Best First And Business Cabin Mileage Award Tickets

Every so often I try to make a post with what I consider to be the top mileage redemption opportunities out there, so I figured I’d share my opinions on the best values at present for travel originating in the US. Of course, it goes without saying that a good mileage redemption is one that gets you to a place you want to go in relative comfort, so there are no “absolute”  best redemptions. But I figured I’d share some really, really good deals.

I’ll take it a step further this time around and not just share the best premium cabin redemption values out of the US, but write follow-up posts sharing what I think the best premium cabin redemptions for travel in other regions are, as well as the best economy class redemption values out of the US.

With that out of the way, here are my thoughts as to the best first and business class award redemptions for those originating in the US, in no particular order:

90,000 US Airways Dividend Miles for business class between the US and North Asia

US Airways charges just 90,000 miles for business class between the US and North Asia, which is an amazing deal. What’s especially awesome is that you can route to Asia via Europe, and even have a stopover there. US Airways allows one stopover OR one open jaw per award, so doing a stopover in Europe and continuing to Asia for fewer miles than it would take to just go to Europe is a great value.

I’ve written about this type of award many times before, and even wrote a tutorial on how to book one. For that matter I’ve flown this award several times, including the trip report I’m currently writing. I also took similar trips in January and June.

US Airways charges more for award tickets to South Asia, though I have written about a fun workaround to the higher pricing. Basically if you originate in the Caribbean then US Airways charges the same number of miles for travel to South or Central Asia as they do for travel to North Asia.

EVA-Royal-Laurel-Class
EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (which you can book on an US Airways 90,000 mile award)

25,000 British Airways Avios for Aer Lingus business class one-way between Boston and Dublin

British Airways Avios are extremely valuable for shorthaul redemptions given their distance based award chart. The downside to transatlantic travel using Avios is that British Airways imposes hefty fuel surcharges for travel on British Airways.

That being said, if you fly Aer Lingus transatlantic you benefit not only from their lack of fuel surcharges, but also from the distance between Boston and Dublin, which is just under 3,000 miles.

British-Airways-Avios
Distance between Boston and Dublin

As a result, a one-way business class redemption between the two cities would cost you just 25,000 Avios. I flew Aer Lingus business class last year on this exact award, and really enjoyed the Aer Lingus service.

Aer-Lingus-Business-Class
Aer Lingus business class

70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles for Cathay Pacific first class one-way between the US and South Africa

The greatest “gem” on Alaska’s award chart has long been for travel between the US and South Africa on Cathay Pacific. They charge just 140,000 miles roundtrip. Given that it’s a ~15 hour flight between the US and Hong Kong and then another ~13 hour flight between Hong Kong and Johannesburg, it’s pretty tough to beat four Cathay Pacific longhaul first class flights for 140,000 miles.

Alaska-Mileage-Plan
Route from San Francisco to Johannesburg

This year the Mileage Plan program became even more lucrative, since Alaska not only began allowing one-way redemptions on partner airlines, but also began allowing stopovers on one-way awards. This means you can fly Cathay Pacific first class from the US to Hong Kong, have a stopover, and then Hong Kong to Johannesburg, all for 70,000 miles.

Alaska-Mileage-Plan1
Alaska redemption rates for travel on Cathay Pacific

For what it’s worth, Alaska’s redemption rates for Cathay Pacific first class are the same for travel to Africa, India, the Middle East, and all of Asia.

100,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles for Emirates first class one-way between the US and Asia

Perhaps one of the most aspirational first class products out there is Emirates A380 first class, not only for the onboard bar, but especially for to the onboard shower 😉 . There aren’t many ways to efficiently redeem for Emirates first class, though Alaska Airlines began offering award redemptions on Emirates earlier this year, and offers one of the most compelling values in my opinion.

For 100,000 Alaska miles one-way you can fly from the US to Asia with a stopover in Dubai. For example, you could fly Los Angeles > Dubai on the Emirates A380 (once the service launches in December it’ll be the longest A380 flight in the world), and then Dubai > Bangkok, which is also on the Emirates A380. You could then spend as long as you’d like in Dubai during your stopover. For what it’s worth, they have the same redemption rates if you want to fly to Europe, so you could fly something like Los Angeles > Dubai > Paris instead.

