17 of My Favorite Frequent Flyer Award Booking Values

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I love frequent flyer miles because they let me travel the world — and do it far more comfortably than
I would if I were spending cash. That’s because premium cabin awards are generally only a modest multiple over economy awards, though often the cash price of a ticket is many times what coach costs. (To be sure I highlight great business class sale fares when they come along as well.)

The price of an award ticket, though, can vary tremendously. That’s because the same flight will be ‘sold’ for different mileage prices depending on the frequent flyer program you’re using to book it.

If you have United miles you ring up United or use the United website when you want to book travel on Lufthansa, Asiana, Austrian, or EVA Air — and you pay the number of miles that United shows on its own award chart when the award seats are available.

However other Star Alliance airlines have their own pricing for the same flights. Aeroplan, ANA, or Aegean may charge fewer points for the very same seats. As a result there are what some would consider ‘tricks’ to get your awards at the lowest possible cost.

Here are 17 of my favorite awards to book because of how much you’re getting for your miles:

  1. Roundtrip first class between the US and Japan on ANA for 110,000 – 120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles (Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards).

    From the West Coast it’s just 110,000 miles for first class (90,000 in business class). I recently booked a Houston – Tokyo Narita first class roundtrip for 120,000 miles and $169.26 in taxes (no fuel surcharges).

    You can put the award on hold for 24 hours. Points transfer from partners instantly. Roundtrip travel is required, Virgin Atlantic awards have a $50 per passenger change fee, and a cancel/redeposit fee of $50 as well. No changes are permitted within 24 hours of travel.

  2. JAL Mileage Bank first class awards on Emirates New York – Bangkok via Dubai for just 155,000 miles roundtrip (JAL is a Starwood transfer partner).

    Japan Airlines has a distance-based award chart. As long as you stay under 20,000 miles you can fly first class on Emirates for 155,000 miles, and New York to Bangkok is 19,798 miles roundtrip.

    Though they’ve added fuel surcharges to Emirates awards at times in the past, the most recent bookings I’ve done haven’t had fuel surcharges.

    In contrast, Emirates Skywards (an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner) charges their own members 285,000 miles plus fuel surcharges for the same award. Alaska Airlines charges 360,000 miles roundtrip.

  3. Mideast – Southeast Asia for 50,000 AAdvantage miles each way in first class (American AAdvantage is a Starwood transfer partner)

    Fly Doha – Bangkok in Qatar first class on the Airbus A380 (including use of the business class bar) for 50,000 miles.


    Qatar Airways Airbus A380 Business Class Bar

    Or fly Etihad Abu Dhabi – Singapore in first class for 50,000 miles, which is great value considering this is true international first class and an over 7 hour flight (not to mention access to Etihad’s excellent new first class lounge).


    Etihad First Class Lounge, Abu Dhabi

    Once the diplomatic row between Qatar and neighboring Gulf states subside you can fly Doha – Abu Dhabi in Qatar’s regional first class, unlocking access to their al Safwa first class lounge and connect Abu Dhabi – Singapore in Etihad’s Boeing 787 first class at the same time.


    Qatar Airways al Safwa Lounge, Doha

  4. Australia – Hong Kong for 40,000 United miles one-way in first class (United is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer parter)

    In November 2013 the cost of first class awards using United miles skyrocketed, but there are a handful of routes where is surprisingly cheap. South Pacific – South Asia is just 40,000 miles one way in first class on Star Alliance partners. You can fly Thai Airways, for instance, Sydney – Bangkok… and even Sydney – Bangkok – Hong Kong (grabbing the incredible first class ground experience in Bangkok in the process, the Thai Airways spa is really unmatched in an airport).


    Thai Airways Spa, Bangkok

    The cost to move to North Asia instead of South Asia is just an incremental 10,000 miles or 50,000 miles total each way.

    The signup bonus you can earn from a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is enough for one-way first class Sydney – Tokyo or China via Bangkok on Thai Airways.

  5. Pretty good transatlantic award availability using Air France KLM Flying Blue miles (transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards).

    Air France KLM Flying Blue charges 62,500 miles each way for business class between the US and Europe and Europe even includes Tel Aviv. Awards are even cheaper with promo awards which rotate each month. When flying Air France you’re going to pay fuel surcharges, expect one way US to Paris to cost about $230 out of pocket for taxes and fees.

    The key here is that there’s much more award availability on Air France using miles in their own program than if you’re trying to use Delta (or Alaska) miles. And Air France’s new business class is quite good.

