios between accounts if both accounts have been open for a few months. So if there’s a Membership Rewards to BA Avios transfer bonus happening (like there is right now), you can take advantage of it and then move those BA Avios right on over to Iberia Avios.

And why would you want to do that? Iberia and British Airways Avios are very similar but have slightly different award prices. Iberia Avios are slightly more valuable because they can book Iberia flights with lower fuel surcharges and because they offer a lower miles price on Business Class from the United States to Europe.  But more on topic, the reason why they might be more valuable to you for domestic redemptions is because of two reasons:

1. The price of an Iberia Avios award depends on the total distance flown– they are not priced per segment like British Airways Avios awards are. So if you’re taking a short trip but it requires a connection, an Iberia award will be cheaper.

2. Some of the prices are cheaper, especially on short flights. Below is the redemption chart for American Airlines. The distances are for the total roundtrip distance flown as you cannot redeem Iberia Avios on one way awards flying American.

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Don’t plan on redeeming Iberia Avios on Alaska flights though. British Airways is partners with Alaska, but Iberia is not.

JetBlue TrueBlue

As the fifth largest airline in the United States, low-cost carrier JetBlue’s network is growing rapidly.  It won’t take you as many places as the legacy carriers, but where they can take you they will take you in a nicer product. Mint Class is the nicest Business Class experience on a transcontinental flight in the United States–by far, and if you book it in time you can get one of the enclosed suites (there are four in each Mint Class and they are first come first serve).

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The cost of a TrueBlue award is tied to the cash price of the ticket, so this means there aren’t technically “sweetspots” since the revenue cost of a ticket fluctuates. Like British Airways Avios, 250 Membership Rewards transfer to 200 JetBlue points, so again you are losing significant value with the transfer. There might be instances (like on cheap, short flights or spur of the moment award sales) that a transfer is worth it.

Singapore Krisflyer

Singapore Airlines and United are fellow members of Star Alliance. You can redeem Singapore Krisflyer miles between the continental United States and Hawaii on United flights for 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles in First with no fuel surcharges. United charges 22,500 and 40,000 miles respectively for the same flights! (Get the flat bed in first!)

You can also fly within the United States on United Business Class for 20,000 Krisflyer miles each way (10,000 miles cheaper than redeeming United miles on their own Business Class).
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Virgin America

As it takes 200 Membership Rewards to equal 100 Virgin America Elevate points, you probably don’t want to transfer your Membership Rewards this way unless there is transfer bonus, in which it might behove you to take advantage.

Elevate Points are redeemed differently depending on whether you use them to book a flight on Virgin America Flights or one of its five partners.

  • If redeeming on a Virgin America flight, the required amount of points is tied to the revenue cost of the ticket (like JetBlue, mentioned above). This means that you don’t have to search for specific award space, as any flight that is available on can also be booked with Elevate points (ie no blackout dates.) Elevate points are on average worth about two cents a piece, but that’s not accounting for the loss when you transfer from Membership Rewards without a bonus). Cheap, short domestic flights or airfare sales would be the best case scenarios in which to use Elevate Points.
  • For flying partners, the award pricing is fixed. There is no traditional chart like other loyalty programs often use, but you can price out awards (including taxes, fees and fuel surcharges) with the award calculator tool on Virgin America’s website.
    • Potential sweetspots on partner charts, especially if there is a transfer bonus:
      • 20,000 Virgin America Elevate Points is a roundtrip in Economy between the western United States and Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines
      • 3,000 Virgin America Elevate Points is a one way Economy interisland flight on Hawaiian Airlines

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have flights within the United States, but they are partners with Delta.

For 45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles you can fly Delta One roundtrip within the United States, which is 5,000 miles less than what Delta normally charges for it. It must be booked as a roundtrip however, as Virgin Atlantic partner redemptions will cost the roundtrip price even if you book a one way.

You can redeem Virgin Atlantic miles on Hawaiian or Delta flights to Hawaii from the mainland as well, but there are better deals redeeming British Airways Avios, Singapore Krisflyer, or Flying Blue miles (which are all Membership Rewards transfer partners).

Virgin Atlantic won’t collect fuel surcharges if the partner airline that you fly doesn’t.

Bottom Line

There are a ton of Membership Reward transfer partners you can leverage on awards within the United States.

  • British Airways Avios and Iberia Avios are some of the most useful for short haul flights as well as to Hawaii, however they do not transfer 1:1 so you should watch out for transfer bonuses. Virgin America has the worst transfer ratio out of any of the airline partners (200 Membership Rewards = 100 Elevate points), so I’d definitely only transfer with a bonus.
  • Apparently you can book three cabin First Class on American Airlines A321T for transcontinental service with half the amount of Etihad miles as it would cost using American’s own miles.
  • Redeem Singapore miles on United Business Class, as well as to Hawaii. Flying Blue miles are also a great deal to Hawaii.
  • Delta often has cheap domestic awards whose prices aren’t published, so you’ll have to check those on
  • JetBlue is also one you’ll need to check by hand as the prices of their awards are tied to the revenue cost of the ticket– and they also don’t transfer 1:1.
  • Use Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta One.

Avios are ideal for short, direct, economy flights, especially between regions on award charts. Today I’m going to show you some examples of how you can combine the use of Avios with region-based miles to use less miles overall and see more places at the same time.


First, let’s go over some basics.

  • While most major airline miles have region-based award prices, Avios awards are distance-based.
    • What I mean by region-based: the price of an award is determined by what region you originate and what region your destination is in (coupled with the cabin). Regions are determined by the loyalty program, but are generally the same with some exceptions (i.e. North America, South America, Europe, etc.)
    • What I mean by distance-based:  the price of an award is determined by the distance of each segment flown, and the cabin you fly in.