Given that Emirates also includes chauffeur service with first and business class tickets, you’re potentially looking at four chauffeurs – two with each flight. I’ve very much enjoyed my Emirates A380 first class flights between London and Dubai, Singapore and Dubai, and Dubai and London.

Emirates-First-Class
Emirates A380 first class

130,000 American AAdvantage miles for a zone 6 business class distance based OneWorld Explorer Award

I recently covered the basics of OneWorld Explorer awards, which are American’s distance based awards. One of the most compelling values on the chart is for zone 6, whereby you fly up to 20,000 miles in business class for 130,000 AAdvantage miles. You can fly up to 16 segments and make as many stopovers as you’d like.

20,000 flown miles will cover you from the east coast to Europe and the Middle East, for example. Alternatively it would allow you to go to the Maldives via the Middle East, returning via Asia.

AAdvantage-Explorer-Award
Possible routing for zone 6 AAdvantage distance based award

90,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles for business class between the US and Europe

Aeroplan has made some huge devaluations to their program over the years (including hugely devaluing their award chart and adding fuel surcharges), though one of the best values is still for travel between the US and Europe. They charge just 90,000 miles, and one of the key selling points is that you’re allowed two stopovers OR one stopover and one open jaw. So that means you can potentially visit three destinations for 90,000 miles in business class.

Aeroplan does impose fuel surcharges on many of their partner airlines, but if you fly SAS, Swiss, United, or US Airways, among other airlines, you won’t be hit with those fuel surcharges.

US-Airways-Envoy-Class
US Airways Envoy Class, which you can fly on an Aeroplan award without paying fuel surcharges

91,375 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles for Suites Class between Los Angeles and Singapore

Along with Emirates A380 first class, I’d say Singapore Suites are one of the single most aspirational premium cabin products out there. I certainly enjoyed my flight in Suites Class from San Francisco to Hong Kong in January.

Up until last year they kept it so exclusive that you couldn’t even redeem miles on the flight at anything approaching a reasonable level. That policy changed last year, and now it’s possible to redeem miles for A380 Suites Class at the saver level.

Singapore-Airlines-Suites-Class
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class

The Los Angeles > Tokyo Narita > Singapore flight will run you 91,375 KrisFlyer miles one-way (factoring in the 15% online booking discount). While they do impose fuel surcharges as well, they’re not horrible compared to European airlines. The one-way ticket will run you a total of $341.06 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.

Singapore-Airlines-Suites-Class
Cost breakdown for a Singapore Suites award ticket

150,000 Delta SkyMiles for business class between the US and Australia (with a stopover in Tahiti)

So this award is an amazing value on a relative basis. It’s a great value compared to the other options for redeeming Delta SkyMiles, and a great value relative to the other options for getting to Tahiti.

There are only two airlines that fly between the US mainland and Tahiti, and those are Air France and Air Tahiti Nui. American partners with Air Tahiti Nui, while Delta partners with both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui.

Delta charges 150,000 miles for business class travel between the US and Tahiti, which is the same number of miles they charge between the US and Australia (since both are in Oceania, per their award chart).

This means that you could really make Tahiti a stopover enroute to Australia or New Zealand. For example, you could fly Los Angeles > Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui, have a stopover, then fly Tahiti > Auckland on Air Tahiti Nui, make that your destination, and then fly Auckland > Sydney > Los Angeles on Virgin Australia.

Delta-SkyMiles
Potential routing for 150,000 SkyMiles in business class

That’s a much better use than going straight to Tahiti and back, in my opinion.

67,500 American AAdvantage miles for one-way Cathay Pacific first class between the US and Asia

While hardly creative, Cathay Pacific has one of the most solid first class products out there, and the American AAdvantage award rates between the US and Southeast Asia are really reasonable. It’s just 67,500 miles one-way in first class.

Keep in mind with American you can get a stopover at your North American gateway city on a one-way award, so that can potentially add quite a bit of value. For example, you could fly American’s Flagship first class New York > Los Angeles, have a stopover for a few days/weeks/months, and then continue from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific.

