I may only be 23, though I’ve been playing this mileage “game” for over eight years now, and have redeemed millions of miles for my travels. I figured it would be fun to reflect on my best award redemptions to date, as it’s sometimes interesting (and sad) to reflect on how things have changed over the years.
So here are the top ten award redemptions I’ve booked for myself, in no particular order:
Route I flew: San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore in Singapore Airlines Suites Class
How many miles it cost: 91,375 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles one-way
Why it was awesome: Singapore Suites Class is probably the holy grail of airline products, and until last year it was more or less off limits to those redeeming miles. Well, at least for all practical purposes, given that a roundtrip redemptions in Suites Class cost over a million miles. This changed last November when Singapore began opening up award space in Suites Class at the saver level.
Thanks to my first Suites Class flight being fairly empty, the flight attendant offered to make one of the double beds for me, which is by far the largest bed I’ve ever had in the sky. The product is totally worth the hype.
Route I flew: Seattle to London to Dubai in British Airways and Emirates First Class
How many miles it cost: 135,000 British Airways Avios one-way (second person only pays taxes and fuel surcharges thanks to companion certificate)
Why it was awesome: Late last year I struggled with redeeming an expiring British Airways companion certificate. They can only be redeemed for travel on British Airways, and unfortunately that always incurs high fuel surcharges, which makes the value of the certificate debatable. For example, a roundtrip first class award between Seattle and Dubai costs 270,000 Avios per person plus about $1,500 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges. So using the companion certificate you’d pay a total of 270,000 Avios plus about $3,000 in taxes, since you’re still responsible for paying the taxes for both tickets. Not much of a deal, in my opinion, when you can otherwise redeem 160,000 miles per person for first class and pay no fuel surcharges.
Anyway, in the end I decided I wanted to try British Airways, so ended up booking a one-way with a friend — Seattle to London to Dubai for 135,000 Avios plus about $750 per person in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.
I wasn’t thrilled about the value, until we showed up at Heathrow only to find that we had been rebooked between London and Dubai, from a British Airways 777 to an Emirates A380. Other than Singapore Suites, Emirates A380 first class is probably the other most aspirational product out there, so being able to try it by mistake was awesome. I’ve been able to fly them since, and the onboard shower sure doesn’t get old.
Route I flew: Boston to Dublin to Boston in Aer Lingus Business Class
How many miles it cost: 50,000 British Airways Avios roundtrip
Why it was awesome: British Airways more or less slaughtered their award chart two years ago when they switched from a zone based chart to a distance based chart. That being said there are a few “sweet spots” on the chart, and one of my favorites is that any flight under 3,000 miles costs just 25,000 Avios in business class. Boston to Dublin happens to be just a few miles short of 3,000, so a roundtrip in business class costs just 50,000 Avios. That’s an absolute bargain for a transatlantic flight, especially factoring in that American Express is often running bonuses on the conversion of Membership Rewards points to British Airways. For example, right now they’re running a 35% transfer bonus, making a roundtrip business class award just 38,000 Membership Rewards points.
You can find out more about using British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus here.
Route I flew: Chicago to Zurich to Frankfurt to Tokyo to Frankfurt to Orlando in Lufthansa and Swiss First Class
How many miles it cost: 120,000 US Airways miles roundtrip
Why it was awesome: One of the sweet spots on the US Airways award chart is for travel between the US and North Asia, which costs just 90,000 miles in business class and 120,000 miles in first class. The funny thing is that they’ll let you route through Europe, and it’s actually cheaper to go to North Asia via Europe than it is to just fly to Europe.
So in December of 2011 I really wanted to fly the Lufthansa A380 and saw they had good award space within a couple of weeks of departure on the Frankfurt to Tokyo route. Not only did Lufthansa have award space, but Swiss also had first class award space between Chicago and Zurich. It was an awesome trip, and I was especially happy to take it given that Swiss no longer releases any first class award space to partner airlines.
