At the end of the day, a good award redemption value is one that gets you to the destination you want on the dates you want in relative comfort. That being said, there are some award redemptions that are incredible values in and of themselves, for those of us that enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
The challenge with good award redemptions is that at the end of the day, like most other commodities, the price is based on supply and demand. As a result we see a lot of the best value redemptions devalued, as we saw on July 15 with Air Canada’s Aeroplan frequent flyer program, where some of my favorite award redemptions went up in price by nearly 50%. For example, awards between North America and most of Asia cost only 120,000 miles in first class, and they allowed one to route either via the Pacific or the Atlantic (or one in each direction), with two stopovers enroute. Tht award now costs 175,000 miles.
With that in mind, let me share what I consider to be 10 of the best premium cabin award redemption values, in no particular order:
90,000 Aeroplan miles for business class to Europe with two stopovers
On July 15 Aeroplan raised the price of this award by 10,000 miles (it was originally 80,000 miles), though it’s still an excellent value. The thing that makes this award such a great value is that they allow two stopovers in addition to your destination, while most frequent flyer programs only allow one. So while most airlines charge 100,000 miles for business class to Europe, Aeroplan charges 90,000 and allows you to visit more destinations. Aeroplan is transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, and allows you to redeem on any of their 20+ Star Alliance partners. As long as you stay clear of Air Canada flights, you won’t be charged any fuel surcharges either. (Update: As of December 2011, Aeroplan does charge fuel surcharges on most partners. See Aeroplan Devaluation: Fuel Surcharges on Star Alliance Partner Airlines) Lufthansa probably has the best transatlantic award availability and a pretty good business class product, so I would try and fly them.
Earn Aeroplan miles:
AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Aeroplan miles virtually instantly. Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Aeroplan miles, but the transfer is not instant; it usually takes several days.
80,000 British Airways miles for business class to South America with unlimited stopovers
Thanks to the mega sign-up bonuses we’ve seen offered by Chase for the British Airways Signature Visa credit card, this is a much more popular mileage currency than a few years ago, even in the US. One of the best value redemptions using British Airways miles is to fly business class to South America for only 80,000 miles roundtrip. You can fly either on American or LAN, and can have unlimited stopovers. The catch is that you can only fly one airline for the entire award, or else the price will go up exponentially.
If you just want to visit a huge city in South America and don’t live in a major US gateway, you’re probably best off flying with American. The reason for that is because you can include the domestic segment from your hometown to one of American’s gateways as part of the award. If you want to travel to a smaller city in South America, however, you’re better off redeeming for travel on LAN. LAN’s US gateways are New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, so if you book through them, you have to make your own way to one of those gateways.
What’s the absolute best award you could book? Well, it’s probably tough to beat something like New York to Lima to Santiago to Easter Island and back in business class, with stops in each of those cities, for only 80,000 miles.
Earn British Airways Avios points:
You can earn up to 100,000 British Airways Avios with the British Airways Visa (50,000 Avios with your first purchase!)
Expired: Please see Best Travel Credit Cards for current best offers
140,000 Alaska Airlines miles for Cathay Pacific first class from the US to South Africa
If you love to fly, this award is for you. Alaska Airlines charges only 140,000 miles for first class on Cathay Pacific between the US and Johannesburg, via Hong Kong. That translates to four (approximately) 15-hour flights on one of the world’s best airlines. Best of all Alaska Airlines allows a stopover, so you could spend some time in Hong Kong, if you wanted.
Here’s a tip if you have no interest in actually visiting South Africa, yet do want to visit Hong Kong. Alaska Airlines charges the same number of miles to travel to Hong Kong as they do to travel to South Africa through Hong Kong. So if you love flying, simply plan a long stopover in Hong Kong (however long you had intended to stay), and then tag on segments to Johannesburg and back, even if you only intend to stay for a day. If you love flying like me, that’s 30 hours of “free” flying while still visiting my intended destination.
Earn Alaska Airlines miles:
Although the Alaska Airlines Visa usually only offers a 25,000 signup bonus, there have been 35,000 and one 40,000 offer in the past, so try to wait until it's one of these better offers.
You can also earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles by crediting American and Delta miles to Alaska. See Maximizing Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Awards.
150,000 Delta SkyMiles for V Australia business class from the US to Australia
If you’ve ever tried redeeming miles for travel to Australia, you’ve probably run into one major problem – award availability is virtually non-existent. Delta, which otherwise has one of the most devalued mileage currencies, is partners with V Australia, and charges 150,000 miles for business class to Australia.
On the surface that’s not especially cheap, assuming you look at all miles as being worth the same. But SkyMiles are worth much less than most other US mileage currencies, so you have to keep that in mind. The other negative here is that Delta imposes fuel surcharges for travel on V Australia, so expect to pay somewhere around $400 for the award.
But here’s the beautiful thing – V Australia has truly excellent business class award availability, and a truly excellent product. Their award availability is literally at least five times as good as any other carrier to Australia, and they probably feature the best product.
90,000 American miles for Qantas A380 first class between Asia and Australia
If you live in North America this might not be the most practical award in the world, but it’s still an amazing value. Airbus 380 first class is the holy grail of award redemptions. Maybe it’s because the plane is relatively new, maybe it’s because the plane is so cool, or most likely it’s because virtually all airlines that operate the Airbus 380 don’t readily release first class award space — except Qantas.
