Which Miles are Best for Different Destinations?

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.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. For award flights to Africa, I would look at accumulating Alaska Airlines miles for use on Emirates and Cathay Pacific (JNB).

  2. AA miles on Etihad gets you to Cairo seamlessly in premium cabins. Sitting by the pool right now at the Ramses Hilton!

    DL miles are extremely useful to Jo-Burg on Virgin! No YQ, and 80K got me Upper Class through LHR to ATL this summer…

  3. Hey Gary,

    What about for flights within Europe? What are the best miles? (besides Avios for direct short flights…there’s practically no availability with Air Berlin/Nikki for the dates I need)

    I’d like to go from somewhere in Northern Italy (FLR,BLQ,MIL, etc) to Iceland… there are no direct flights so if I could throw in a near-24hrs connection somewhere like Istanbul that would be sweet… I’ve seen United offer BLQ-IST-OSL-KEF with a 20 hrs stop in IST for 15,000 miles… can you think of another program that may offer a better value?

  4. Virgin Australia no longer files from LAX to MEL.
    Skyteam miles are decent for going to Africa. A lot of flights route via CDG and AMS on AF and KLM respectively. There is also the DL ATL-JNB flight, but it’s not always easy to find availability on.

  5. If you have a specific destination in mind, our tool may be helpful: http://poyntee.com/util/points_to_go

    You can enter your location (US/Canada only right now) and your destination and it will give you the round-trip points required on different airlines in many different programs.

    It’s not perfect, but it can give you a good idea what points programs work best for your trip.

  6. I just booked business/first award travel to South America on COPA using the UNITED web site. Chase Ultimate Rewards points were transferred to UNITED. Very easy.

  7. Gary,

    How do you figure “best”? I’ve become quite addicted to CX J between US and Asia. What really makes *A “better”? Part of me thinks product quality and availability have to be taken into account.

  8. Hi Gary,

    What’s the best for US to Pakistan (travelling with a US passport)? I assume AA miles redeemed for Etihad travel, but would be interested to know your thoughts.


  9. How often is AA/LAN/TAM space to SA from NA actually available? I thought it was quite sparse.

  10. Trying to book Delta award travel on Saudia from ISB to LON. No award availibilty showing on any date for the next 11 months. Have tried calling many times. Any options for flying ISB to LON on any partners?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *