Our 6 Go-To Airlines for Award Redemptions

Below we consider each of the 6 "Blue Chip" airlines, our go-to's for award redemptions. You can read more about each airline individually in our dedicated blog posts, but this is a great place to start.

Air Canada Aeroplan - Stopovers allowed and reasonable award rates

Air Canada is a member of Star Alliance, the biggest of the three global airline alliances with 27 member airlines and over 1,300 destinations which opens up for some amazing redemption opportunities. Other than that, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program offers the following advantages:

  • Stopovers of more than 24 hours are allowed on roundtrip awards, one in each direction. 
  • Open-jaws (arriving at one airport and returning from another) are also possible in lieu of one stopover. 
  • There’s no upper limit as to how many flight segments (stops) you can fit on an award reservation.
  • You can transit through a higher zone (costs more points) without paying any extra miles.

The award rates on Air Canada’s Aeroplan program are very reasonable compared to the programs of most US airlines. For instance, a round trip award ticket in business class between North America and Southeast Asia only requires 155,000 miles per person. This price also includes two stopovers one in each direction. Routing via Europe is permitted so in theory it’s possible to book the following itinerary:

  • New York - Taipei [stopover]
  • Taipei - Bangkok [destination]
  • Bangkok – Paris [stopover]
  • Paris - New York

In addition to the miles, taxes and surcharges are levied. Some partners (SWISS, Turkish Airlines, Avianca, Singapore Airlines, to name a few) don’t impose fuel surcharges which makes the above example a great deal. 

Other partners such as Lufthansa can impose excessive fuel surcharges of upwards of $1,500 on itineraries originating in the United States, definitely something to watch out for.

All Nippon Airways Mileage Club - Top airline with low award rates

All Nippon Airways Mileage Club is another great program that provides excellent value for the miles, not only for their low award rates but also for the fact that ANA has consistently been ranked as one of the world’s best airlines by Skytrax.

ANA uses two different award charts; one for redemptions on their own flights and one for redemptions on Star Alliance. We’ve identified business class redemptions between North America and Japan as one of the best uses of ANA miles. Depending on the seasonality a round trip award ticket in business class will set you back 75,000 – 90,000 miles per person.

In addition to the miles, taxes and fuel surcharges need to be paid. Up until recently ANA only charged airport taxes, but this has since changed and fuel surcharged have been re-imposed. Expect to pay around $350-$500 per person in addition to the miles, which is still very reasonable.

ANA is also one of few airline frequent flyer programs that still offers the opportunity to book round the world awards. The cost in miles is based on the class of travel and the distance flown in miles:

  • A typical Round-the-world itinerary spanning 25,001-29,000 miles in flown distance will set you back 170,000 miles.
  • Up to 8 stopovers (more than 24 h) are allowed per ticket.
  • You must return to the point of origin if you originate in North or South America.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer - Decent Award Rates on a superior airline

Singapore Airlines has historically been very restrictive when it comes to releasing award seats in First and Business Class to its Star Alliance partners. Long haul premium cabin redemptions are generally not possible with most major Star Alliance frequent flyer programs such as United Airlines MileagePlus or Air Canada Aeroplan.

While Singapore Airlines may be somewhat restrictive with the inventory released to its partners, they generally offer good availability to its own KrisFlyer program, making it a valuable transfer partner with its 1:1 transfer ratio to American Express.

The award rates on KrisFlyer are decent but not as low as on Air Canada or ANA. A one-way business class ticket from San Francisco to Singapore will set you back 95,000 KrisFlyer miles which is nearly the same price that ANA charges for a round trip ticket. However, one of the major benefits of KrisFlyer is the fact that only airport taxes are charged on Singapore Airlines redemptions, no fuel surcharges or other carrier-imposed fees. Additionally, Singapore Airlines allows a free stopover in Singapore on redemptions made through KrisFlyer, making it an ideal opportunity to maximize the value of your miles.

We’ve identified redemptions between the US West Coast and Australia (zone 9) and India (zone 6) to be among the best redemption values that you can get from KrisFlyer:

  • A round trip business class redemption from San Francisco to Auckland with a stopover in Singapore will set you back 242,000 KrisFlyer miles round trip. 
  • For comparison, a round trip business class redemption from San Francisco to Singapore will set you back 190,000 miles, so for an additional 52,000 miles, you get two 10-hour flights in business class added to the same itinerary.

The Maldives is also a great destination for those wishing to make an aspirational redemption, i.e. for the flying experience more than the destination. A round trip business class redemption from San Francisco to Malé with a stopover in Singapore will set you back 218,000 miles and approximately $100 in airport taxes. Not a bad deal considering the distance flown.

