Struggling With The Relative Value Of Miles?

Filed Under: Alaska, Awards

The more miles I redeem, the more I feel like I struggle with the most basic award booking decisions. I need to get from Amsterdam to Chicago in the next couple of days, and one of the most “obvious” choices would be to fly KLM’s new business class. I’ve wanted to review the product for a while, and you really can’t beat a nonstop flight (assuming you’re not accruing miles, that is). 😉


There are a few practical ways to (theoretically) redeem miles for KLM business class:

62,500 Air France FlyingBlue miles for one-way business class, plus fuel surcharges

I could transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, so it’s certainly not a horrible option.


62,500 Alaska Mileage Plan miles for one-way business class, without fuel surcharges

Okay, I’d rather save $250 in fuel surcharges and book through Alaska… right?


125,000 Delta SkyMiles for roundtrip business class, plus fuel surcharges if originating in Europe

Except Delta SkyMiles members don’t have access to this award space, since SkyMiles is cheap and refuses to pay their partners for award tickets, so they have access to less space.

So which choice would you go with?

The obvious choice seems like Alaska Mileage Plan, right? No fuel surcharges and nonstop travel in a new business class product… doesn’t get better than that!

Except Alaska miles are probably the single most valuable mileage currency (not including transferable points currencies). And I could instead redeem 70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles for one-way first class travel from New York to Hong Kong to Johannesburg on Cathay Pacific.

An extra 7,500 miles for 30 hours in Cathay Pacific first class vs. eight hours in KLM business class? It sure hurts to think of it that way! Of course that doesn’t factor in that I actually have to fly from Amsterdam to Chicago, while I don’t have plans to go to South Africa anytime soon.


On second thought, maybe I should just swim and then redeem Avios from Boston to Chicago? How long would that take? 😀

What would you do here? Fly KLM, or some other super sneaky option? Does anyone else struggle with redeeming miles when it makes sense in absolute terms but not necessarily relative terms? Am I totally crazy?

  1. I’d do the KLM option. Husband recently did a business class from AMS to LAX and was quite impressed. Also you get to choose one of their little ceramic dutch houses to take home which is kind of neat. We have 4 lined up in our lounge room reminding us we need to go back to the Netherlands sooner rather than later.

  2. Is there a way to do CX First Class from HKG to JNB? I was looking, and could only see business class with angle flat seats on the non-stop. Do you know if there is some other CX routing that has a better option? Thanks!

  3. The difference in fuel surcharges is $250… that’s definitely worth saving Alaska miles. Go with FlyingBlue.

  4. @ elteetrav — The route is often operated by an aircraft without a first class cabin. Keep in mind they have fully flat business class on all longhaul flights, though.

  5. @ Lantean — Except are Membership Rewards really less valuable than Alaska miles? Not convinced…

  6. I would go with the FB miles, since, as has already been mentioned; Alaska miles are too valuable. Worth it for the nonstop, even though those fuel surcharges do hurt (a bit).
    I also would like to see a review of KLM (new) business on a 747.

  7. I actually encourage you fly KLM, but I’d do AF + surcharges. Seems like a slightly better value than Alaska given that JFK – HKG – JNB costs only slightly more than AMS – ORD on Alaska. This is pretty much your only chance to try the product in the lesser half of the upcoming year.

    If you’re that bothered do Egyptair AMS – CAI – JFK then fly domestically to ORD. Shouldn’t take that long and should be a great value on some mileage program (now that US Airways is in OneWorld I’m not too sure how to book a Star Alliance ticket). 😉

  8. @elteetrav @lucky I believe the SFO and JNB routes are the last 747 routes for cathay, so it should have first class. You could also redeem 45/62.5K (J/F) aeroplan miles and rough it out on a United 763 🙂

  9. Thanks for the follow up on CX flights. I had been looking at seat guru, which indicated those flights had angle flat seats in business. But as usual, you were correct. When I went in and checked on the Cathay site (and also seat expert), it show fully flat. Looks like I may turn my upcoming South Africa trip into a RTW one.

