Every year we seem to see more promotions than the prior year for earning miles, which is great. Almost anyone can become a mileage millionaire with a little bit of effort. 75,000 miles for a credit card here, 25,000 miles for a checking account there, etc.
Beyond that, there are still plenty of great opportunities out there to burn miles. I help people do it every day through my award consulting service.
But when it comes to burning miles for my own travels, I find it harder than ever before. While Lufthansa has incredible award availability and a great product, there’s only so many times I want to fly them before trying something new, or at least flying an airline I haven’t flown dozens of times. And trying something new just isn’t as easy as it once was.
Let’s face it, SkyTeam has never been great for burning miles, so let’s exclude them. Let’s start with OneWorld. They have some fantastic airlines — British Airways, Cathay Pacific, LAN, and Qantas. Well, it used to be tough to burn miles on British Airways using American miles, since miles couldn’t be redeemed for flights between the US and Europe. So that meant going through Mexico City, Toronto, or Vancouver. While that’s no fun, at least the cost of an award ticket was reasonable. While they lifted that silly restriction at the beginning of the month, American flyers now need to pay fuel surcharges for award tickets on British Airways. Add that to London’s ridiculous taxes, and you’re looking at an “award” ticket in first or business class that’s going to cost you close to $1,000. No thanks. While that’s a great deal for a first class product, I’m not sure whether I’d prefer that or buying a coach ticket and earning the miles and elite qualifying miles.
Qantas was never great when it comes to award availability, but they were decent, with some flexibility. Lately, I’ve found space on them to be virtually non-existent, in either first or business class. While Qantas is a great partner to have, they’re of limited usefulness if they rarely release award space.
Cathay Pacific has actually been pretty great lately in first class, given how small their first class cabins are (six to nine seats). While it’s not easy to find space on them, there’s actually a lot more space than pre-recession. And LAN also continues to have good award space. But for me, that means American only has two “real” partners: Cathay Pacific and LAN.
The same is true at the Star Alliance. Lufthansa remains excellent when it comes to award availability. Swiss used to be excellent about releasing seats as well. I remember seeing flights from New York to Zurich last year that had a total of eight first class seats in the cabin, and all eight were available for award redemption. Now space between the US and Europe on them is virtually non-existent. While they still have acceptable availability between Europe and India and Europe and Asia, I really loved flying them to the US. I always loved flying from Frankfurt to the US via Zurich, since Swiss first class gives you access to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, but at the same time Swiss’ superior in-flight product.
Then take Singapore. They were never great for award space, but they’ve taken one of the most arrogant approaches imaginable to their new product. They don’t release award seats to partner airlines on their “new” product, which really limits the routes on which miles can be redeemed. I mean, how much longer will this product be considered “new?” There’s still Los Angeles to Singapore via Tokyo on Singapore, where they tend to release award seats four days out, but there’s almost nothing in first class before that. So for all practical purposes, Singapore Airlines won’t be in your travel plans if you want to plan a redemption more than four days out in first class.
Asiana used to be the Asian airline that probably had the best award availability in first class. They used to have two first class award seats on almost every flight. Now I find it rare to be able to find a single seat. It’s by no means impossible, just much, much harder than it used to be.
Anyway, I could go on and on, but I don’t want to sound all “doom and gloom.” It’s not that bad, and the added opportunities out there to earn miles more than make up for the loss of many great redemption opportunities. And heck, we’ve even seen a lot of gains, like Turkish Airlines’ leased 777s, which boast one of my favorite first class products, and even have excellent award availability.
But I am finding it tough to get the best of both worlds nowadays — a great product to a destination I really want to visit. So for my next redemption I’ll have to make a sacrifice, for once. I want to hit Buenos Aires and Santiago, so I’ll do so in one direction on American in first class, and in the other direction on LAN in business class. I don’t remember the last time I’ve burned miles for a US carrier on a longhaul segment or for business class, but it’ll be more than worth it for the destination, I’m sure.