    Here’s Houston – Paris on Air France in business class non-stop if you’re looking using Delta miles:

    Now, I didn’t pick a route to really cherry pick, just to give you an idea of what additional availability often looks like. So it’s not wide open, but if you look using Air France KLM Flying Blue miles availability is much… better.

    Here’s the thing — open an Air France KLM Flying Blue account now even if you don’t need to book an awards. No accounts, with miles transferred in and immediately redeemed (especially online) can trigger fraud warnings in their system and sometimes they’ll reject your booking. So open an account before you need it, and book by phone if transferring in points from a credit card program. Here’s 17 key things to know about Air France KLM Flying Blue.

  6. Korean Air Skypass 80,000 miles roundtrip for business class between the US and Europe. You’ll pay fuel surcharges, but you’ll save a lot of miles. (Transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards)

    Earn the signup bonus from a Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and you have enough miles for roundtrip business class to Europe, not just one way. Here’s 17 things you should know about Korean Air Skypass.

  7. Korean Air first class to Asia as far South as Hong Kong for 80,000 miles one way and 160k roundtrip using China Eastern and China Southern. (Transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards)

    Again, earn the signup bonus from a Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and you have enough miles for first class to Asia.

    What makes this so good is that Korean Air (1) flies to more US destinations than any other Asian airline, and (2) has better first class award availability between the US and Asia than anyone else.

    As a side note you can book Saudia first class with Korean miles as well.

  8. Aeroplan business class to Europe for 55,000 miles each way (Aeroplan is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner). Eastern Europe generally, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece bump up to 57,500 miles.

    Aeroplan doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on all of their partners so fly United, Turkish or Swiss (recently returned to bookable) and get cheap awards in miles and in cash.

  9. American AAdvantage US to Maldives (or India) in first class for 115,000 miles one way (American AAdvantage is a Starwood transfer partner)

    This isn’t a cheap award but I consider it an incredible value. Sure before March 22, 2016 it used to run 90,000 miles. But I’ve got plenty of AAdvantage miles and this is the award I want to book more than any other — especially now that Etihad is running equipment with real first class from Abu Dhabi to the Maldives.

    I just booked three sets of roundtrip Etihad first class awards to and from New York JFK for the Airbus A380 First Apartment. Here’s how I did it.

  10. First class between the US and Hawaii for 45,000 Korean Air miles roundtrip (Korean Air Skypass is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner).

    Korean partners with Alaska Airlines, Delta and Hawaiian Airlines and you can use your choice for Hawaii awards although the rules and prices are slightly different with each. Delta awards are 45,000 miles roundtrip in first class between the US mainland and Hawaii. On Alaska or Hawaiian it’s 60,000 miles roundtrip in first.

    You have to book roundtrip, and you cannot combine these airlines on a single award. There’s no change to routing after departure of first flight. Once travel begins you can change only dates/times.

    It’s not just first class awards that are cheaper, for instance here’s pricing flying Delta New York to Hawaii and back in economy (Alaska and Hawaiian economy awards are 30,000 miles roundtrip):

  11. Singapore Airlines business class between the US and Singapore or A380 Suites between Europe and Singapore because of expanded availability (Singapore Airlines Krisflyer is a Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partner.)

    Singapore Airlines doesn’t generally make long haul premium cabin award space available to partner airlines, but they do make space available to their own members. Business space is easier to get than first class, but space does open up even for Suites class and especially Europe – Singapore rather than US – Singapore.

    Singapore also has a very unique upgrades feature which is fantastic for going from premium economy to business. Whenever a business class award seat is available you can upgrade at the saver upgrade price. However Singapore has two upgrade prices, if an extra miles business class award is available you can spend extra miles to upgrade into the business class seat as well. As a result upgrades from premium economy to business class are available most of the time.

  12. Brussels Airlines business class between New York or Washington Dulles and Brussels for 44,000 Etihad Guest miles each way (Etihad is an American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partner)

    Even though Etihad devalued Brussels Airlines awards without notice in April they’re still a fantastic value considering that you can fly transatlantic business class for 88,000 miles roundtrip without fuel surcharges — and a lap infant costs just 10% of the miles.

    Etihad partner awards can be frustrating to book at times because of call center agent quality, hang up and call back to find an agent that knows what they’re doing and try the Manchester, UK call center at 44 0345 6081225.

  13. Using Etihad miles to fly American Airlines at American’s old ‘pre-devaluation’ award prices. Of course you need American Airlines to have saver award space for this, but it’s a fantastic value. (Etihad is an American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partner.)

    The Etihad Guest redemption chart for travel on American Airlines is fantastic.