  10. Sorry, I forgot to explain why I’d go AF over Alaska. As FlyingBlue miles are ~1.1 cents each and Alaska miles are ~1.6 cents each, I went on my calculator and found that basically by paying Alaska you’re paying 62500(1.6-1.1) = 62500 • 0.5 = 312.5 USD more than AF without fuel surtaxes. However the fuel surtaxes are only 250USD so basically by using FlyingBlue you’d be saving 62.5 USD. Save your Alaska miles for a Cape Town visit. (Are my calculations flashbacks from your middle school? Sorry…)

  11. Actually, I have to redeem Avios from Boston to Chicago all the time. Space actually isn’t that good.

  12. Very excited for this review. Booked the 747 JFK-AMS in November using Delta miles and want some feedback on upstairs versus downstairs on the 747. Not many other reviews out there.

  13. Lucky,

    Interesting, and good, dilemma. I would be interest in the review, for sure. As far as the fuel charges go, I assume you can write off the charge as an expense. Again, I assume that your job, being a blogger and running your own business, will allow this.

    Either way, looking forward to the review.


  14. Fly from AMS via FRA and ICN/NRT on LH and OZ/NH for 62,500 Aeroplan miles.

    That way you get 20 hours of F flying. The taxes are high, at around $600 or so.

  15. @Lucky

    yes, i think that now that Chase UR is a Singapore transfer partner, the value on Amex MR has gone down… I would value MR at 1.8 compared to 2.4 for Alaska.

  16. KLM! Do it for your European followers!

    I’m based in Amsterdam and dying for a proper KLM review!

    There are enough reviews available of all the other products.

  17. There is an PA MPM value available for Europe to NA. Aeroplan will validate your routing as long as it is under MPM5, even for PA.

  18. iirc, there will be no more CX first class on the HKG-JNB route once they switch to the non-F 77W in Sep.

  19. It would be horrifying to use AS. I would give you 62.5k MR and pay the diff in YQ in exchange for the AS.

  20. Wait five and a half months and book a one way using Delta Skymiles when the ability to book one way awards starts on January 1st. There will be no angst over relative value of miles if you use Skymiles 🙂

  21. @JRL

    AMS-ORD has a MPM + 5% of 13,614 when routed over the Pacific. Aeroplan doesn’t have any strict routing rules, except that any routing you choose must fit in under MPM5.

    AMS-FRA-HND/NRT-ORD on LH J/LH F/NH F is 12,439. You may only connect (under 24 hours) in HND/NRT for it to be eligible as a one-way award from Europe to NA. In such a routing, one has enough mileage to work in an extra stop in PEK or ICN and still be under MPM.

    Keeping in mind these are only bookable by calling in. To date I haven’t gotten a representative who wasn’t willing to book Europe to NA via Asia, but lots of comments like “Oh my that’s a lot of flying!”

  22. @Lucky

    well, it’s the only reasonable way to get to shower on a plane… i feel like that value is justified for me… definitely worth it for trips to Africa or Asia.
    but i know you value them much lower. 😉

  23. @ Lantean — Hah, not much lower, but I wouldn’t quite pay $2,500 for a one-way first class to Asia on Emirates without earning miles.

  24. @ Tom Really? I have had a lot of issues w/ Aeroplan regarding routing. Maybe they are more lenient on connecting in Asia, but they seem to be fairly strict about overflying your final destination. When I tried to book a flight from Europe to NYC I could only find availability on the EUR-US leg to DTW or ORD and they told me those routings weren’t allowed.

  25. Alaska really is amazing for two options, the US-africa via Asia redemption and emirates first. If you happen to travel a lot, both options allow you to essentially have two rt’s in one. Too bad you can’t really hack the routes. Alaska phone line just laughed when I proposed my YVR-JFK-HKG-HND all F route. In the meantime, AA allowed me to do some “creative routes” even with their area restrictions.

  26. @chasgoose

    Did you check to see if you were over MPM? It is likely if you’re doing Europe-JFK you might exceed the MPM going via ORD and thus it would be invalid. They are not flexible about MPM + 5%. I have done quite a few “bizarre” routes with backtracking on Aeroplan all because they were within MPM, but sometimes logical routes are rejected (e.g. NA to Australia via Asia is pretty much impossible without a published routing, while going over the Pacific and zigzagging around is allowed)

  27. I think the question is… how easily can you make more AS miles vs. MR?

    How much do they grow on trees, that is?