Let’s say you want to go to Morocco. It would cost 40k United miles to fly economy or 80k to fly Business, from the United States to Northern Africa, the region that Unified classifies Morocco in. But if you flew to Madrid first (classified by United as Europe) and then used Avios to hop to Morocco, it would only cost 30k/57.5k/70k United miles in economy/United Business/Partner Business, and 4,500 Avios in economy (it’s only a 1.5 hour flight). You save yourself miles and get to see Madrid as well as Morocco. 

Below are examples of actual awards where you can apply this trick to see an extra destination and pay less miles overall while doing it.

Before we go any further, a quick aside about fuel surcharges…

With Avios awards you have to watch out for fuel surcharges. They collect fuel surcharges on any award flight that has fuel surcharges on the equivalent cash flight. Notable exceptions when they don’t collect fuel surcharges:

  • On their own flights within Europe
  • American Airlines within the Western Hemisphere
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Aer Lingus
  • airberlin

That doesn’t mean you can’t utilize Avios for flights on other oneworld carriers or non-allied partners of British Airways. Some only charge mild fuel surcharges, especially on short flights like the examples I will show you below.

How to See More For Less

United States-> Spain -> Morocco VS. United States -> Morocco

Let’s take a closer look at the example I gave at the beginning of this post.

You can fly from North America to Madrid for 30k United miles in economy, 57.5k United miles in United’s Business Class, or 70k United miles in a United partners’ Business Class. Then you can use just 4,500 Avios to take an hour and half flight in economy to Casablanca in Morocco on Iberia.

Newark to Spain with United miles, Spain to Morocco with Avios

The out of pocket taxes and fees for this award are minimal at only $29.

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Flying straight to Morocco from North America would cost 40k United miles in economy or 80k in a Business.

United States -> Turkey -> Qatar VS. United States -> Qatar

You could fly from North America to Istanbul for 30k United miles in economy. Then you can use 10,000 Avios to take a four hour flight in economy to Doha on Qatar Airways.

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Los Angeles to Istanbul with United miles, Istanbul to Doha with Avios

British Airways collects fuel surcharges on Qatar, but they are reasonable at $86 for this award.

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Flying straight to Qatar from North America would cost 42.5k United miles in economy.

You could also easily fly into a different European airport (like Paris, for example) for the same price, and take a low cost carrier flight between Paris and Istanbul before heading on to Doha with Avios. Read about how to incorporate an award like this into a round-the-world trip with half the flights in a flat bed for 100,000 Miles.

United States -> Germany -> Poland VS. United States Poland

You can fly United Airlines from North America to Berlin for 30k Aeroplan miles in economy (without fuel surcharges). Then you can use just 4,500 Avios to take a little over an hour flight in airberlin economy to Warsaw in Poland.

Map: Newark to Germany with Aeroplan miles, Germany to Poland with Avios
Newark to Germany with Aeroplan miles, Germany to Poland with Avios

British Airways does not collect fuel surcharges on airberlin, so taxes are just $30 for this award.

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Since Aeroplan divides their award chart into Eastern and Western Europe, flying straight to Poland from the United States would cost 37.5k Aeroplan miles in economy.

Santiago -> Easter Island -> Tahiti VS. Santiago -> Tahiti

You can fly from Santiago to Easter Island (a territory of Chile) for 10k American Airlines miles in economy, 20k American Airlines miles in Business. This would position you in what most consider the South Pacific region. Then you can use 12,500 Avios (+$30 in taxes/fees) to take a five and a half hour flight in LATAM Chile economy to Tahiti.

Map: Santiago to Easter Island with American Airlines miles, Easter Island to Tahiti with Avios
Santiago to Easter Island with American Airlines miles, Easter Island to Tahiti with Avios

Flying straight to Tahiti from Santiago would cost 45k/82.5k American Airlines miles in economy/Business Class.

The savings in this example could be huge, unfortunately I can only call it a theoretical sweetspot as I could not find any LATAM Chile award space between Easter Island and Tahiti. Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever seen it.

No Last Minute Award Booking Fees

Another nice perk of British Airways Avios is that they don’t tack on any extra fees for booking your flight at the last minute. So if you decide in the middle or your Euro-trip that you want to fly somewhere else over the weekend, you won’t have to pay one of those annoying $75 fees that American Airlines AAdvantage or United Mileage Plus would charge.

How to Find Award Space and Book British Airways Awards

You can look for award space right on– here’s how to use the search tool. You can also book on

How to Get Avios

Avios are very easy to collect. Ultimate Rewards are a 1:1 transfer partner of Avios. These cards are your best options:

  • British Airways Visa Signature
  • Ink Plus
  • Sapphire Preferred
  • Freedom & Freedom Unlimited

British Airways Visa Signature Card

The British Airways Visa Signature card currently offers:

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months on the card.
  • Spend $15,000 in the first 12 months for another 25,000 bonus Avios. The maximum bonus is 75,000 total Avios for spending $15,000 in the first 12 months of which $2,000 came in the first three
  • 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on other purchases
  • $95 annual fee that is not waived

Ink Plus

The Ink Plus currently offers:

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

You might qualify for a business card and not realize it, so don’t write off the possibility just because you don’t have your own booming startup.

Sapphire Preferred

The Sapphire Preferred currently offers:

  • 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee

Freedom & Freedom Unlimited

The Freedom and Freedom Unlimited are two separate cards, but are two sides of the same coin. You can read my analysis comparing the two here.

Both cards come with 15,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $500 in the first three months and 2,500 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user.

