Airline MilesFlying High – Best Airline Award Programs
You have a knack for maximizing your assets. Ralph Lauren opened your baby blues to the flattering power of a pink plaid, and you never looked back. While others would balk at the $25K Met Gala ticket price, your generous contribution consistently lands you a coveted table next to Anna’s. You’ve got the maître d’ of the new Sant Ambroeus in the Loews Regency on speed dial. And, of course, you apply the same thinking to your travels. You have your airline and hotel points down to a science – heck, you’ve even created your own algorithm to optimize awards. Because as someone who will spring for a First Class suite on Singapore, you know that the only thing that beats flying First Class is flying it for free.
Since the devaluation of the United MileagePlus program, you’re considering your options. And with Lufthansa and Etihad cranking up the First Class luxe factor, it’s become clear that United’s not the only game in town. We turned to our friends at TravelSort to get their tips for converting your miles and points into international airline tickets. Read on for our cheat sheet to the best award programs, right now.
First and Business Class to Asia: Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific
Top awards: Singapore Suites is one of our favorite First Class seats for couples, thanks to its closing suite doors, double bed and superb service. Cathay Pacific First Class is another excellent way to get to Asia in style and comfort.
Miles and points to earn: Singapore Suites must be booked with Singapore KrisFlyer miles. If you don’t already have KrisFlyer miles, AmEx Membership Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest points transfer. For Cathay Pacific First Class and Business Class, you’ll find the best deal booking with American AAdvantage miles. Note, however, that spaces open up on the AAdvantage award calendar about a month after they become available to Cathay’s own Asia miles members (and to British Airways Executive Club), so it may be worth paying the premium in Avios points to lock in your desired award.
First and Business Class to the Middle East, India and the Maldives: Etihad, Emirates
Top awards: Etihad First Class offers suites with closing doors, an onboard chef and complimentary Etihad chauffeur service at both your origin and destination. Emirates First Class Suites are glitzy, so the style may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly unique in offering an onboard shower to First Class passengers. Emirates also offers complimentary chauffeur service to its Business and First Class passengers.
Miles and points to earn: Book Etihad using American AAdvantage miles. For Emirates, if you’re only booking a one-way award, use Alaska Airlines miles. For roundtrip awards, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank can be a better bet depending on the length of flight. You can transfer SPGpoints to JAL and to Alaska with a 25 percent bonus if transferring in increments of 20,000 SPG points.
First and Business Class to Europe: Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Berlin
Top awards: Singapore flies a NYC to Frankfurt flight that includes Singapore Suites and Business Class. Lufthansa First Class is another great way to get to Europe, particularly if you fly via Frankfurt, which has a dedicated First Class Terminal. For a less elite but comfortable flight, try Air Berlin Business Class with flat bed seats.
Miles and points to earn: As mentioned above, Singapore is a good bet if you have KrisFlyer miles, AmEx points or SPG points to transfer to KrisFlyer. For Lufthansa First Class, you’ll want to book with Lufthansa Miles & More, which you can earn via the Lufthansa Miles & More credit card and by transferring SPG points to Miles & More. Both Singapore and Lufthansa charge fuel surcharges on their award flights, but Air Berlin, booked with AAdvantage miles, does not.
First and Business Class to Australia: Qantas, Virgin Australia, Korean Air
Top awards: While Qantas First Class is the holy grail for flying from the U.S. to Australia, it’s also a needle in a haystack, so make sure you have backup plans. Alternatively, consider routing via Asia; for example, try flying Korean Air First Class, which often has excellent award availability, even for First Class. Another option is Business Class on Virgin Australia.
Miles and points to earn: For Qantas, you get the best deal using AAdvantage miles. But due to the difficulty of scoring Qantas First Class awards, you’ll probably want to book with British Airways Avios, since the award calendar opens earlier when using Avios than it does when using AAdvantage miles. For Korean Air, use Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Korean Air Skypass, since you won’t be able to book First Class for any SkyTeam partners using Delta SkyMiles. Virgin America Business Class can be booked using Delta miles – one of the few good uses for Delta miles, which are derisively known as “Skypesos” given what a poor value they are.
First and Business Class to South America: LAN, American Airlines
Top awards: Forget anything resembling Singapore First Class to South America– you’ll need to make do with American Airlines’ version of First Class, or perhaps Business Class on partner LAN. United Business Class is also a possibility, since these awards haven’t increased in price.
Miles and points to earn: Use AAdvantage miles to book awards on American and LAN, and United MileagePlus miles for United awards.
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