    Can’t you regularly buy AS miles for 2 cents each? If that’s true, I’d just use them, knowing that you can make more later. Cash (especially POST TAX cash) is king!

  28. Would booking from Korean Airline miles be possible? I have never used them but saw the chart earlier on the blog @ 80000 round trip for business class. Trip now-return trip sometime in the future. Or would it not work due to the process of booking with Korean Airlines?

  29. Hey Ben –

    Keep following your heart. The time will come when these kinds of decisions are obvious (e.g. I’ll use the miles on a less desirable available option because you just want to get there over anything else). I’ve found that with age and responsibility ( read: wife and kids), the luxury to spend time on these options continue as mental stimulation, but cease from a practical standpoint.

    Don’t compromise. Go to Africa. 🙂


  30. you keep saying 70k Alaska miles to get CX F JFK-HKG- JNB but don’t you realize CX don’t fly First to JNB anymore??

  31. @ Shannon – I did CX F from JNB-HKG on the 744 three weeks ago, so it’s clearly not gone yet. But I believe it will be by September.

  32. @ Shannon – Cathay will fly their 747-400 (all of those old birds are four-class) daily to Johannesburg until August 2nd. From August 3rd to September 5th the 747-400 will only fly to Johannesburg on Mondays and Saturdays while a 3-class 777-300(probably ER, contrary to SeatGuru) will fly on every other day. The 777-300ER will replace the 747-400 for good from September 6th. If SeatGuru is right and CX is running their regional jets, I’ll be quite depressed, but they shouldn’t be (do non-ER 777-300s fly that long anyway?), so it’s a marked improvement for everyone except First travellers (especially with Alaska points).

  33. Hey Ben,
    You might want to think back and consider your recent post where you asked why more people weren’t using Korean Skypass miles. For a partner award, you’d have to book the trip as a RT — but for 80k miles that’s about as good a value you can get!

  34. @ Nicole — Korean Air only allows roundtrip awards, so if possible would like to avoid them. But good point in general.

  35. As a Dutchman I am clearly not unprejudiced, but I’d go for KLM as well. I am not as ‘lucky’ as you are, flying only a max. number of 10-15 legs a year, and most of the time in economy, but I am always struck by the genuine interest that KLM’s cabin crew show for their guests. I know, you normally value the hard product more, but I’d consider enjoying the softer ones this time 😉

    Two weeks ago, I flew in a wonderful 747 from Paramaribo, Surinam back home to the Netherlands. The Netherlands were playing the World Cup’s quarter final against Costa Rica. The second half just began, when boarding started. While entering the plane we heard the radio commentary feed of the game throughout the cabin. Cabin crew wore a orange-coloured shirt over their normal uniforms and after take-off, the flight deck kept us informed about the rest of the game. After ‘we’ won the penalty series, almost all passengers cheered, waking some sleeping other passengers ;-). I will not remember that flight, that’s for sure!

  36. Well, I meant ‘forget’ where I wrote ‘remember’ in the last sentence.. sorry.. 😉

  37. Those are all valid things to consider but it gets even more murkier if you bring in currencies that can be used for both hotel stays and flights (e.g. SPG can be transferred to airlines; UR can be transferred to both; etc.). I believe you’ve talked about this previously but it’s also something worth keeping in mind.

    P.S. If SPG points could be acquired/manufactured with a multiplier, it would be so wonderful. They totally need to start selling gift cards 😉

  38. @ Jamie — Either Alaska or FlyingBlue, though Delta has some access to the space far in advance.

  39. Hi Ben

    Would like to get your opinion.

    Speaking of Johannesburg, if you had to travel from there back to the US west coast. What airlines would you try to find award seats on?

  40. @ danny — All depends on which miles you have. In general tough to beat either South African nonstop in business, or otherwise if you want to do first class, Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong (though Hong Kong to Johannesburg flight would be in business class), or Emirates first class.

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