    Here’s one-way pricing between North America and other regions:

    First class between the US and Europe is still 62,500 miles each way. You save 45,000 miles on a roundtrip compared to booking with American AAdvantage. First class between the US and ‘Asia 2’ is still 67,500 miles each way. If you find a first class seats to Hong Kong and back that’ll save you 85,000 miles on a roundtrip.

  14. Most of the Asiana award chart. (Asiana is a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner.)

    They partner with Etihad in addition to being a Star Alliance airline. The mileage costs are more than reasonable, and one way awards are available even though the award chart shows roundtrip pricing. The stopover rules fantastic. They do add fuel surcharges to awards. I long for the days when the Bank of America co-brand credit card earned 2 miles per dollar, though.

  15. Short business class flights within Asia, Australia using less than 20,000 British Airways Avios. (Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to British Airways, American Express Membership Rewards transfer 1:0.8)

    British Airways charges for each flight you take separately, based on distance. As long as you stay under 2000 flown miles business class is double (rather than triple) the cost of economy.

    That’s great for flights with a real (rather than intra-Europe) business class. I love this especially in Asia using their partners Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and SriLankan. It’s also great for Qantas intra-Australia and on trans-Tasman routes.

    Here’s the chart:

    Business class generally means a better seat, baggage allowance, priority check-in, and lounge access all for a very reasonable mileage increment.

  16. Aegean Miles and Bonus. The whole program. (Aegean is a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner.)

    Consider that they offer awards:

    • 42,000 miles roundtrip for United domestic first class (within the lower 48)
    • 90,000 miles roundtrip for US-Europe business class, and North Africa is included at the same price as Europe and this includes Israel, too. First class is 120,000 miles roundtrip.
    • 110,000 miles roundtrip for US-Middle East business class, 150,000 miles roundtrip for first class
    • 150,000 miles roundtrip in business class between US and all of Asia and the South Pacific
    • 90,000 miles roundtrip in business class between the US and South America
    • 110,000 miles roundtrip for US-Africa business class, 150,000 miles roundtrip for first class

    One-way awards are available at half these prices. You can book one-way Lufthansa first class for just 60,000 miles (plus fuel surcharges). You can book US-South America for 45,000 miles one-way (and no fuel surcharges).

    The biggest drawback besides fuel surcharges is that you can only have one connection in each direction of your award.

  17. Cathay Pacific US – Asia in first class for 70,000 Alaska miles each way… or add on Africa for no additional points. (Alaska Airlines is a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner. Virgin America is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner at 2:1 through October 31, and Virgin points transfer to Alaska at 1 to 1.3)

    Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan allows you to book stopovers on one way award tickets, and charges just 70,000 miles each way for first class on Cathay Pacific between the US and Asia. Fly to Hong Kong, stop over, and continue to another Cathay Pacific destination in Asia.


    Cathay Pacific First Class

    The funny thing is that Alaska charges the same price for awards to Africa on Cathay Pacific as they do Asia. So you can connect (or stopover) in Hong Kong and continue to Africa without spending any more miles.

    Sadly Cathay no longer serves Johannesburg using an aircraft with a first class cabin, but Hong Kong – Johannesburg (a 13 hour flight) as a ‘free’ add-on in business class still isn’t bad.

These are my personal favorite awards, what are yours?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. > I just booked three sets of roundtrip Etihad first class awards to and from New York JFK for the Airbus A380 First Apartment. Here’s how I did it.

    Gary – any luck doing this recently? I’ve called the Oz call center three times in the last 2 weeks, and all three agents have been unable to see the EY first space.

  2. Gary, excellent roundup! You mentioned “Etihad is running equipment with real first class from Abu Dhabi to the Maldives”. Just wondering where you’re seeing that. We’re flying Etihad in July on an AA award and have an A320 unfortunately. Would love for a change there!

  3. Thanks for this; best post of the year! I’ve been waiting for someone to do an updated “miles charts’ sweet spots” blog to help plan to the coming year.

  4. Do you have to call Alaska to book Cathay? Nothing ever seems to show up online.

    @Sid, last time I booked Etihad w/ AA miles, I just called the USA number from the mobile app. Worked just fine.

  5. Really useful. Thank you! I always forget about Flying Blue but it’s a good new Chase partner.

  6. I’d also consider ANA miles (Amex MR transfer parner) for business class from US to Asia? I booked JFK-ICN for 95,0000 ANA miles roundtrip on Asiana business class.

  7. @ Liz: I searched a week in July, but didn’t see anything but A320s. I clicked a couple of dates in January, and they were A330s. Maybe they’re using the A330s in high or mid-season only?