Alternatively Cathay Pacific has a flight from New York to Vancouver, so you could fly New York > Vancouver, have a stopover, and then continue to Asia.

If you really want to maximize the value of your miles, Cathay Pacific has several intra-Asia routes with first class as well (like to Bangkok and Singapore), which you could include at no extra cost.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class
Cathay Pacific first class

70,000 United MileagePlus miles for one-way first class between the US and Asia (via Europe)

So this is definitely one of those “take advantage of it while you can” redemptions. United announced a huge devaluation to their MileagePlus program last week, whereby the cost of a first class Star Alliance redemption between the US and South Asia is going from 140,000 miles roundtrip to 260,000 miles roundtrip. As long as you book before February 1, 2014, you can still lock in an award at the old price.

The great thing about United awards is that they allow one stopover and two open jaws on an itinerary like this. United also doesn’t block any partner award space and doesn’t impose fuel surcharges, unlike US Airways (which blocks Lufthansa first class award space) and Aeroplan (which imposes fuel surcharges on a majority of their partners).

Lufthansa-First-Class
Lufthansa A380 first class

85,000 Japan Airlines MileageBank miles for roundtrip business class between New York and Dubai

Japan Airlines is transfer partners with Starwood Preferred Guest, and has a distance based award chart for travel on Emirates. They charge just 85,000 miles for up to 14,000 miles of travel on Emirates in business class. As luck would have it, roundtrip travel between New York and Dubai is ~13,750 miles.

Japan-Airlines-Emirates

So for just 85,000 miles you could fly Emirates’ flat bed business class roundtrip between the US and Dubai. Also keep in mind that Starpoints transfer to Japan Airlines at a 1:1 ratio, and for every 20,000 points transferred you get a 5,000 point bonus. That means you really only need 70,000 Starpoints for such a redemption.

Emirates-Business-Class
Emirates A380 business class

For what it’s worth, the same redemption in first class would run you 135,000 Japan Airlines MileageBank miles, or 110,000 Starpoints.

Emirates-First-Class
Emirates A380 first class

What are some of your favorite premium cabin award redemptions?

Comments

  1. Have you written a post about how to use stopover or open jaw as a way to get a free one way ticket? Link?

  2. Hi Lucky;

    Great post! Any comments on availability (especially for the awards using Alaska miles)?

    On American, I haven’t seen any non-stop award availability JFK-LAX for a while (even as EXP).

  3. @ beachfan — Generally speaking Cathay Pacific awards are pretty readily available, especially when booking far out or close to departure. Emirates awards are also pretty readily available, and they open up lots more award space two weeks prior to departure.

  4. Great information, thank you. With regards to the United MileagaePlus redemption above isn’t 140k the RT price? I’m flying SEA-FRA-PEK (one way)tomorrow in LH First for 70k MileagePlus

  5. 140,000 for roundtrip on United to SE Asia, not “one-way” as you mention.
    Also, 85,000 miles for up to 14,000 miles in travel for Japan Airlines redemption on Emirates, not up to 20,000.

    Great post though

  6. Is it possible to track a US-HNL segment on a US(mainland)-Asia roundtrip on either UA or AA award?

    Something like ORD-NRT-ORD-HNL would price the same as ORD-NRT-ORD?

  7. @ anon — That’s backtracking, so generally speaking that’s not possible (when you add on a one way the maximum permitted mileage is calculated based on the origin and final destination, and it’s not legal to route from Tokyo to Hawaii via Chicago).

  8. FWIW my EK award booked through AS LAX-DXB-SEZ is currently not allowing chauffeur to be booked (online)–either in LA, Dubai (overnight layover), or Seychelles (which I don’t think offers chauffeur).

    I’ve read before that booking EK through AS somehow puts it in EK’s system that it’s an industry ticket as opposed to a mileage ticket and thus not eligible for benefits like chauffeur, lounge access, etc. All the TR’s I’ve seen have advised bringing a copy of your receipt from AS to confirm it’s a mileage ticket and you’ll be given lounge access.

    So I’m not worried about being able to call in to EK, but it’s a minor inconvenience worth noting if nothing else…

    We actually are positioning to LA a day early, so any advice on a “beachy” SPG property for the night–ideally one where a suite night award would book into a nice room?

