The Most Undervalued Airline Loyalty Programs
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Even in light of increasing award prices across the major US carriers, it’s easy to see the value in 100,000 MileagePlus miles, and most of us can still get excited about a 100,000-mile AAdvantage credit card sign-up bonus. And none of us could possibly deny the incredible deal the Southwest Companion Pass provides or the peace of mind a stash of TrueBlue points and JetBlue Mosaic status can yield. But what about the other programs listed as credit card point transfer partners — the ones you may simply gloss over? Today, I’ll cover some of the most undervalued airline loyalty programs, which provide even more avenues for US-based travelers to earn and redeem for domestic and international travel.
South American Star Alliance member Avianca has a reasonable award chart and routinely sells miles with up to a 150% bonus. Buying LifeMiles during the bonus timeframes can be a great way to get heavily subsidized tickets on Star Alliance carriers. When LifeMiles is offering a 150% bonus, you can buy miles for as cheap as 1.32 cents apiece, meaning a round-trip business-class ticket to Europe will cost you ~$2,000, and round-trip to North Asia is ~$2,400. Plus, LifeMiles tickets don’t incur fuel surcharges, and they’re relatively easy to book online. The program now allows mixed-class awards, but be wary if you need to call LifeMiles for anything; it will be incredibly frustrating.
LifeMiles has gone back and forth on the ability to book Lufthansa first class — among Star Alliance carriers’ programs, this one’s not your best bet for finding award availability. You can earn LifeMiles by transferring from Starwood Preferred Guest, by crediting paid partner flights to the LifeMiles program or by holding and using one of two Avianca co-branded credit cards.
Flying Blue is undervalued because most people don’t realize how easy it is to bank miles with the program. American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards are all 1:1 Flying Blue transfer partners, and Starpoints transfer at 1:1.25 if you maximize the 20,000-point transfer bonus.
On top of being able to quickly build a sizable balance, you can get tremendous value when redeeming miles through Flying Blue. Pay just 30,000 miles round-trip to fly from the continental US to Hawaii, and 25,000 miles round-trip from the US to certain Caribbean destinations.
Additionally, Flying Blue’s Promo Awards offer you up to 50% off on flights booked with miles. Round-trip to Europe from certain US cities will cost just 37,500 miles round-trip in economy or 93,750 miles in business.
Korean Airlines has a wonderful product for both long-haul flights and regional flights within Asia. I’ve always enjoyed the service and the Korean food, and I find the seats to be comfortable. The SkyPass loyalty program is equally appealing, though unfortunately it’s often overlooked. You can boost your balance in the program by transferring from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest or Marriott or by using the SkyPass Visa Signature Credit Card.
One of the great things about this program is the plentiful premium-class availability on Korean Air’s own flights. If you search far in advance, you’ll find that most flights have four or more business or first-class seats open. Award rates are also favorable; you’ll need 62,500 miles for a one-way business-class flight to Asia from the US on Korean flights, 25,000 miles round-trip to Hawaii from the mainland on Delta and 80,000 miles round-trip in business to Europe from the US on SkyTeam partners. Another highlight is the ability to put an award ticket on hold for more than six months without having the required miles in your account.
There are some idiosyncrasies to the program, including award seat blackout dates, having to get approval to add family members to your profile if you want to book them an award seat and fuel surcharges on SkyTeam awards. If you jump through these few hoops, you can really find a lot of value in this program.
Asiana is another Korean airline that’s part of the Star Alliance, and it has a generous award chart that’s often overlooked. You need just 100,000 miles to fly Lufthansa first class round-trip from the US or Canada to Europe — that’s only 80,000 Starpoints when you factor in the 5,000-mile bonus you get for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer. Europe to Hawaii in round-trip business class is only 80,000 miles and 100,000 miles round-trip in first. You can redeem miles for one-way award tickets at half the price of the below values. Round-trip tickets can include up to eight segments with seven stopovers (each must be less than 24 hours).
However, note that tickets must be reserved and issued at least 3 days prior to departure, which makes booking Lufthansa first class a bit challenging on some routes, given that award seats may not appear until a day or two before departure.
In addition to transferring from Starwood Preferred Guest, you can earn Asiana miles by crediting paid United flights to Asiana (though some fares only accrue 50% mileage) and by getting the Asiana Visa Signature Credit Card, which is offering 30,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days.
With the major US airlines seeing devaluations to their award charts and routing rules — not to mention moving to revenue-based programs — it’s no wonder many people are frustrated with their award travel options. However, by looking beyond American, Delta, United and other big US carriers, you can find some real gems. Flying Blue, LifeMiles, SkyPass and other programs offer relatively cheap award rates, and luckily there are plenty of ways to earn miles with each program.
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