Best out of alliance award redemptions

While the concept of formal alliances is only a little over a decade old, airline partnerships have existed for a very long time. I’d argue that as a consumer, the three major alliances are probably the best thing to happen to the industry in the past decade. But there are still some great award redemptions out there that don’t involve redeeming with an airline’s formal alliance. And these redemptions can often land you on airlines that you couldn’t otherwise redeem miles for, since they’re often not part of formal alliances.

While I’ve discussed many of these at one point or another and several other bloggers  (in particular Gary and Troy) have covered them as well, I don’t think I’ve seen a single consolidated list of the best redemptions (admittedly a bit subjective). So here are some of the best non-alliance redemptions in my book (in no particular order):

  • Using ANA miles for Virgin Atlantic. You can redeem ANA miles on Virgin Atlantic at the same rate you’d pay for redeeming on any of their other partners. The award availability is identical to what’s available to Flying Club members directly. This also presents the single best transatlantic award travel bargain. ANA’s award chart is distance based, and since New York to London is under 7,000 miles roundtrip, it costs only 63,000 miles to fly Upper Class on the route. Best of all, they don’t charge fuel surcharges, so not only is the award much cheaper in terms of miles, but you save about $400 compared to booking directly with Virgin Atlantic. Keep in mind that ANA is transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood, so their points aren’t that hard to come by.
  • Using Continental miles for Virgin Atlantic. While the deal typically won’t be quite as good as booking through ANA, there are a few advantages. Continental allows you to combine Star Alliance partners and Virgin Atlantic flights on a single award, so the ability to mix and match is pretty nice. They also have the same access to Virgin Atlantic seats as Flying Club members, in my experience.
  • Using Continental miles for Emirates. Ah, Emirates the holy grail of airlines when it comes to awards. Again, for the same price as a Star Alliance award, you can include segments on Emirates. Unfortunately it’s my understanding that you can’t use Continental miles for Emirates first class, but you can use them for business class. And since the A380 is soon returning to JFK, that’s a mighty nice prospect.
  • Using ANA miles for Qatar. Qatar is one of those airlines that has very few partners for those with miles in a North American frequent flyer program, so the ability to redeem through ANA is quite nice. ANA bills awards on Qatar the same as on any other partner, so a roundtrip business class award from Washington to Doha is 90,000 miles. While availability isn’t great, I’ve managed to find seats with a bit of searching.
  • Using American miles for Air Tahiti Nui. While they don’t seem to be the world’s best airline, there are very few ways to practically get to Tahiti. Air Tahiti Nui availability can be tough to come by, though isn’t impossible. Finding two seats in the same cabin is tough, as they seem to often release only one first class seat and one business class seat on a flight at a time (though occasionally you’ll see two business class seats). Still, for that special trip, this is the way to get to Tahiti.
  • Using American miles for Jet Airways. Jet Airways is a great airline and flies nonstop from New York to Brussels. Their business class seats are fully flat herringbone seats (similar to Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, etc.), and they’re the only airline I know of that serves Dom in business class. Availability is usually ok for a single seat, though finding two seats can be tough. Still, I can’t think of many airlines that offer a better business class transatlantic product (ignoring ground services).
  • Using Delta miles for Jet Airways. All of the above stays the same, and as far as I know, Delta’s access to Jet Airways space is very similar to that of American.
  • Using Delta miles for V Australia. Awards to Australia are among the toughest out there. And SkyPesosMiles are among the most devalued mileage currency out there. Mix the two and what do you get? Surprisingly decent business class award availability. It’s 150,000 miles in business class for flights from the US to Australia, and you can include the domestic connection on Delta as part of the award, assuming “saver” space is available. Originally we thought availability was out-of-this-world good, but as Gary points out, it’s not that great. But it’s still much better than what I see on Air New Zealand, Delta, Qantas, and United.
  • Using ANA miles for Etihad. This is something I have absolutely no experience with, but Etihad seems to be partners with ANA as well. I hear they have one of the best business class products our there. Anyone have experience with availability?

Now there are dozens and dozens of other partner award redemptions that are possible, but I feel like these are some of the best. That’s to say that these options can often get you into more comfortable cabins than you’d get sticking to an alliance partner, and often at a better price. The thought of flying Kenya Airways, Air Macau, or GOL, doesn’t really excite me, though maybe they work for your travel plans. So be sure to look at the redemption page for the airline you’re trying to redeem miles with to see a full list of their partners.

Anyone else know of any great redemption values? Anyone have differing experience when it comes to availability? Please do share!

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. AAdvantage miles are also very useful on Air Pacific. We easily scored two business class tickets from LAX to NAN; of course, we booked 11 months in advance, so that certainly helped.