Want a suite? Go for Krisflyer

As far as aspirational redemptions go, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is the only frequent flyer program that can book the elusive Suites on the airline’s Airbus A380 on long haul flights. Saver level award space is typically very hard to come by, but it’s not impossible. A Suites Class redemption from New York to Singapore (the only US destination that’s currently flown with the A380) will set you back 237,000 KrisFlyer miles one way. For comparison a Saver award for the same flight will cost you 132,000 KrisFlyer miles one way.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club - Partner redemptions recommended

Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club is an often-overlooked frequent flyer program. This is mainly because, unlike the previous three, Virgin is not part of a global airline alliance. Instead Virgin has unilateral partnerships with a dozen different airlines from different alliances, including Delta, Air France/KLM, Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and more.

A round trip business class award between New York and London will set you back 95,000 miles in standard season or 115,000 in peak season. In addition to the miles, Virgin Atlantic charges taxes and fuel surcharges, plus other taxes means you’ll be looking at paying in excess of $1,500 USD in addition to the miles.

The best use of Virgin Atlantic miles is therefore partner redemptions, here are a few examples:

  • All Nippon Airways can take you in first class from California to Japan for 110,000 miles and approximately $350 in taxes and fuel surcharges.
  • Delta Airlines business class from the continental US to Europe will set you back 100,000 miles and only $100-$200 in airport taxes (Delta doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on award travel). 

One thing worth noting is that availability may be hard to come by, in particular saver availability between California and Europe, so while the above examples may provide excellent value, it comes at the expense of scarce availability.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles - The most useful OneWorld partner

Asia Miles is the frequent flyer program of Cathay Pacific Airways. The program should not be confused with the Marco Polo Club which is Cathay’s paid loyalty program that allows members to earn status in addition to the miles. Asia Miles revolves purely around earning and redemption of miles.

Asia Miles is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards with a transfer ratio of 1:1, making them perhaps the most useful Oneworld alliance transfer partner as they can be used for award redemptions across the alliance. Cathay Pacific is by many regarded as one of the world’s best airlines and in recent years they’ve restricted the number of award seats that can be booked by Oneworld partner frequent flyer programs such as AAdvantage, in particular for redemptions in First Class.

In other words, Asia Miles is a great program for accessing Cathay First award seats for booking far into the future. Additionally, Asia Miles provides some great redemption opportunities on Oneworld alliance.

The best use of Cathay Asia Miles is for Oneworld multi-airline redemptions

What makes Asia Miles tricky is the fact that they have different pricing structures for award redemptions. Single airline redemptions are priced on a distance-based award chart where the price in miles is determined by the total flown distance on one-way segments.

Single airline rewards come with some restrictions such as a max limit on 4 segments for round trips and 2 segments on one-ways. There are some sweet spots however, such as booking flights in the longest distance band of 8,500+ miles.

The best use of Cathay Asia Miles is for Oneworld multi-airline redemptions. Unlike single airline redemptions multi-airline redemptions need to include at least two Oneworld airlines excluding Cathay’s own flights. What sets these redemptions apart is the fact that you can include up to 8 flight segments and 5 stopovers. This essentially means that you can book a round the world in business class for 240,000 miles, with a maximum flown distance of 50,000 miles.

One thing that’s worth noting about Asia Miles is the fact that they have fuel surcharges. On partner airlines such as Qatar, the surcharges can amount to upwards of $1,800 whereas Cathay’s own flights don’t incur any high surcharges, only airport taxes.

Emirates Skywards - Good rates to the Maldives, Seychelles, Japan or Australia

Skywards is the frequent flyer program of Emirates Airline. They are a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citibank and Capital One, hence making them one of the easiest points currencies to accrue. They transfer at a 1:1 ratio from all except for Capital One. You can expect to pay around $500 in taxes and fuel surcharges, which is reasonable and lower than it used to be.

3 things makes Emirates a good redemption program:

  1. They have a large route network.
  2. They have an acceptable onboard product in business class.
  3. Their award rates are quite reasonable.

Some good value redemptions using Skywards are business class to the Maldives or the Seychelles, which cost 170,000 miles round trip at the saver level. It’s worth noting that saver award redemptions come with some restrictions such as the fact that only round-trip redemptions are eligible for the saver pricing.

Partners don't offer much value, with a few exceptions

Emirates is unlike many of the world’s major airlines not a member of a global airline alliance, but in spite of that the airline maintains partnerships with a number of different airlines across different alliances, as well as some low-cost airlines such as EasyJet.

Each partner airline has its own award chart that in many cases don’t offer much value. However, some partners such as Japan Airlines offer exceptional value in particular for redemptions between North America and Japan/Asia. A round trip in business class from New York to Tokyo will set you back 125,000 Skywards miles, or to push things even further, you can fly to Australia for just 145,000 miles round trip in business class. That’s exceptional value!

Next article - The entire process of booking award travel

This concludes our foray into the world of points and miles, but we are really only scratching the surface. If you’ve read this far, you can now consider yourself relatively well versed on transferrable points currencies, transfer partners and the most popular frequent flyer programs in America. But in order to actually be able to find and execute high-value award bookings in business class, regardless of destination, you’ll need a detailed instruction on how to find those seats, up next.

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