This biggest difference between the two cards are their category bonuses. The Freedom Unlimited earns a spectacular 1.5x on everything. The Freedom earns a “meh” 1x on everything except 5x on up to $1,500 per quarter in categories that rotate quarterly.

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


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

Chase 5/24

As all of the cards that earn Ultimate Rewards are Chase products, before applying for any of these cards remember to consider the Chase 5/24 rule. In short, if you’ve opened any five credit cards in the last 24 months, an application for a new Chase card will be denied.

Bottom Line

Avios are different than most of your mileages in that the prices of awards are based on distance. Different equals more valuable when it comes to miles because it opens up different types of high value awards. By combining Avios with your preferred region-based miles, you can maximize the value of your miles and see more places all at the same time.

The easiest way to get a bunch of Avios is through cards that earn Ultimate Rewards, since Avios is a 1:1 transfer partners and there are lots of cards that earn them with large sign-up bonuses.


This comprehensive spreadsheet details commonly used loyalty programs and their policies towards booking an award close to the travel date.

To see how much you might have to pay for booking a last minute award, look up the loyalty program whose miles you will use on the chart (which might not necessarily be the airline you fly). You are subject to that programs’ rules and/or fees.

updated spreadsheet

Below I expand a bit on a few of the loyalty programs’ policies that require further clarification.

American Airlines

The $75 close-in award booking fee applies when you book an award within 21 days of the travel date. This fee is waived for all elites.


The $75 close-in award booking fee applies when you book an award within 21 days of the travel date. Here’s a trick to avoid paying United’s close-in booking fee. I used it recently and it worked like a charm.

Fees for booking a last minute United award are waived for those with upper elite status (Premier Platinum, Premier 1K®, or United Global Services®) and also those that are United Club members. If you have a lower level elite status, the close-in booking fee will be less but not waived–read more details here.


Within 21 days of the departure date, Delta jacks up the price of their awards. So while there is no separately defined fee for booking close to the travel date, you will pay more miles.

That is not published online, nor are their award charts anymore, but you can see the pattern from a quick search on


TrueBlue award prices are based on the cash price of the ticket, which naturally gets more expensive as you get closer to the travel date. So while there isn’t a separately defined “last minute award booking fee”, you will probably end up paying more since the award price will climb the closer in you get to your desired travel date.


Rapid Reward prices are also based on the cash price of the ticket. Most Southwest flights have less Wanna Get Away fares left within one to three weeks of departure, and the other types of fares require more points per dollar. So again, you won’t pay a defined, separated last minute booking fee, but you’ll pay for it with more Rapid Rewards.

Virgin America

Elevate award prices are based on the cash price of the ticket when redeeming Elevate points on Virgin America flights, so you will run into the same issue of the award price going up as you get closer to the travel date. But when you redeem Elevate points on one of Virgin America’s partners, award prices are set and region-based, so you won’t have that issue– and there are no extra last minute award booking fees.

Korean Air

Here is a post that explains the booking process when you redeem Korean SKYPASS miles. It requires some extra steps that might be difficult to achieve if you’re trying to plan last second travel.

Bottom Line

Using miles from any of the three American legacy carriers to book an award within 21 days of departure is going to cost you. Avoid it by transferring points to a foreign program that doesn’t charge close-in booking fees– but remember that a few of them require award bookings to be at least a few days (and in Etihad’s case, up to 14 days!) in advance.

I received the following email from a reader.

Dawn writes:

I wanted to ask a question that I didn’t see an answer for on your site or clearly on the interwebs.

I am hoping to do a trip this winter to India. The way my schedule is looking, I won’t have the 85,000 miles I need until about a week and a half before the trip…

My question is, how difficult is it going to be to get an economy seat that close in? Any info I’ve found always seems to be about business class.

Thanks again for your great site and have fun on your travels.

Keep reading for my answer to how difficult getting last minute economy space will be for Dawn and how to estimate this for your own trips.

Will You Find Last Minute Award Space?

Some airlines, but not all, release seats as award seats close to departure that they think would otherwise be empty. I see more of this in premium cabins–probably because a higher percentage go unsold–than in economy, but I see it in all cabins. “Close to departure” varies by airline, and I see some seats released as late as the day of a flight.

The best way to see what a route’s last second availability is likely to look like when you want it is to search the award space for tomorrow (and the following days).

Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future space, but it is the best gauge of which airlines and routes tend to see last second openings.

Keep in mind when doing this what season tomorrow is (peak or off peak) and what season your travel will be (peak or off peak), so you can adjust your estimation of the likelihood of award space opening up in the future accordingly.

Dawn’s Trip

I’ll just look at one part of Dawn’s proposed trip: a return from India to the US, specifically Delhi to the New York City area.

Right now is off peak time in India because of the extreme temperatures and monsoons. Dawn’s trip during the US winter will be more a more popular time to travel to Delhi, when temperatures are more agreeable and the weather is drier. For that reason, I would expect to see more last second availability now then when she actually plans to travel, and we should temper our predictions accordingly.

Here’s Delhi to New York for tomorrow and the next few weeks. The good news is that four out of the next 12 days have at least one way to return from Delhi to New York for 42.5k miles in economy class.

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Blue = premium award space. Yellow = economy award space. Green = both.

Analyze More Closely to Find Patterns

At this point, I would dig even deeper, clicking on each day to see what the actual itineraries are. I’m looking for patterns in what routes and airlines have economy award space to see what Dawn can expect in a few months when she looks to book.

