My 10 best mileage award redemptions ever

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:

1. Singapore Airlines Suites Class at last!

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.

2. Emirates on a British Airways award?!

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.

3. Flying across the pond for the cost of a domestic award

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.

4. Swiss and Lufthansa First Class on a US Airways award!

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.

5. My first A380 experience!

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.

6. Before the fuel surcharges…

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.

7. Before the Aeroplan massacre

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.

The same award after they gutted their award chart and began imposing fuel surcharges would cost 175,000 miles plus over $1,000 in fuel surcharges, so I was happy to have booked it when we did.

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?

Comments

  1. When Oneworld was launched in 1999 they had a promotion to earn 100,000 miles for flying 5 member airlines. I ended up with 400,000+ miles including 100,000+ on BA.

    So, I did what any normal person would do with 100K BA points and that’s fly Concorde. I was picking up a BMW in Munich so I flew via ATL to LHR and then onto MUC in first/business class. The ATL-LHR flight was actually one of my best ever as I was one or two in first and had an awesome experience.

    On the return I dropped the BMW in Madrid after a week of driving through Germany, France and Spain and flew MAD-LHR-JFK. I had to overnight at the Hilton Heathrow T4 as the Concorde flight left too early for connections but that’s ok šŸ™‚ The flight was incredible, obviously.

    If you’re wondering how I got the 400K miles I flew STL-ORD-LHR-MAD-PMI-MAD-MUC-HEL-TMP-HEL-MUC-MAD-LHR-ORD-STL-ORD-YYZ-LGA-YYZ-ORD-STL for $1,750….

  2. @willy – My wife and I did that 1999 oneworld 100,000 bonus miles promotion.

    RNO-LAS-LAX-YVR-LAX on AA and Canadair.
    LHR-MAN BA, MAN-AMS, CX AMS-BCN IB
    all return flights eligible for 400,000 bonus miles, but ended up getting 200,000 BA and 100,000 AA since Canadair merged with Air Canada and I foolishly passed on 100,000 Canadair miles that would have become 100,000 Air Canada miles.

  3. Most of your redemption are useless today. And it is difficult to find award place for some routes. I use one award redemption many times for my friends, parents and family. Can you imagine 80000 united miles for three round trip business class trips between Japan-Singapore or China-Singapore?

  4. There are some secret award redemption around the world. Most of these are bugs in the award system of airline. If you let everyone know, airline will fix it immediately. Is there anyway you create a member-only email list or chat group? Only contributor can be the participants and we can exchange the best award redemption and fuel dump. Is that possible?

  5. @Willy… The Concorde… Amazing and I’m very envious!

    A recent great use of points for me… Last minute May 24 booked SJC-BUR on SW for 40K and Andaz W Hollywood for 30K AND bought a ticket to see Fleetwood Mac at the Hollywood Bowl!! The redemption was no biggie compared to your list but the sheer fact I had the points and miles for a spontaneous trip is what I value. Sure I could have used fewer SW points if I had planned ahead, but planning this 2 day trip on Friday morning and departing Friday night for next to nothing in cost was a delight to me. It’s the reason why we have the points and miles… So we have options!!

    Also to Ben… Glad to see this post because it’s a very good exercise for you to focus on the joy of what you love to do to balance the flight that shall not be named. This is what it’s about for you and your devoted readers. The joy of scoring an incredible redemption on a great aircraft to a new place.

    How about a post of the 10 best redemptions that we can get presently? Make this another exercise in what you’re looking forward to yourself and for your readers.

    Sorry I don’t post often but love what you do and wish you all the best. Also thought it was great that you recently flew Luftansa on one of your favorite routes. A Mercedes pick-up, German pretzel rolls and orange Fanta are good for the soul. Someday I will have you book this for me!

  6. Currently on a trip: SFO-HKG/BKK-FRA-LHR/LHR-LAX-DEN in UA, TG F, not spectacular, but nice. And I have booked DEN-IAH-LHR-MUC-BKK-HKG in UA, TG F for 70K (continuing to HKG-SIN-SYD in SQ Suites).

