Which Star Alliance Program Is Best For First and Business Class Awards?

Reader Dax asked the following question on a post about speculatively trying to book Asiana A380 first class on Sunday:

After US becomes the new AA on OW and after UA devalues their award chart what will be the new best way to earn flights on carriers such as OZ?

I’ve received dozens of similar questions lately, and there’s no doubt that economically booking premium cabin Star Alliance awards will become much more difficult as of March 30, 2014.

First, United has a massive award chart devaluation kicking in February 1, 2014, which most negatively impacts premium cabin award tickets on Star Alliance partners.

Next, while US Airways still has a very attractive award chart for travel on Star Alliance partners, US Airways will be leaving the Star Alliance as of March 30, 2014, at which point it will no longer be possible to redeem Dividend Miles for travel on Star Alliance carriers.

With that in mind, I figured I’d share a few of the frequent flyer programs that are worth considering for first and business class redemptions going forward. None are as lucrative across the board as United and US Airways were, but it’s probably still worth having a discussion about them.

Here are a few of the programs that I think are potentially worthwhile for Star Alliance redemptions (and I’ll discuss them in detail below):

  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • ANA Mileage Club
  • Avianca Lifemiles
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Air Canada Aeroplan
Award Chart | Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest

Aeroplan also had an award chart devaluation which kicked in January 1, 2014, though there were some positives to the changes, including them now allowing one-way awards on Star Alliance carriers.

Aeroplan has lower first class partner redemption costs than United’s new award chart across the board. Furthermore, their business class partner redemption rates are actually very reasonable. Here are what I consider to be some of the best values:

  • North America to Europe roundtrip for 90,000 miles in business class
  • North America to Europe roundtrip for 125,000 miles in first class
  • North America to Asia, India, or South Africa roundtrip for 150,000 miles in business class

Most of Aeroplan’s first class redemption costs outside of South America and Europe are 200,000+ miles. In many cases that’s still better than United, but for the most part I tend to think Aeroplan’s best values are for business class travel.

The other nice thing about Aeroplan is that in addition to your destination they allow either two stopovers OR a stopover and an open jaw.

The downside to redeeming through Aeroplan is that they impose fuel surcharges for travel on a majority of their partner airlines. The only airlines on which Aeroplan doesn’t impose fuel surcharges are Air China, Brussels, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA Air, Scandinavian, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish, United, and US Airways, and the fuel surcharges on LOT are really low. If you fly an airline that does impose fuel surcharges, there is a trick for minimizing fuel surcharges on the return portion of a ticket.

ANA Mileage Club
Award Chart | Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest

ANA has a distance based award chart, and with the exception of US Airways and United (when booked online) imposes fuel surcharges for travel on all their partner airlines.

ANA-Award-Chart-101

In light of the devaluation this chart is now looking really, really tempting, in my opinion. For example, from the US east coast to much of Europe is under 9,000 miles roundtrip. So for a distance of 7,001-9,000 miles you’re looking at just 68,000 miles in business class or 100,000 miles in first class.

For 14,001-18,000 miles (which will cover you from the US to most destinations in Asia), you’re looking at 105,000 miles in business class or 160,000 miles in first class. While the fuel surcharges are high, as long as you’re not looking to fly 25,000+ miles this is one of the most tempting award charts, in my opinion.

ANA allows four stopovers (including the destination) on an award.

Avianca Lifemiles
Award Chart | Transfer partners: none, but they frequently sell miles for ~1.5 cents each

Unlike Aeroplan, ANA and Singapore, Avianca Lifemiles doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on any redemptions. And on top of that they actually have reasonable redemption rates. For example, out of North America their most expensive business class redemption rate is 135,000 miles roundtrip, and their most expensive first class redemption rate is 195,000 miles roundtrip. So across the board this is one of the best values nowadays.

That being said, there’s some major “red tape” when it comes to redeeming Lifemiles:

  • Their call center is HORRIBLE, so if your redemption requires servicing over the phone, you might as well forget about it
  • They don’t allow stopovers
  • They only allow simple routings that can be booked online, meaning if you have a routing that requires more than one connection chances are you can’t book it
  • They don’t allow mixed cabin awards, meaning if you book a business class award all segments have to be in business class
  • They have a history of devaluing their program without notice,  so this isn’t a place to store miles long term

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Award Chart | Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest

Interestingly Singapore actually has a really lucrative award chart for travel on their own flights. Not only is the award chart fairly generous, but they reserve most of their premium cabin award space for members of their own KrisFlyer program, so availability is generally excellent. Nowadays you can even redeem miles at a reasonable cost for travel in Singapore A380 Suites Class.