There is one direct flight, flying United, that leaves today.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.32.53 AM

Here are some of the multi-segment itineraries scattered over the next 12 days that have economy award space:Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.34.19 AM


Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.50.30 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.50.50 AM

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While there are lots of different routing options (flying United, SWISS, Lufthansa, Air China, and Ethiopian), the airline with the most flights available with award space overall is Lufthansa.

At this point, I would dig even deeper and look at a few segments for their availability.

Checking Individual Segments

The first I wanted to check was Delhi to Frankfurt since the Frankfurt to New York route has the most economy award space over the next 12 days.

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Direct flights from Delhi to Frankfurt

This route has three days over the next 12 that have economy award space options.

That means that DEL-FRA-NYC could be a good last minute routing option.  Let’s check out Delhi to Munich, Lufthansa’s other hub.

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Direct flights from Delhi to Munich

There are two days with economy space between Delhi and Munich over the next 12. So while DEL-MUC-NYC could be a possibility, it looks more likely that Dawn will find space flying DEL-FRA-NYC.

Neither of Lufthansa’s routings are the most direct way to get from Delhi to New York, but from the pattern we’ve seen there is more of a chance that she will find last minute economy award space for 42.5k United miles flying Lufthansa rather than the direct United flight from Delhi to Newark.

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Repeat the Analysis

For Dawn’s other segments, she can perform a similar analysis to see the likelihood of finding last minute award space.

What routes and airlines have you found with consistent last minute economy award space? First class space?

Pro Tip if Booking a United Award Last Minute

United charges a $75 fee when you book an award within 21 days of departure.

If you want to book a United award within 21 days of departure, book the same flight for 1+ months in the future, then immediately call in to change it to within 21 days of departure. No close in ticketing fee will be charged.

Bottom Line

The best way to predict last minute award space patterns is to search your desired routes for tomorrow and the following days, adjusting your expectations based on what the tourism patterns are for right now compared to when you actually want to travel.

I get questions all the time like this:

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

There are basically two ways to answer the question:

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

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

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

The airlines to search were:

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.45.13 PM search
Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.45.32 PM search
Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.45.50 PM search

Search Results

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.48.49 PM

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

Amex has four partners that could book the flight:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.47.16 pulled up no Aerolineas Argentinas or AeroMexico award space.

United pulled up Saver Business Class award space on Copa on June 3 with one stop in Panama.
Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.47.23 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 8.01.46 PM

It also found Saver economy award space on United on June 6, and Saver economy and Business space on Air Canada/United for June 6.Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.48.04 PM Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.59.53 PM

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

  • ANA Mileage Club
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Singapore KrisFlyer

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

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

What She Needs to Do

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

My friend emailed me:

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

First Step: Look at Award Charts

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

The two deals that caught my eye were:

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

Second Step: Creativity

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 10.00.15 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.30.35 PM Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.31.18 PM

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

Third Step: Look at Award Space

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

Searching Flying Blue Award Space

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

Searching United Award Space

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 4.19.25 PM

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

Planning, Transferring, Booking

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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


I know most people just want to go somewhere and come back with their miles, but I am biased toward BIG trips. For the most part, the best way to book such big trips is as a series of one way awards with many different types of miles, taking advantage of the sweet spots with each program. But if that’s too much effort or mental bandwidth, and you can only use one miles, use United miles.

United has a pretty good award chart (except for partner First Class), great worldwide award space on the largest alliance, and no fuel surcharges on awards. Plus if you’re stringing together a number of one way United awards, you can string three together onto a single award for big miles savings through what I call a United Three One Ways Award.

This post is an example of a round-the-world trip I’ve pieced together as two United Three One Ways awards. It took me ten minutes to plan and search for award space. It would take another 20 minutes to sign up for the credit cards necessary to get the 137,500 United miles (and there are only $230 in taxes.)

Three One Ways Awards

The following is an excerpt of Master Thread: United Three One Ways Awards. If you still are confused, read that whole post before continuing.

What are United Three One Ways Awards?

Imagine a roundtrip United award with a stopover.

  • New York to Frankfurt (stopover)
  • Frankfurt to Delhi (destination)
  • Delhi to New York

This is legal, and a little bit interesting. You get to see Europe for zero extra miles on your award to India. Now imagine that there is an open jaw between the origin (New York) and the final destination.

  • New York to Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt to Delhi
  • Delhi to Los Angeles

This is legal and a little more interesting, but you probably either live in New York or Los Angeles, so there’s little practical benefit.

Now imagine that you keep this structure of a stopover and an open jaw, but throw the idea of flying anything like a roundtrip out the window.

  • New York to Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt to Delhi
  • Delhi to Bangkok

Amazingly this too is legal. And it’s very interesting because it can be part of a New Yorker’s round-the-world or other very BIG trip. This map should make it clear why I call this a Three One Ways Award.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.48.49 AM

The trick is that we book it as a single United “roundtrip” award and not as three one ways. Why?

Well in this example, if you booked all three segments as one way awards, you would pay 90,000 United miles in economy:

  • New York to Frankfurt (30,000)
  • Frankfurt to Delhi (25,000)
  • Delhi to Bangkok (35,000)

If you book the one ways as a single “roundtrip,” you pay 77,500 United miles.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.48.42 AM

  • New York to Frankfurt to Delhi (42,500 with free stopover)
  • Delhi to Bangkok (35,000)

And we can find even bigger discounts and sweeter spots on the United chart.

How to Book a Three One Ways Award

You book Three One Ways Awards on’s advanced search page by selecting “Yes” and “Multi-city” for the second and third questions.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 7.06.55 PM

If you get an error online, you call United to book.