  7. I stumbled on FT right as you were doing the 6 Tpacs and signed up right then and there and have been happy to be along for the ride. Thanks for all the great advice over the years!

  8. Willy – were you also able to redeem miles for the BMW?

    (I also picked up a BMW in Munich…alas, the joys of German engineering didn’t work out too well for me, so I traded it in along with 500,000 Mileage Plus miles for a Lexus… šŸ™‚

  9. It’s so nice to see tons of promotions to redeem miles in States. It’s a bit rare to find those promotions here in Asia.

  10. With all respect I’m shocked to know I’ve been taking credit card advice from a 23 year old.

  11. @ christina — There are actually plenty of “secret” groups out there already. To be honest I’m excluded from most of them as a blogger, given that the “inside groups” don’t like sharing things with bloggers. But I’ve been thinking about a way to do what you’re talking about, and am almost “there.”

  12. @ Mary Beth — Hah, thanks for reading! Will work on a post about 10 best award redemptions out there right now soon as well. Thanks!

  13. @ Jessica — Which Etihad trip? The first one was indeed a great use of 140K ANA miles but think I’ve had better values. 90K using American miles for a one-way in first class isn’t much of a bargain, in my opinion.

  14. @ Steven DS — Hah, in fairness have been applying for credit cards for five years now and have an excellent credit score, so think I’m just about as qualified as anyone in that regard.

  15. Have you booked (or are you planning to) the New York-Singapore route with SIA on the A340-500 before it finishes later this year?

  16. Great ones in there. I wasn’t on FT as early as #10 took place, that’s pretty memorable.

    I just hope people aren’t compelled to start posting live tricks in their best redemption examples. šŸ˜‰

  17. Cashed in my expiring AAdavantage “Miles with No Expiration” (yes, quite the contradiction) this past fall for two Business Class tickets: SEA-DFW-NRT-BKK-NRT-ORD-SEA for 75K each (150K total and $158 in fees).

    Saw in-laws in BKK, friends in NRT, and since I had 152K in remaining miles, this worked out nearly perfectly.

  18. @Lucky. Good for you!!! I’ve been very lucky with many F class deals as well. Like Cristina, I would love to be part of your group to share.
    Love your blog!

  19. How about the 10 best mileage runs? I have a feeling all ten would be the same and involve a certain socal airport.

    The good ole days.

  20. Here’s mine from the history books: TW award for 100K miles that gave you a free r/t first class ticket (in 3-class) anywhere they flew, PLUS, a first class upgrade (from ANY coach fare to 3-class F) for either a future round-trip or companion anywhere they flew. Simply. Awesome.

  21. Singapore London SQ Suites just as you did for 91,000 Kris mikes. Then from London to Chicago the next day on BA F. Two weeks later Cathay F back to Jakarta ORD HKG CGK.

    The Hong Kong Jakarta route is rarely a 3 class plane. Cathay is known to swap out at the last minute anyway. However they did not and I had F all to myself:)

  22. Nice post, lots of great redemptions back in the day. What i have been wondering is what do you buy to amass so many miles? Signup bonuses and churning alone do not a multi million mile account make.

  23. @ vitempest — I fly about 200,000 revenue miles per year, so that earns me 500,000+ redeemable miles per year all bonuses considered.

    Then I apply for a bunch of credit cards through which I earn probably another 500,000 miles per year. Lastly I purchase miles when it’s a good value, like through US Airways or Lifemiles.

  24. Long long ago, before there was OneWorld or Star Alliance, SQ/MH/CX jointly operated a frequent flier program. At the inception of that program, there was a bug in the software. Essentially, you can earn miles on redemption flights. That was fun …

  25. Yeah. I would also love to see a list of your top 10 recommended redemptions right now.

  26. I am 23 also and have a lot of work to catch up with you, Lucky. I think we might have the highest credit scores of any 23 year old in the US. How many open cards do you currently have? I have 14 primary cards currently open and I know that you probably have more than that.