But what about travel on partner airlines? For the most part you’ll find better values through Aeroplan, ANA, or Lifemiles, though there are a few “sweet spots” on the KrisFlyer award chart for travel on Star Alliance partners. For example:

  • Mainland North America to Hawaii roundtrip for 60,000 miles in business class
  • North America to the Middle East/North Africa roundtrip for 115,000 miles in business class
  • North America to South Africa for 145,000 miles in business class

KrisFlyer imposes fuel surcharges whenever the operating airline would on a revenue ticket. In practice this means the only times they don’t charge it it is for domestic travel on United and for travel anywhere on US Airways.

Bottom line

It really is kind of depressing to think about how bleak the prospects are for Star Alliance premium cabin redemptions come April.

I know I’m booking a few more US Airways awards in the next couple of months, and hopefully you guys will do the same with redeeming Star Alliance miles. Check out my previous posts about redeeming Star Alliance miles for business class and about redeeming Star Alliance miles for first class.

Does anyone know of any other award spot “sweet spots,” or other programs with especially lucrative Star Alliance premium cabin redemption opportunities?

Comments

  1. This is extremely helpful. Thanks! This is the question I have been asking for a couple of months.

    How does ANA measure mileage for their distances? For example if I stick the airports on my itinerary into GC mapper is that (more or less) the distance I should expect ANA to come up with? I assume that it must be based on adding up all of the segments and not just on the distance between origin and ultimate destination, right?

  2. @ RakSiam — Correct, it’s the sum of the distance of all segments. If you enter the itinerary into gcmap.com you should get a similar number to what ANA will calculate. Sometimes there’s a slight difference as some airlines calculates the distances between airports, while others calculate the distances between cities.

  3. Great analysis! How about earning miles on these programs? I think United has the more generous earning chart for discount economy classes. And how about elite status? If you add these to your analysis, it would be a perfect one. Specially, since I am thinking of switching from United…

  4. very sad indeed… even before this article i was actually decided i will credit my next United flight to Avianca. i understand the risk of devaluation but i think in this case it’s better the devil you don’t know… than United.

  5. I think the Miles % More chart is not bad if you credit miles flown on business or first class, as the distance is multiplied by 2 or 3 instead of the traditionals 1,25 or 1,5. But if you get miles from credit cards, it´s not that good.

  6. @ Lucky – For those that can´t get those big credit card signups bonuses, which programs sell miles at reasonable rates? Anyone besides Lifemiles, AAdvantage and MileagePlan on promotions?

  7. I’ve received dozens of similar questions lately, and there’s no doubt that economically booking premium cabin Star Alliance awards will become much more difficult as of March 30, 2013.

    @Lucky, Don’t you mean March 30, 2014?

  8. Lucky, thanks for this very helpful post. Is there any chance that some time between now and maybe the end of February, you could do up a post to help people decide what their best options are for US Dividend Miles before and after the alliance switch? Or just the pros and cons of each alliance, given the current US Dividend Miles award chart and routing rules?

    My current travel plans through 2014 are mostly set and booked, so I might just hold off and use the miles with OW, but I also don’t want to miss some excellent value itinerary that’s possible with *A but not so much with OW. Any travel through Europe, for instance, looks like it will be less value on OW because most routings will result in the insane London fees/taxes.

    I’d love to do Air New Zealand for something in the southern spring or summer, but it looks like that’s just not an option, given how closely they hold their seats for NA-NZ non-stops. Are they still really tight on availability? Prefer business, but would consider coach, given the relatively high cost of those flights.

  9. @ Autolycus — Great idea, let me write a post about that for tomorrow.

    It has been months since I’ve seen an award seat on a mainland US to New Zealand flight. If you are willing to route through Asia availability is often a bit better.

  10. The United devaluation has really increased the relative value of Amex MR points. Hopefully they come out with some good offers this year.

  11. Although United’s devaluation makes it a worse deal before, depending on how routing rules change, you can still do Africa + Asia for 160K miles in business class, which is not much more than Aeroplan and no surcharges.

    Or Oceania for 150K. For those of us in the US, it’s still easy to rack up a lot of Chase points, 3 successful card applications (and the minimum spend) will get you to around 160K.

  12. I also have the question about booking directly on lufthansa and how that compares to the choices you mentioned

  13. @lucky, I look forward to that post, thanks for listening to my suggestion!

    That’s what I was afraid of with NZ. Due to spousal concerns–mostly with total travel time to destination–a routing through Asia is probably not an option. Sounds like the best option for that future trip is gonna be a revenue ticket in a shoulder season (in coach, blech!, unless routing through SYD or BNE on VA (with SkyMiles) isn’t too much longer total time than LAX-AKL.