  8. Gary, I thought ANA Round the World in Business class is not bad. I am biased I guess, since I just booked and did it with my wife. The itinerary was SEA-FRA-ZRH (stop), ZRH-CPH-SVG (stop), SVG-CPH-PVG-NRT (stop), NRT-YVR. We flew in Business class for 105K per pax.

    Korean Air, from NA to Europe, does that work via ICN? Will it work for say SEA-ICN (stop), then ICN-LHR for example? Seoul is not a bad place for stopover.

  9. @Kyle – yes, you need to call them. You can find availability through British Airways, and then call Alaska to book.

  10. #17. First class on Cathay Pacific.
    Great if you are travelling by yourself, but otherwise tough, as Cathay Pacific has been releasing only one seat in first class for award tickets in advance, and even not releasing any more seats close to departure. They seem to prefer having those first class seats empty, rather than releasing them for award tickets.

  11. Gary, have you had any luck using Korean miles to travel first class to Hawaii? I have a pretty open ended schedule and I’ve looked on Alaska and Delta and its tough finding first class one way, let alone round trip, even when looking out 10+ months ahead. Any suggestions?

  12. Gary, this is fantastic content and a key reason that I read your blog. A request for future articles like this would be to include some type of availability rating for each opportunity (I know you mention it on a few, but covering it on each example would be great). Even if the availability is poor, it’s helpful to know that we aren’t doing something incorrectly and that it simply requires equal amounts of effort and luck to find what we’re looking for (I know for me I often question whether I’ve done something wrong when I can’t find the same thing that you’ve managed to uncover). Also, the call center information on number 12 is also a great piece of data.

    One other idea might be to do an article (or series of articles) on high value, long distance uses of points/miles (like @Bob outlined above). I would love to see different ways to circumnavigate the globe in first (or business, although first is more exciting) without killing my points accounts.

    Thanks again for sharing this information.

  13. Use AA miles to fly Qatar to Africa in business class for 75K miles one way. I think it’s fantastic value. I was concerned that AA would require two different awards in and out of Doha as it does for some of the Qatar awards but it didn’t.

    UA charges 80K miles for USA-Africa in business class, also good value in my opinion. TK had space for the route we wanted. I got the trip I needed using UA miles one direction and AA miles the other.

  14. Gary, for the free stopover using Alaska miles to get tickets on Cathay Pacific do you have to wait for all the dates you want to show up in their system or can you call and ticket the 1st segment and then change it to the stopover and continue to the final destination when the date for that opens up? I want flights from LAX to HKG next May and then a few days later continue on to BKK. LAX to HKG is available but HKG to BKK won’t open up until Thursday. Here’s hoping availability will still be there.

  15. Looks like I’m in the minority among your readers in that I don’t care about Business or 1st Class deals, instead I’m just looking to get from point A to point B using the fewest miles/points possible. More on Coach deals please.

  16. After a couple years of reading / skimming your blog, this is probably the best article you’ve produced.

    Whilst don’t agree on Etihad as availability is nigh on impossible at times to find on their own aircraft in F or partner’s (unless you are lucky or get someone from Manchester who know what they are doing).

  17. Thanks for an excellent article. I tried Brussels Air using Etihad and I get this message:

    Unfortunately, due to US DOT requirements we are unable to present this page to the United States of America. Apologies for any inconvenience, if you require further help please contact us guest@etihadguest.com.

  18. Gary, question about booking Hawaiian with Korean miles.

    Please correct me where I am wrong…in order to do this first you would need to search the Hawaiian website for availability, which is 80k one way in F. Once we have found the availability we need to call Korean to book…do you have to go through the same hurdles of certifying family members to book a ticket for someone else…as you would with their own metal? Anything else I am missing here? You can book with seat round trip for 60k Korean miles instead of 160K Hawaiian?

  19. @tina
    Alaska Air first class award availability is scarce, even for Alaska Air customers. I had to search for many different dates to find some, even 7 months out.

    I’d search on the Alaska Air site by specifying “Upgrade with Miles”. If their is a Filled in ‘F’ you can probably get award bookings from other sites. (No guarantee, but worth a try.) If you are willing to book connecting flights, beware of the flights where only one of the flights has a filled in ‘F’ and which flight segment First isn’t available. It might be acceptable to travel economy Seattle to Portland and First to Maui, but you’d probably be upset with the opposite case.

  20. I’d add that Southeast Asia to South Africa/Turkey on Singapore airlines business class represents good value. I’ve a ticket booked SIN-JNB-CPT round trip for 76,500 Krisflyer miles pre devaluation. Even after devaluation I think it still represents value.

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