  27. @SteveDS:

    The real issue with taking CC advice from someone on the internet is about whether they have your best interests at heart…. and that issue exists regardless of whether the author is 23, 62 or anywhere in between.

  28. Last week we booked for next March a one way United first (ugh!) from Newark to Frankfurt, then Thai Airways first class (A-380) from Frankfurt to Bangkok with a three day stopover there. Then Singapore business to Singapore. 175,000 United miles plus $121 for two. Perhaps nowhere near the greatest, but not bad in today’s environment.

  29. Lucky,
    If you do make an “insiders only” group, what will be the criteria for membership?
    Redemptions like your #10 sound incredible.

  30. Very memorable:

    LH A380 PEK-FRA in F – only one other pax on that flight in F.
    But most importantly: a lot of my friends in Y and C. Why is that noteworthy?
    They laughed at my interest about miles for a looong time.
    So, that flight? Priceless!

    Apart that:
    LX in F from PVG to ZRH (first F trip ever)

    SQ in F from ICN to SIN and SIN to HKG (with private room invitation in SIN) – as I scored these award tickets during their system change to Amadeus I felt like someone who finally really worked the system…

    Ah! And: Alone in F on an older 747 of OZ between FRA and ICN – I was truely treated like a king!

  31. If you come up with a “secret list” please include me.

    Nice post. I enjoy seeing some of the possible rewards. My best have been boring compared to your list but I have been able to travel STL to Rome in business with my wife for a med. cruise on MSC. too bad I couldn’t earn the cruise with airline miles.

  32. My best was 40k RT in First class using USDM when Russia was classified as N Asia on the award chart. Flew DME-FRA-ICN-HKG-ZRH-DME (LH J, OZ F, OZ J, LX F, LX J)

  33. I’m really interested in taking advantage of US Air’s low mileage business awards to North Asia, problem is that most of my miles are with UA. Is there any way to transfer point from UA to US? I also have UR points, would those help?

  34. @ AT — Unfortunately there’s no way to transfer miles efficiently to US Airways from any of those programs. Plenty of great redemptions using United miles as well, so don’t be too sad!

  35. Here are few of mine:

    27.5k miles on CO (before the website integrated with UA) I flew IST-LHR-DXB-VIE-MUC-TLV-IST-AMM (TK 332, VS 346, OS 763, OS F70, LH 343, TK 321) All in J with IST-AMM throw away so basically a RT ticket when the computer thought it was one way IST-AMM. Stop over (<24 hrs) in LHR, DXB, TLV.

    Another one would be 70k UA miles SEA-EWR-YUL-MUC-FRA-NRT-ICN-HKG-BKK-SIN-CGK with LH 343/388 F, OZ 744 F, TG 388/346 F, SQ 772 F with private room FRA FCT, TG BKk TCL and etc.

    70k UA Miles HKG-BKK-NRT-FRA-IAH-LAX TG 744/388 F, NH 77W F, LH 388 F

    45k AA Miles on AKL-MEL-SIN-HKG-BKK QF 388 F, CX 744 F

    72.5k AA Miles PER-SYD-LAX-JFK-YVR QF 388 F, AA 762 F, CX 77W F.

  36. Currently on a trip from HNL-Seoul-Qingdao, Nanjing-Beijing-LAX,STL-Washington DC-HNL. All for 75K United Miles. Slow season traveling is quiet a bargain.

  37. Another Gem was the SQ glitch that allowed SQ F to be booked using USDM to N Asia for 120k. JFK-IAH(UA J) IAH-DME-SIN SQ(F) SIN-HKG SQ(J) HKG-SIN-EWR SQ(j). SIN-EWR being the longest flight in the world & all business class seats.

  38. in 2012, using 120,00 Delta miles, I flew Air France A380 from LAX to Paris, Paris to Cairo, stayed 9 days in Cairo, then from Cairo to Paris to Munich, stayed for 13 days, then Munich to ATL on Delta. All business class.

    The reservation agent (after I gave him flight segments to price out said “You are very smart. I’ve never seen this before, you’ve got a round the world ticket for 120,000 points.” šŸ™‚

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