  2. It’s probably worth mentioning that when you redeem on non-alliance airline partners there are more restrictions. For instance, with ANA you can’t mix Virgin and a Star Alliance partner on the same itnerary. Continental does NOT have this rule and allows your to mix SA, Emirates, and Virgin to your hearts content.

    Also I’ve noticed that customer service agents often don’t check these airlines for availability unless specifically requested to do so. You have to be a bit pushy with Continental agents to get them to book Emirates.

    Does anybody know what the deal is between Continental and Kingfisher? It appears they have an alliance based on their webpage, but their agents insist that award redemptions are not available.

  3. Years ago I redeemed Delta miles for a ticket on Virgin Atlantic (LHR-NRT) and it was an amazing value.

    Miles&More allows to redeem flights in Qatar Airways as well. The mileage required is the same as it would be for any other partner airline.

  4. Great post, particularly the Virgin Atlantic redemption with ANA. I used to fly VS a lot, before I dumped them to consolidate on the 3 alliances. I had always seen my BMI DC as the best option for redeeming on VS, but didn’t realise that ANA didn’t charge the fuel surcharges!! Thanks for the tip!

  5. Are you sure that ANA doesn’t charge a fuel surcharge on VS?

    I know they do charge one for award tickets on LH and LX (that charge their own fuel surcharge on award tickets) while they don’t charge one on CO, UA, and US (that do not charge their own fuel surcharge on award tickets)

  6. All Alaska Airline awards are out-of-alliance and many can be a very good value (especially Cathay Pacific). And for those AA and DL frequent fliers looking to move around the west, Alaska/Horizon serve some off-the-beaten domestic destinations which could be intersting/decent value redemptions (Barrow anyone?)

  7. The ANA>Virgin thing sounds amazing, till you start the caveats. It all depends how you get your miles.

    If you are a regular ANA flyer, with miles from trip on them, then great.

    If you stay at a lot of Starwood hotels and gain miles that way, good too.

    But if (like most) you use a Starwood Credit Card to earn miles, then.. its not that amazing:

    SPG card gives you 1mile/ $1, so a $60,000 spend gives you 60,000 points. (almost enough for an upper class Virgin reward flight via ANA system, according to this post).

    However… Virgins own credit card gives you 1.5miles/$1, so that $60,000 spend gives you 90,000 miles which = a VS Upper Class transatlantic flight., on Virgins own reward system.

    The exact same thing, for the same $ spend in other words.

    Things are slightly complicated because SPG gives you a 25% bonus on every 20,000 miles transfered, so 60k redemption would mean 15k more miles on ANA, which is 12k more than you need for this 63k redemption. That is the only advantage I can tell. spend 60k, get a VS flight and have 12k miles left in your ANA account for next time, assuming there is one.

    If you are traveling to LA/ West Coast, the mileage is much further from UK, (i.e. more miles required on ANA) and VS are generous on that redemption 100k miles, just 10k more than east coast. so its not worth the ANA booking hassle.

  8. @ Dan — Positive. They do charge them when booking Star awards, but not Virgin. Booked one last week and taxes came out to under $200. And there are no booking fees either.

    @ gba — Excellent points, though Alaska isn’t part of an alliance, so I didn’t include them. Guess I wasn’t clear, but I was referring to airlines that are part of an alliance but have good non-alliance opportunities. Alaska has plenty of *excellent* options.

    @ Paul — You’re forgetting that Virgin charges you fuel surcharges, while ANA doesn’t. That saves you about $400 by booking through ANA as opposed to Virgin. Furthermore, Virgin has one of the more ridiculous redeposit fees of any airline out there. But furthermore, if transferring through SPG, it’s 85,000 miles from the west coast. That’s 70,000 SPG points, vs. 67,000 going Virgin. I’ll spend the extra 3,000 miles and save $400 plus have a better cancellation policy. Only downside is the amount of time it takes to transfer SPG points.

  9. I think the United 5000 mile intra-Island awards in Hawaii can be a good deal, given that fares have gone up in recent years…

  10. I believe AA miles cannot be used on Jet for travel solely between New York and Brussels. You need to be on one of their connecting flights to India as well.

  11. Thanks for points – can someone personally confirm the lack of a ‘Fuel Surcharge’ if booking VS via ANA? seems like a good deal if so.

    @Lucky: If I am getting you right – VS asks 100k miles for LAX>LHR redemption. thats $67k spend on their credit card at 1.5miles/ $
    but, the same reward flight via ANA is 85k miles, which is 70k SPG spend (60k becomes 75k on transferring, +10k more)

    so you have to spend 3k more on their card, but save the fuel surcharge. (and get a better cancellation policy) If that is so, it is indeed the better deal, but not as good as LHR one in O.P., which Virgin charge too much for, I agree.

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