The RTW Made Up of a Pair of Three One Ways Awards

Starting in Los Angeles (chosen arbitrarily, home airport doesn’t matter), the award goes to Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, Japan, and Hawaii before heading home.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.52.04 PM

The first award goes from Los Angeles to Barcelona, Barcelona to Bangkok, and then continues from Phuket to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.47.30 PM For those scoring at home, Barcelona is the stopover, Bangkok is the destination, and the gap between Bangkok and Phuket is an open jaw (that you would fill with a low-cost carrier flight for well under $100.)

The first two parts are in economy, but Phuket to Sydney is in First Class because United charges a silly-cheap 40,000 miles one way in First Class between Southeast Asia and Australia/New Zealand. By flying Thai First Class out of Bangkok, you set yourself up for a world-class ground experience that includes a free hourlong Thai massage.

This award would cost 80,000 United miles + $123.Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.47.38 PMThe second award goes from Sydney to Tokyo to Honolulu to Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.51.12 PM

In economy, this is only 57,500 United miles + $107. United considers Honolulu the stopover. Sydney to Tokyo is 22,500 miles, and Tokyo to Los Angeles is 35,000.
Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.50.59 PM

Could You Do XYZ Instead?

Yes, you could choose different cities in the same regions for the same price.

Yes, you could choose totally different regions for a different price. (If you get an error booking online, call United to book.)

Yes, you could add an open jaw in Japan for zero extra miles.

Yes, you could use each point on the United awards as a stopping point to explore the region for weeks or months with other awards, low-cost carriers, trains, or other transportation.

Getting the United Miles

You can get 124,000 United miles just by getting the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus and meeting their spending requirements because both cards earn points that transfer instantly 1:1 to United miles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

My preference is to collect many types of miles for big trips to maximize all their uses, but if you have to choose just one type, collect United miles.

Then string together your awards as Three One Ways awards.


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

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

Key Concept 1

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

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

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

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

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

Key Concept 2

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

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

Key Concept 3

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

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

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

Key Concept 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Concept 5

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

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

Key Concept 6

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

Key Concept 7

Rules that are the same for nearly all miles:

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

Key Concept 8

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

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

Key Concept 9

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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


As of a few weeks ago, you can redeem American Airlines Miles to the Indian subcontinent via Hong Kong!

Why is this exciting news?

Before, you could only connect in Europe or the Middle East on the way to the Indian Subcontinent, and more routing options means more award space. It’s especially good news for those who live on the West Coast, for whom routing via Hong Kong is faster than routing via Europe or the Middle East.

The routing must be done through Hong Kong–not Tokyo for instance–and it is only allowed to the Indian subcontinent, despite the fact that the Middle East is part of the same region as the Indian subcontinent as defined by American Airlines.

Then What is the Indian Subcontinent?

The Points Guy has confirmed with an AAgent that the following countries are considered to be the Indian Subcontinent:

  • Bangladesh
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

Airlines You Can Fly with the New Routing

You can fly to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific Airlines or American Airlines en route to the Indian subcontinent.

These are the destinations they fly direct to and from in the United States:

  • Cathay Pacific
    • Boston
    • Chicago
    • Los Angeles
    • New York City (JFK)
    • Newark
    • San Francisco
  • American Airlines
    • Dallas/Fort Worth
    • Los Angeles (beginning September 8, 2016)

Flying either airline to the Indian subcontinent costs 40,000 American Airlines miles in economy, 70,000 American Airlines miles in Business Class and 115,000 American Airlines miles in First Class, and no fuel surcharges, just the standard taxes that apply to every award.

Premium Cabin Award Space from US to Hong Kong

Now that the possibility is there to book American Airlines awards to the Indian subcontinent via Asia, let’s see if the space is actually there to do it.

Cathay Pacific

I just recently wrote about availability patterns for Cathay Pacific premium cabin awards. In that post I discuss booking Cathay Pacific awards with Alaska miles, but as it is a truism of miles that airlines release Saver award space equally to all partners, the same space I found on to book with Alaska miles is also bookable with American Airlines miles.

Cathay Pacific premium cabin award space is most prevalent within a week of departure, with one to nine seats available in Business Class and one to two seats available in First Class. It’s the only time you can book two people in First Class. If you can’t afford to wait until the last minute, then the next best time is 11 months out, when you’ll find up to five Business Class seats and one First Class Seat per flight.

Search for Cathay Pacific award space on as it does not show up on (Read this to learn how to search

Below are routes from the US to Hong Kong with some of the most premium cabin award space 11 months from now.

Los Angeles to Hong Kong 

headerlax to hkg 11 mnths out

Boston to Hong Kong

headerbos to hkg 11 mnths out

San Francisco to Hong Kong

headerSFO to hkg 11 mnths outAnd here are routes from the US to Hong Kong with some of the most premium cabin award space within a week of departure:

New York City to Hong Kong

headerjfk to hkg april 30San Francisco to Hong Kongheader

sfo to hkg may 2

sfo to hkg may 4

American Airlines 

There is basically no award space in Business or First Class from Dallas to Hong Kong, and I checked every month through the latest possible date you can book on right now. I saw one day available in Business Class in each of January and February 2017, and that was it.

Dallas to Hong Kong

The blue color represents Saver level Business Class.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 4.39.18 PM
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 4.40.24 PM

The Los Angeles to Hong Kong route had absolutely no Business or First Class award space.

Bottom Line on Space to/from Hong Kong

If you want to route your American Airlines award through Hong Kong on the way to the Indian Subcontinent, you can do so flying Cathay Pacific. You’ll need to book either 11 months out, or if you miss that time window (or want to fly as a party of two in First Class) than within a week of departure. The American Airlines flights to Hong Kong have virtually no award space on them on that moment, but I would rather fly Cathay Pacific’s premium cabins than American Airlines’ anyways as they are much superior products–read my trip report when I flew Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong.