Route I flew: Singapore to Sydney to Melbourne in Qantas First Class
How many miles it cost: 45,000 American AAdvantage miles one-way
Why it was awesome: My first A380 flight was on Qantas between Singapore and Sydney. Naturally I was totally blown away, and at only 45,000 American miles for a one-way first class award ticket, it was a great deal as well. Not only was it a great deal, but Qantas is a lot better about releasing award space out of Asia than straight out of the US.
Route I flew: San Francisco to London to New York in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
How many miles it cost: 68,000 ANA Mileage Club miles roundtrip
Why it was awesome: I hate to admit it, but I love Virgin Atlantic. As far as business class products go I think they have one of the best out there, and their ground experience is on par with many first class products out there.
ANA is one of Virgin Atlantic’s partners, and up until two years ago they didn’t impose fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic redemptions. ANA has a distance based award chart, and awards for distances of 7,001-9,000 miles cost just 68,000 miles roundtrip in business class.
So I booked San Francisco to London to New York on Virgin Atlantic, which was just a hair under 9,000 miles roundtrip.
The experience was awesome, and I was happy to have booked it when I did, given that ANA now imposes fuel surcharges for redemptions on Virgin Atlantic.
Route I flew: Tampa to Chicago to Zurich to London to Istanbul to Hong Kong to Bangkok to Munich to Zurich to New York in Lufthansa, Swiss, and Thai First Class
How many miles it cost: 120,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip
Why it was awesome: Aeroplan used to be my favorite frequent flyer program by far. They had the single most generous Star Alliance award chart for first class redemptions, and didn’t impose fuel surcharges for travel on partner airlines. A roundtrip in first class between the US and much of Asia cost just 120,000 miles, and they even allowed two stopovers. So my brother and I booked a first class award ticket on Swiss, Turkish, and Thai, and had a phenomenal time. We were all alone in first class on three of the segments, which made the flights even more special.
8. When Singapore Airlines First Class was accessible with partner miles
Route I flew: New York to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Singapore to Bangkok to Singapore to Bangkok to Tokyo to Los Angeles to New York in Singapore, Swiss, and Thai First Class
How many miles it cost: 120,000 United MileagePlus miles roundtrip
Why it was awesome: While United now charges 140,000 miles for first class between the US and Asia, a few years back they charged 120,000 miles in first class. Back in the day Singapore Airlines also still had their old product flying in many markets, so for 120,000 miles I managed to do three segments in Singapore first class, one segment in Swiss first class, one segment in Thai first class, and two segments in Premium Service first class. All in all, it was an amazing award redemption and an even better trip.
9. The days of cheap awards to Australia
Route I flew: Tampa to Washington to Los Angeles to Auckland to Sydney to Auckland to Los Angeles to Washington to Tampa in Air New Zealand and United Business Class.
How many miles it cost: 90,000 United MileagePlus miles roundtrip
Why it was awesome: It’s amazing to think sometimes how quickly miles devalue. Back in 2007, after graduating high school, I took a trip with my mom to Australia and New Zealand in business class. The cost back then was just 90,000 United miles. Nowadays United charges 135,000 miles for business class travel to Australia, a full 50% more in just over five years. Folks, this is why I always say that miles are the worst currency to “invest” in and that you should always earn and burn.
But it’s not just that award prices went up by 50%, but back in the day Air New Zealand was rather generous about releasing business class award space between the US and New Zealand. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore, and it’s virtually impossible to find award space on them out of the US.
New Zealand remains the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and I’m itching to return soon.
10. Four transpacific flights in three days!
Route I flew: Osaka to San Francisco to Seoul to San Francisco to Osaka in United First Class
How many miles it cost: 40,000 United MileagePlus miles roundtrip
Why it was awesome: Back in 2006 United had a period of a few months where it was possible to book travel between Osaka and Seoul at the intra-Asia roundtrip first class cost of 40,000 miles, as you’d expect. The catch is that the website was allowing routings through San Francisco. So for 40,000 miles you could book Osaka to San Francisco to Seoul to San Francisco to Osaka.
What would 16 year old me rather do? Nothing. So I did that, and flew four transpacific flights over three days.
Anyway, there are so many other great redemptions I can think of, but I think those are my top 10.
What award redemptions are you most proud of?