  9. @ Justin — Yeah, there seems to be some problem with the way Alaska award tickets on Emirates are coded, as I’ve read the same thing. Hope they get it fixed soon.

    As far as properties in LA go, unfortunately Starwood doesn’t have any beach properties there. In terms of the hotels themselves, I’d probably consider the SLS Beverly Hills, W Hollywood, or W Westwood. All are fairly nice.

  10. I think the 20,000 mile JL award is even better, 155k miles first class JFK-DXB-BKK and return in FK F!

    And remember that the 150k Delta award goes to 160k for travel June onward.

  11. So here is my bet: 365 days from todays date at least 50% of your promoted value redemptions will be history.

  12. @ Florian — Totally agree, and I think that’s the name of the game. You have to earn and burn as quickly as possible, because the best redemption values are constantly changing.

  13. Hi Lucky, I remember that the AS credit card from BoA is churnable. Do I have to close my current card before applying for the new one? How long should I wait before getting the second one? Thanks.

  14. I’m having a hardtime choosing between ORD-HKG-BKK on CX F vs ORD-MUC-BKK on new A330 LH F and 747 TG F Suite next week. Got both of them book, trying to use up my UA miles before 02/2014 but I need to pay $150 for AA award cancellation fee. Any advice?

  15. @ OooO — Toughie, as they’re probably the two best ways to get to Asia on points. I’d probably go with the United option simply because that redemption will be much more expensive come February. But you really can’t go wrong with either option.

  16. Lucky,

    Great post. For the AA OneWorld Explorer Business Award, the 150,000 mile award is a better value than the 130,000 mile award.

    The 130,000 award is 9.2 to 6.5 points per nautical mile; the 150,000 award is 7.5 to 6 points per nautical mile.

    And it gets better from there (with the 220,000 mile award a range from 6.2 to 4.4 per mile)

  17. @ Keith — Given that they charge 125,000 miles in business class and impose fuel surcharges on many carriers, I didn’t think they warranted being on the list. At the moment it’s tough to compete with 90,000 US Airways miles for the same, especially with the lack of fuel surcharges.

  18. I thought I’d drop this in from a historical perspective – my thought on the best airline reward EVER. 100,000 TWA miles got you a free round-trip ticket in (three-cabin) First Class anywhere TW flew; PLUS an upgrade from any coach fare to (three-cabin) First Class for use by a companion on the same trip, OR for use by the member on a future trip. Yes, that was a double upgrade from the lowest Y fare all the way to F, on any route, world-wide. I took advantage of that award many times!

  19. I want to to get from SEA/YVR to DPS via Europe for a trip this summer in F (using uA miles), what would my flight options be?? I can only think of LHR/FRA/CDG-BKK being in F. How about between YVR/SEA to Europe, I can only think of LH in F but they only open those seats two weeks prior.

  20. GREAT post lucky! Can personally attest to both the CX F awards using AS miles from North America to South Africa – we did this last year and in a 4-week trip covered 2 weeks in Southern Africa (2 countries) and 2 weeks in China on the way home (extended stopover). Awesome. AND – we’re doing LAX-DXB-BCN, then LHR-DXB-LAX in the spring using AS miles.
    @Justin – to the last point – all of our upcoming EK flights are allowing us to book chauffeur cars at each destination and at the beginning as well. We’ve called and have been assured we’ll be granted lounge access, specifically noting we’re traveling on AS-ticketed awards. The one thing you won’t qualify for is Dubai Connect services.

  21. Might be worth noting one caveat to the Cathay Pacific route from HKG to JNB: not all flights have a first class cabin. I booked myself, along with my parents, for a trip in February and they switched out airplanes. The 777-300 flights, which operate 3 days a week, I think, do not have 4 cabins, at least for now. My parents got pushed back with me in business on a schedule change back in August. Be sure to pick right day of the week to get First!

  22. @ AT — Going via Europe options in first class are slim. As you note, your best bet from Europe to Asia is going to be Thai A380 first class out of Frankfurt or Paris. Getting to Europe, the only airline that opens up first class award space in advance is United, so you’d probably be best off booking them.

  23. Lucky,

    Great post!