They regularly release one first class award seat on their Airbus 380 flights between Singapore and Sydney/Melbourne. At 45,000 miles each way for Qantas Airbus 380 first class, it’s an amazing value.
Earn American AAdvantage miles:
You can earn 100,000 American AAdvantage miles with $5000 minimum spend by apply simultaneously in two different browsers for the Citi AAdvantage AMEX and Visa. See Best Travel Credit Cards for link and more details.
140,000 Continental/United miles for first class from the US to Asia (the long way)
When traveling between the US and Asia, most airlines will only allow you to route via the Pacific. Many Star Alliance airlines are exceptions, allowing you to route either via the Atlantic or the Pacific.
Back when Aeroplan charged only 120,000 miles for the award ticket, they were hands down the best airline to book this award through. For example, just a few weeks ago I booked an award from San Francisco to Munich to Zurich to Bangkok to Hong Kong to Seoul to Frankfurt to Seattle on them all in first class, for only 120,000 miles. Now they raised the price for the same award to 175,000 miles.
So that leaves us with Continental/United, which charge only 140,000 miles for first class from the US to Asia via either the Pacific or the Atlantic (or one in each direction), with one stopover and one open jaw. Your stopover can even be in Europe, meaning you get to see two parts of the world on a single award. My four favorite Star Alliance first class products (that are attainable with miles) are Lufthansa, Swiss, Asiana, and Thai, so I would aim for flying with them, since they have decent availability.
Earn United miles:
United miles are not only some of the most valuable, but also some of the easiest to earn, thanks to some excellent signup bonuses:
Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Visa (see United MileagePlus Explorer: 65,000 Bonus Miles)
140,000 ANA miles for Etihad Airways first class to Abu Dhabi
Typically when people think of award redemptions they think of the three major alliances, and the airlines that belong to them, since that’s where most award availability is. I used to think of Middle Eastern airlines as being “off limits,” simply because they don’t have all that many partners and there’s often not that much transparency in terms of award availability.
Well, one of All Nippon Airways’ partners is Etihad, and they fly between New York and Abu Dhabi. They have one of the best first class products, including complimentary chauffeur service for first class passengers on both ends of the journey. Well, ANA has a distance based award chart, and New York to Abu Dhabi roundtrip in first class costs a total of 140,000 miles.
ANA usually imposes fuel surcharges on award redemptions equal to what the carrier charges, though Etihad doesn’t impose fuel surcharges… so neither does ANA!
I’ll be flying this itinerary in November, and can’t wait. Keep in mind that ANA is transfer partners with both American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
Earn ANA miles:
AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to ANA miles virtually instantly. Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints transfer 1:1 to ANA miles, but the transfer is not instant; it usually takes several days to a couple weeks.
100,000 British Airways miles for business class from the US to Asia with unlimited stopovers
British Airways charges only 100,000 miles for business class between the US and most of Asia, assuming you stick to a single carrier for the entire trip. Hopefully you got in on the 100K mile bonus for the British Airways Visa, so you got these miles for just the $95 annual fee. So for 100,000 miles in business class you can fly Cathay Pacific or Japan Air Lines to Asia, along with stopovers at no additional cost. Now, in practice that usually only translates to a single stopover, since Cathay Pacific and Japan Air Lines only have a single hub.
My personal favorite is New York to Hong Kong to Bali roundtrip, with a stopover in Hong Kong in one (or both!) directions. The only catch is that British Airways does impose fuel surcharges for travel on both of those carriers, so expect to pay $300-400 between taxes and fuel surcharges. Still, given that American charges more miles and also doesn’t allow free stopovers in Asia, British Airways is usually the way to go. It’s worth noting that the same deal is available in first class for only 150,000 miles, and I consider the premium to be well worth it.
Earn British Airways Avios points:
You can earn up to 100,000 British Airways Avios with the British Airways Visa (50,000 Avios with your first purchase!
Expired: Please see Best Travel Credit Cards for current best offers)
120,000 US Airways miles for first class to North Asia
Assuming you’re only traveling as far as North Asia (which, for US Airways, includes everything north of Hong Kong), this is a pretty unbeatable value. You’re allowed one stopover at a Star Alliance hub enroute, and can travel either via the Atlantic or Pacific. An equally good value is business class to North Asia, which only costs 90,000 miles. I would aim for flying ANA, though they only typically release first class award space between late January and mid March for most routes, at least in advance.
US Airways is transfer partners with Starwood Preferred Guest and also frequently sells miles for under 1.5 cents each, so this is potentially an $1,800 first class ticket to Asia.
60,000 British Midland miles for business class to South America
British Midland has one of the most rewarding frequent flyer programs for those that frequently fly in paid first and business class, since they offer up to triple miles for first class (or even more if you have elite status with them). One of my favorite redemptions on them is business class to South America for only 60,000 miles roundtrip.
British Midland does impose fuel surcharges on award redemptions, so if you booked for travel on United or Continental, you’ll pay around $350 in fuel surcharges. However, if you travel on their partner TAM, you won’t pay any fuel surcharges, as the airline doesn’t charge any. That translates to 60,000 miles plus taxes for a business class award to South America, which is an unbeatable deal.
Do you have any favorite redemptions that I missed? If so, let me know in the comments!
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