Options from Hong Kong to the Indian Subcontinent

From Hong Kong, you can connect to all of these locations in the Indian subcontinent with oneworld alliance members Cathay Pacific and subsidiary Dragonair, or Jet Airways:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 8.11.26 PM

  • New Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Kolkata in India
  • Maldives
  • Kathmandu in Nepal

None of the airlines that fly these routes’ award space can be searched on– you’ll need to look on

Premium Cabin Award Space from Hong Kong to India

Hong Kong to New Delhi

There is tons of Cathay Pacific Business Class seats (there is no First Class on these flights)– about two seats a day on two different flights nearly every day I checked 11 months out, six months out, and three months out. Within a week of departure that increases to up to nine Business Class seats per flight.

Below is the award space 11 months out from now:

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 6.14.17 PM

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.43.00 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.43.53 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.43.23 PM

There is also plenty of Dragonair Business Class space to Bangalore (First Class isn’t operated on this flight either)– four seats a day on one flight 11 months out and six months out. It starts to thin out a bit by three months out from the travel date, but there’s still two to three seats in Business Class almost every day. Within a week of departure that number jumps to nine.

Below is the award space 11 months out from now:

headerScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.53.28 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.53.53 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.53.11 PM

Steps for Booking Through Hong Kong to the Indian Subcontinent

1. Search for Cathay Pacific award space to Hong Kong from one of the six American cities the airline flies to. If you don’t live in one of them, you can add MileSAAver award space on American Airlines flights from your hometown for no extra miles as long as it’s in the same (or a lower) cabin as the legs to Hong Kong and the Indian subcontinent. Note your desired travel dates, cabin and flight numbers that you find.

2. Search again for the connecting leg on to the Indian subcontinent. Note your desired travel dates, cabin and flight numbers that you find.

3. Call AAdvantage to book (800-882-8880) and feed the agent the dates, cabins and flight numbers you want to make up your award. They should waive the phone since none of the airlines you would use to get to the Indian subcontinent via Hong Kong are bookable online.

Getting American Airlines Miles

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 4.44.21 PM

Bottom Line

If you are trying to get to the region defined as the Indian subcontinent by American Airlines with American Airlines miles, you can now route your award through Hong Kong to get there.

There is plenty of premium cabin award space at the moment flying Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong either 11 months out or within a week of departure, but pretty much none flying American Airlines to Hong Kong.

Onward from Hong Kong you can fly to nine different destinations in the Indian subcontinent. For example, Cathay Pacific and Dragonair have tons of Business Class award space to New Delhi and Bangalore pretty much all the time.


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

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

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

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

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

Avios & Cash

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Region-to-Region Awards

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

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

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

From United States

To Europe

To Korea or Japan

To China or Southeast Asia

To Central America, Mexico, Caribbean

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

To Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, or Ecuador

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

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

To Hawaii

To Fiji

To Australia/New Zealand

From Europe

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


To United States

  • See From United States to Europe above

To Hong Kong

To Middle East/India/Maldives

To South America

From the Middle East

Intra-Middle East

To Europe

  • See From Europe to Middle East above

To East Asia

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

To United States

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

To Australia/New Zealand

To Oceania

To Southeast Asia

From Southeast Asia



To United States

  • See From United States to China or Southeast Asia

To Europe

  • See From Europe to Hong Kong

To Australia/New Zealand

To North Asia

From South America

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

to United States

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

to Europe

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

Intra-South America

to Central America

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

to Africa

From Australia/New Zealand

Intra Australia/New Zealand

To Rest of Oceania

To North America

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

To Europe

  • See From Europe to Hong Kong

To Southeast Asia

  • See from Southeast Asia to Australia/New Zealand

To North Asia

  • See from North Asia to Australia/New Zealand

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


Delta will no longer charge a $25 per passenger fee to book tickets by phone. That’s excellent news since some Delta partners like Air Tahiti Nui can’t be booked on

In February 2015, American Airlines eliminated phone ticketing fees for awards flying airlines that can’t be booked on

United still has phone ticketing fees for awards–$25 per passenger. However, in my experience, this fee is usually waived if I put an award on hold online and then call in to ticket it with a story that I was getting an error online.

Hat Tip One Mile at a Time

You can now redeem American Airlines miles to the Indian Subcontinent via Cathay Pacific or American Airlines flights that connect in Hong Kong.

Until today, you could only connect in Europe or the Middle East. Routing via Asia would break your trip into two awards–USA to East Asia + East Asia to Indian Subcontinent. This additional routing option is very welcome, especially for folks who live on the West Coast, for whom routing via Hong Kong is faster than routing via Europe or the Middle East.

The change appears on American Airlines’ award chart.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.43.22 PM

The new tilde on the chart is explained in the footnotes.Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.43.35 PM

The wording makes it clear that the routing via Hong Kong is only allowed to the Indian Subcontinent and not to the Middle East. Unfortunately, the AA award chart doesn’t separate those two regions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 3.11.20 PM

However, The Points Guy has confirmed with an AAgent that the following countries are considered to be the Indian Subcontinent:

  • Bangladesh
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

Unfortunately since the March 22 devaluation, awards to the Indian Subcontinent in First Class are insanely expensive:

  • 40,000 American Airlines miles one way in economy
  • 70,000 in Business
  • 115,000 in First

Economy and Business are decent values, though Alaska charges only 62,500 miles one way in Cathay Pacific Business to India and 70,000 miles in First.