    Is there a link to booking 70,000 United MileagePlus miles for one-way first class between the US and Asia (via Europe)

    I want to fly LAX-EUROPE (could be LHR/CDG/BCN — whatever is the best seat) and then on to HKG (I’d then return on CX in F) and wondering

    a) how would you do it? Which routing going?

    b) Can you tack on a free on way on the CX HKG-LAX portion (to either NYC or HNL?)

    Thanks!

  24. @ Michael — I don’t think I’ve written a post specifically about the redemption. You could go via Europe, and on a one-way you’re limited to four segments. I’d say if you can book within 15 days of departure your best bet is Lufthansa first class as far as Frankfurt, and then either Thai to Hong Kong via Bangkok on the A380, Lufthansa direct, of Asiana via Seoul would be your best bets.

    If you book Cathay Pacific on the return you could tack on a one-way for a later date to New York, but couldn’t do Hawaii since that’s too much backtracking.

  25. Lucky-

    Any updates on whether JAL applies fuel surcharges to award tickets for redemption on EK? I seem to recall there being some uncertainty when EK first introduced them.

  26. Hi Lucky, I was just checking the flight availability on AA award booking site. It seems to me you can only find availabilities on AA’s own flight but not its partners and the flight of oneworld. Does it mean I have to book through phone? Thank you

  27. Sorry, I did find availability on BA, Airberlin and finnair, but not Cathay. And its
    “List of Participating Award Carriers” doesn’t seem to include Cathay as well.

  28. Lucky, thanks for a great blog. I’m looking to fly ARN-DXB in F with Lufthansa, which I have done once earlier which cost me 40,000 miles with United. I, however, as of right now have no United miles and was wondering what your thoughts are? I can currently buy 40k united miles for about $900, is there a better deal somewhere to get United miles (i’m using wyndham right now), or even another *A carrier able of doing lufthansa F?

  29. Hi Lucky,

    I’m a newbie, is it possible to buy 70k or more Alaska Mileage Plan miles? From Alaska’s website, currently, it seems like the max. I can buy is 40k + 14k bonus miles, that is, 54k miles for $1.1k.

  30. Great post! Any tips on getting to Australia from US using AA miles? Qantas availability seems to be a joke.

  31. @lucky @ anon — AA let me route from NRT to HNL via JFK (with an 11-month stopover at the North American gateway.) They wouldn’t let me do it on JL, but as long as I flew AA metal, it was kosher.

  32. @ XH — Correct, awards on Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and a few other partners have to be booked by phone, as they don’t display the space online.

  33. @ Damon — That’s generally your best bet for buying United miles, and I’d say that’s a really good deal for first class as well.

  34. @ Josh — Yep, American does indeed have more generous routing rules if you’re flying on their own flights vs. partner airlines.

  35. I haven’t found a single day of availability for the SFO-HKG-JNB route on CX F when I check last time. Random dates 2-3 months out did not find anything on ba.com or the Alaska site. Maybe I’m missing something…

  36. Lucky, this is an excellent analysis with some great ideas. I am curious to see a post on RTW tickets in C or F via the major alliances.

  37. @ Torsten Jacobi — Award space on Cathay Pacific isn’t as good as it used to be, though if you’re booking in advance it shouldn’t be too tough. The key is to search segment by segment and you should have better results. Also keep in mind that Cathay Pacific award space isn’t bookable on the Alaska website — you have to call.

  38. USDM 120k asia F class.JFK-ICN(destination))/ICN-PEK-BKK-CDG-VIE(stopover)/VIE-IST-JFK
    Includes suites on OZ,TG 747&A380F. from vienna had the option to do VIE-BRU-ORD-LGA on UA but even that it’s J “only” I wanted to try TK(and the lounge in IST)+1 less flight and probably better food lol:)

  39. @Lucky,

    I found and signed up your blog early this year. Based on my limited reading of your write-ups, I valued this posting the best and most useful! Great work! We benefit a lot from your knowledge and experience.

    My $0.02:
    1. If you could, when you have time in the future, summary the best award flights for each airline, to cover not only AA, Delta, United, US Airways, etc. but also Southwest, Aeroplane, Virgin America, some small airlines in the US, plus some foreign airlines (aeorplane, BA, Lufthsansa, Korea Air, China eastrn, etc.) It could have some overlappings with this article, which is okay.

