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 Sky
PesosMiles 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!