Bottom Line

To get the Middle East on a single American Airlines award, you need to:

  1. Fly directly there
  2. Connect in Europe

To get to the Indian Subcontinent on a single American Airlines award, you need to:

  1. Fly directly there
  2. Connect in Europe
  3. Connect in the Middle East
  4. New Option: Connect in Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific or American Airlines flights

All other one way trips to the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent–like Los Angeles to Tokyo to Mumbai on Japan Airlines or Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Dubai on Cathay Pacific–will require at least two awards.

For more information on American Airlines’ award routing rules, see “AA Award Rules & How Many Miles Do You Need.”

Turkish Business Class award space is widely available from this summer through the beginning of next year to Europe. You can book award space for up to eight people in Business Class on routes from America to Turkey and beyond with United miles, Asiana miles, Aeroplan miles, Lifemiles (of Avianca), and many other Star Alliance miles.

Where Turkish Flies

Turkish currently flies from eight American cities to Istanbul, and adds Atlanta to the list in about a month: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C (Dulles), Boston and New York.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.17.52 AM
Atlanta begins May 16, 2016

From Istanbul, you can connect to over 100 countries. Turkish Airlines has destinations in more countries than any other airline in the world.

The Product

Turkish’s long haul flights feature flat bed Business Class on a variety of planes that either have a 2-4-2 configuration or 2-2-2 configuration. The 2-4-2 configuration is not ideal since no seat has both aisle access and a guarantee that no one will climb over it during the flight. The 2-2-2 configuration is preferable as you can choose a seat in the middle aisle which would guarantee no one climbs over you. At the end of the day though, a fully flat bed and great catering should overcome the moderate inconvenience of the 2-4-2 configuration.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 12.16.10 PM

Read this trip report of Turkish Business Class from Washington D.C. to Istanbul to get a more detailed perspective on Turkish Airlines’ product.

Award Space

Award space is excellent July through February from most Turkish gateways in the United States to Istanbul in Economy and Business Class for up to eight people.

Chicago to Istanbul: for 8 people

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 6.10.46 PM

For the return flight back to Chicago, about half the amount of days are available in Business Class.

Atlanta to Istanbul: for 8 people (route starts 5/16/16)

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 6.14.38 PM

Space in Business Class for the return back to Atlanta is just as widely available.

Houston to Istanbul: for 8 people

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 6.48.34 PM

Space in Business Class for the return back to Houston is just as widely available except in July and August.

Miami to Istanbul: 8 people

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.03.35 PM

For the return flight back to Miami, about half the amount of days are available in Business Class.

Boston to Istanbul: 8 people

boston to istanbul

For the return flight back to Boston, the same amount of space is available in Business Class with the exception of August and September.

New York to Istanbul: 8 people

nyc to istanbul

For the return flight back to New York, about half the amount of days are available in Business Class.

The exceptions I see are:

  • the Los Angeles and San Francisco to Istanbul routes are spotty with Business Class seats up until September, but from September through February availability is wide open for up to 8people; for the return flight back to Los Angeles there is plenty of space in Business for up to 8 people, and for the return flight back to San Francisco September through February has tons of Business Class seats
  • the Washington D.C. to Istanbul route has few Business Class seats available except in August, January and February for up to eight people; for the return back to Washington D.C. there is plenty of space in Business from September through February

Best Miles to Use

Any Turkish award space you see on is equally bookable with any Star Alliance miles. Here are the cheapest Star Alliance miles to Europe:
Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 5.24.03 PM

Aeroplan (loyalty program of Air Canada) divides Europe into two regions– the cheaper region is for Western Europe and the more expensive is Eastern Europe, so travel to Turkey is 57,500 Aeroplan miles each way in Business Class. United and United Partner are separate categories because United charges more miles to fly premium cabins on partner redemptions.

Asiana, ANA, Lufthansa, and Singapore collect fuel surcharges on Turkish award flights. Aeroplan, United, Avianca, and Copa do not. I would use Asiana miles or Aeroplan to book an award on Turkish Airlines to Europe. A roundtrip Business award between the US and Istanbul costs 80,000 Asiana miles + $412.66 ($340 in fuel surcharges). The same award would cost 115,000 Aeroplan miles + about $77 (only taxes and fees, no fuel surcharges).

If you want to book the Turkish space to somewhere outside of Europe, check out this comparison of Star Alliance award charts to all regions of the world.

United, ANA, LifeMiles (Avianca), and Aeroplan display Turkish Airlines award space on their websites. If you want to book with another type of miles, search and call the airline whose miles you want to use in order to book.

Example Award

In 2011, I flew from Los Angeles to Entebbe/Kampala, Uganda on Turkish, then returned from Nairobi to Los Angles with a stopover in Istanbul. This was a cash ticket in economy, and the flight from Los Angeles to Istanbul was the most painful of my life because I couldn’t fall asleep despite exhaustion.

You could book the same trip with miles in Business Class at the moment.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.23.25 AM

It would cost 160,000 United miles + $79, or fewer miles with other types of miles.

How to Get the Miles

The Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express come with 25,000 bonus Starpoints for spending $3,000 and $5,000 respectively in the first three months of cardmembership. Starpoints transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Japan Airlines Mileage Bank.

Both Asiana and Aeroplan, my top two choices of miles to use to book Turkish Airlines, are 1:1 transfer partners of Starwood Preferred Guest.

Aeroplan is also 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards, which you can earn from The Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz. It comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Membership Rewards transfer to around 20 hotel and airline programs including Delta, Singapore, and British Airways.

The card has a $475 annual fee in the first year. But it comes with huge benefits like airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, and hotel status. Be aware that the “regular” Platinum card is worse than this offer because it has a smaller sign up bonus and only a $25 lower annual fee.

For more info on setting up and maximizing the benefits, see Get the Most Out of Your Platinum Card.