  14. @ Autolycus – I did see a small amount of NZ Y availablity in December for travel that month on SFO-AKL, but J space has been non-existent in my experience for at least a year, probably closer to 18 months. Perhaps Ben has been luckier than I though 🙂

    If you route through Asia (PVG/NRT) NZ does have the 787 in the schedule from ~ Nov 10, with good Y space. The NRT option doesn’t seem to have any J space open, but there is the odd J seat PVG-AKL.

    There is also the Fiji Airways option to NZ/Australia but from my quick look a couple of months ago they did not seem to release much J space on LAX-NAN. Definitely worth keeping an eye on though.

  15. For ANA:

    1. Are one way awards allowed, or only r/t?
    2. Do they release more premium award space to their own members like LH/Miles and More?

    Thanks Lucky!

  16. @ Dan — Your travel has to originate and terminate in the same country, so in most cases it’s not practical to do one-way awards. They release the same space to their own members as they do to partners.

  17. @ Autolycus — In that case I’d say going through Australia is your best bet. Maybe your wife would be okay with it if you had a stopover there as well? 🙂

  18. @ Carlos @ jimltravels — So there are definitely some “sweet spots” on the Lufthansa chart, but for the most part the redemption rates are fairly high (up to 290,000 for roundtrip first class out of North America), fuel surcharges substantial, and the points aren’t that easy to rack up through credit card transfers. But if you’re crediting premium cabin flights they can be a great option.

  19. Thanks for the article Lucky. I’m looking for new earning opportunities that come with worthwhile sweet spots on the redemption chart. I’m really sick of the fuel surcharge angle. I expect to pay taxes and mandatory airport levies but anything else should be rolled into the points cost in my view.

  20. I used to be an ANA diamond member, when their program was much better than it is now.
    There are downsides as well.

    Miles expire, and unless you are a diamond member, there is almost no way to extend the validity (unless you live in Japan).

    Issued awards have different degrees of flexibility.

    Rules are sometimes quirky. Unlike US airways, NH staff knows the rules, very very well, and there is absolutely no way that they will misinterprete, or bend them for you.

  21. ANA is also great, perhaps the best option of any frequent flyer program, for around-the-world tickets, as long as you’re not doing a crazy amount of north-south distance that would jack up your award cost. I’m not sure if the award chart is exactly the same as it was then but a few years back I did a RTW trip in business class using ANA miles for 125K miles covering a few cities in each of Asia and Europe. RTW tickets also allow you a greater number of stopovers, I think it might be 8.

  22. I think redeeming SQ miles for *A F between Europe and Middle East at the rate of 37.5K miles is not bad a deal.

  23. A friend of mine said he’d do a US 90k with me, which I think is a great idea since I’ve never been to Asia and am widely known as a pretty awesome travel companion. However, said friend has not followed through on this offer and I don’t want to bug him about it. I was considering going by myself but I worry about getting kidnapped and sold into sex slavery.

  24. @Andrew B
    You can safely do Tokyo; You can also do Beijing if in good hotel, just do not do a Lucky with the pearls shop offer
    .
    I am booking awards like crazy with North Asia – EU and back for everyone I know.
    .
    Lucky, what about Aegean or Turkish?
    The old days are sure gone from Star Alliance – I guess the stars (for redemptions) Aeroplan, US and UA are getting dim.

  25. The best values on US are still the 90k North Asia in C (120 F)
    and 110k Australia in C (140 F)
    There is still good availability out there after the summer with some flexibility
    EU to NZ/SYD for 120k in C is also another good value on US.

  26. Thank you, Lucky! Do I recall correctly that all of them except SQ KF allow partner award bookings online?

    SQ KF own award chart is good, especially if you book online (15% discount). *A chart isn’t horrible – I believe it was 80K in F for IAH-DME-VIE (one-way). Not being able to book that online is a downside but their call center is generally good and they simply do a reservation/hold on your route and you can pay online later. Lastly, what I really, really like about KF awards is not being charged fees to change dates (even same-day is $75) — no need to have a certain status (at least, for F awards). And they are open 24 hours a day too.

  27. Thanks for the helpful analysis.

    Does ANA, or any of these other programs for that matter, make J/F award space more available for their own members? When using the ANA search tool for Star Alliance partner flights, it seems like they do, but I couldn’t tell. Given it’s hard to come by via partner awards, it would seem like this would be a huge incentive to use the ANA program directly.

  28. @ Ty — There are some Star Alliance airlines that make more award space available to their own members than to members of partner programs. For example, Lufthansa, Singapore, and Swiss do. However, most carriers don’t, and ANA seems to give partner members and members of their own program access to the same space.

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