    2. If you could also summary hotel reward programs’ good deals for Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, Club Carlson, maybe Wyndham and Choice Hotels, that would be great!

  40. Any opinions on the best redemptions for a one way from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to NYC or elsewhere on the easy coast? I can reposition in Asia if needed. Preferably business class but I have amex rewards, ultimate rewards, and American miles to work with. Thanks!

  41. @ TimmyD — Best value would be American miles for Cathay Pacific at 55,000 miles in business class or 67,500 miles in first class. Another good value is transferring Membership Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer and booking Singapore Suites from Singapore to New York.

  42. So, Lucky: to get a flight on Cathay using Alaska miles from SFO-JNB Business or First (stopover in HKG, say) – how do you book this? Do you have to call Alaska desk? I cannot see any awards on alaskaair.com. I can only find awards via Dubai on Emirates.

  43. Also, do you know all the ways to get Alaska miles, besides credit cards? What transfer options are available?

  44. @ Frank — Their only major transfer partner is Starwood. They also sometimes sell miles at a discount, as they’re doing right now.

  45. One more thing: ExpertFlyer doesn’t show Cathay Pacifc. Any other option to find award space besides calling?

  46. Would like to discuss with you a trip to Sydney. Please email me a phone number where we can talk. I would like to use your booking service. I have many US, AA & United miles. Trying to figure out how I can make the most of the trip with some layovers and open jaws.

  47. Hi Lucky, your Delta Itinerary is not possible… Air Tahiti does not fly from PPT to AKL, it is a code share with New Zeland Air, therefore not bookable using skymiles. Moreover AKL to SYD Via Virgin Australia, does not offer Business class…, Although you can go Business class from AKL to SYD via China Airlines.

  48. Lucky, you said I could look for Cathay space on ba.com for SFO to JNB. I can find space from HKG to JNB but it will not show SFO-HKG or SFO-JNB, only BA flights via London. Is there a trick to this or do I just have to call Alaskan?

  49. @ Frank — You’ll want to search segment by segment to get the most accurate availability. If you search SFO to HKG and there’s award availability then it should show up. For what it’s worth space is really tough to come by on that route nowadays.

  50. When transferring star points into Alaska Mileage plan for the Emirates first class award, what is the most efficient way to do this in order to maximize the 5,000pt star point bonus transfer offer. It states: for every 20k transferred there is 5k bonus up to 79,999 miles. Should I do 60k, receiving 15k in bonuses and then put those towards the remaining I need for the 100k one way?

  51. @ Rick — The limit of 79,999 points is per day. So you’re best off transferring 60,000 Starpoints in one day, and then any remaining needed points the following day.

  52. Do you have an estimated time period of how long it takes for bonus miles to show up on starwood?

  53. Great post! I’ve got around 400k starwood points and I’m trying to figure out a honeymoon plan – likely this October. We live in tokyo, are getting married in Honolulu, and hoping to hit Paris and Italy on our way back through to Asia.

    I was thinking we could get ourselves to the states and then see about redeeming with starwood/Alaska to head over to Dubai – long stopover where we shoot over to Europe for a few weeks and back – and then continue the rest of the award to tokyo. But I can’t seem to find a single day in 2014 or 2015 where there is first class showing through Alaska’s system – I checked around 100 days. Is it simply that full? Tons of biz availability but sounds like that is not an impressive product?

    Alternately we could see about doing asia to Europe on cathay or sq I suppose?

  54. @ pesos — Emirates isn’t releasing all that much space in advance nowadays, unfortunately. Be sure you’re checking all their US gateways, as space can be really tough to come by.

  55. I was able to just book from ATH-DXB-DFW in business class using 75k Alaska miles 🙂 spent about an extra $500 getting the miles from purchase bonus. So worth it 🙂 21 hr layover in Dubai too 🙂

  56. Hey Lucky- can you backtrack for a stopover? AS one way award on EK: LAX-DXB (overnight layover), DXB-MLE (stopover), MLE-DXB (destination)? Thanks!

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