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

Bottom Line

Turkish Airlines award space is wide open from the United States to the rest of the world from July 2016 through the February of 2017. You can book it with any type of Star Alliance miles, but some of the best deals are with Asiana and Aeroplan to Europe.

Hat Tip View from the Wing

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 7.46.00 PM

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

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

What does that mean exactly?

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

United States to Aruba

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.20.37 PM

The off peak season for these regions is defined as:

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

Taxes: $16

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.20.42 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.19.52 PM

How to Book: on

Aruba to Bogota

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

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

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

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

How to Book: on

Bogota to Rio de Janeiro

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.14.19 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.14.08 PM

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

Rio de Janeiro > United States

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.22.31 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.21.52 PM

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

What Do Those Awards Add up to?

    United States to Aruba = 12,500 American Airlines miles

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

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

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

    64,500 miles and under $184 in taxes

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

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

Why are There No Fuel Surcharges Mentioned in This Post?

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

How to Get the Miles and Points Needed for this Trip

American Airlines Miles

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 4.44.21 PM

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

Singapore Krisflyer Miles (transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points)

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

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

Asiana Miles (transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints)

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

British Airways Avios 

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

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

Bottom Line

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

2 is the fastest way to search most Star Alliance award space. I frequently use the search engine even if I’m using another type of Star Alliance miles.

I often use the site’s calendar to search two months of award space at a time on a single route. Sometimes I’ll check “Nonstop only” if I am searching segment-by-segment, and sometimes I’ll check “United flights only” if I am using United miles (because United charges fewer miles for its own flights) or even partner miles (because some partners don’t collect fuel surcharges on United flights while collecting them on other partners.)

Yesterday I uncovered a problem with searching for United flights only.

How to Do an Advanced Search on

On, click Nonstop if you want the search results calendar to display nonstop flights only.

If you want to see only United flights, click “All search options” in the bottom left corner of the search box on United’s homepage….

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.06.57 PM

…where you will be directed to an advanced search page. In the locations and dates section, clicking My search preferences triggers a drop down menu. Clicking “United and United Express® only” puts a filter on the search that should leave out any partner flights.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.10.47 PMRight now the “nonstop” filter is working but not the United-only filter.

Examples of the United-Only Filter Glitch

Yesterday I discovered a malfunction in the United-only filter when running some searches for United award space to Europe. Putting the United-only filter on my searches was yielding calendars that reflected results with partner flights as well.

I know this because the list of flights available for the specific day searched, listed underneath the calendar, were not showing the Saver space that was reflected in the calendar’s color coding (green = Saver Economy and Saver premium cabins available, blue = Saver premium cabin available). The United-only filtered calendars were matching the non-filtered searches, which should not be the case. Simple logic tells us there should be fewer United flights available than United and Partner flights available.

This means you’ll need to search day-by-day to check if the Saver space you want is actually available on United metal until a software tester at United figures out the bug.

Below are search results on different routes that illustrate and prove what I’m talking about.

This calendar shows the standard search results for two people from New York City to Frankfurt, with space on United flights as well as partners:

United only filter

This calendar shows the search results for two people from New York City to Frankfurt, filtered for only United flights (not partners):

United only filter

Despite my request for the second calendar to filter any partner flights and only leave United flights, it is the same as the first. The flights available for May 1 (the day selected on the calendar here) displayed under this calendar did not show any Saver space available in Business or First Class which is what the green color is supposed to symbolize.

To further prove my point, here is the same search query from New York to Frankfurt, filtered to show only nonstop flights (United and partner flights):

Non-stop filter

And here it is again, but filtered for Nonstop and United flights only:

Non-stop filterThe calendars are the same. And the flights available for May 1 (the day selected on the calendar here) displayed under the calendar did not show any Saver space available in Business or First Class, which contradicts the green shading.

Don’t Believe Me Yet?

Here are two other routes that exemplify the same problem.

These calendars are for two passengers traveling from Houston to Paris, unfiltered, showing all United and partner flights.

no filter iah to par

The calendars for the same route during the same two months, but filtered to only show United flights and not any partners, are exactly the same.  Flights listed underneath were not reflective of this Saver space.

no filter iah to par

These calendars are for two passengers traveling from Washington, D.C. to London, unfiltered, showing all United and partner flights.

no filter IAD to LON

The calendars for the same route during the same two months, but filtered to only show United flights and not any partners, are exactly the same.  Flights listed underneath were not reflective of this Saver space.

no filter IAD to LON

Nonstop Filter Only Half Working

I also noticed another small malfunction, although this one isn’t nearly as annoying as the United-only filter glitch as there are two simple ways to work around it.

The Nonstop box in the search tool on United’s home page and the “New Show only nonstop flight availability” check box on the search results page don’t fully work.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.45.07 AM

Checking either will update availability on the calendar (i.e. the colors change) but the actual flights available listed under the calendar don’t update.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.45.17 AM

I mainly care about the calendar, and “nonstop only” does correctly display on the calendar, so this really isn’t a huge deal. If it bothers you though…

The Work Arounds

You have to either:

  • Un-check the 2+ and 1 stop boxes on the advanced search page, making sure only the Nonstop box is checked or
  • Un-check the 1 stop box on the left hand side of search results page. This will update the flights listed under the calendar.

Bottom Line‘s search tool is buggy at the moment, so if you’re trying to find United flights to book with United miles and would like to see more than a day’s availability at a time, you’ll need to pay for it on a site like Award Nexus– read more here about how to use it. I will keep an eye on the situation and let you know when it appears that the bug has been resolved. Likewise, let us know in the comments if you see any progress.

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