Reader Karin asked,
If you had to pick one type of miles to amass for specific trips, what would it be? For instance, what gets you to Asia easiest? Western Europe? South America? Thank you!
Europe: Star Alliance has the most partners that will get you to Europe. United miles will get you flights on these airlines without fuel surcharges. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United. Air Canada’s Aeroplan has good award pricing to Europe and you can avoid fuel surcharges. American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Aeroplan. (See also How to Book Award Tickets on Star Alliance Partners). If you want awards in first class though you probably want Lufthansa Miles & More miles for a combination of access to quality first class product and better availability than is offered to Star Alliance partners, albeit with fuel surcharges.
Asia: Like with Europe, Star Alliance has the most options between the US and Asia. Star Alliance is at a minimum the best for business class between the US and Asia. With fewer options than Star, American miles do get you access to first class awards on Cathay Pacific and on JAL.
Australia: Delta miles are best here — while it’s rare to get low level award space on Delta’s own Sydney flights, they are partners with Virgin Australia and Virgin Australia usually has good award availability on its flights from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. Delta allows allows connections via Asia.
South America: oneworld miles are best here, and in particular American Airlines miles. That’s because American itself has a strong route network between the US and South America, and because of their partners LAN and TAM. Skyteam miles, such as from Delta, can be used on Aeromexico, Aerolineas Argentinas, and Gol.
Africa: Star Alliance miles give you the most choices, e.g. South African (business class awards can be tough) and then via Europe on Lufthansa, Swiss, Brussels, Turkish, and even TAP Air Portugal. America miles to Africa can be tough, most of their partners don’t cover Africa well and routing rules are strict — within oneworld you need to fly British Airways via London and awards have been scarce or Qatar via Doha. Skyteam availability is less than through Star, but there are flights to some places not served as well such as direct flights on KLM from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro which is a popular award request.