Ultimate Rewards Partners With Best Non-US Frequent Flyer Programs

In the interest of full disclosure, I earn a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers that I have found for each card. Please check out my advertiser policy for further details about my partners, including American Express, and thanks for your support!

Historically frequent flyer programs in the US have been substantially more generous than non-US frequent flyer programs.

That’s simply because US frequent flyer programs are a profit center for the airlines, while for most foreign carriers frequent flyer programs are a cost center. That’s thanks in no small part to US frequent flyer programs having turned into frequent buyer programs.

More miles are issued in the US through non-flying means than through flying means. So the airlines have always had to make the programs sufficiently rewarding so that they don’t just encourage peoples’ flying decisions, but also encourage their buying decisions, whether it be credit card spend, car rentals, or dining.

However, we’re seeing a bit of a reversal of this lately, due partly to the improved economy – with airlines as profitable as ever, the cost of providing frequent flyer perks has increased, as the airlines could otherwise in most cases sell those seats. Add in the number of miles US programs have issued from non-flying means, and the equation has clearly changed somewhat.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way to say that nowadays foreign frequent flyer programs are in many cases worth considering. And in looking at my mileage redemption patterns over the past year, I’ve redeemed more miles of foreign frequent flyer programs than of US frequent flyer programs.

A vast majority of those foreign award redemptions have been with three programs:

  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Korean Air SkyPass
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

With Chase’s announcement last week that Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is their newest transfer partner, Chase Ultimate Rewards now partners with what I consider to be all three of the most valuable foreign mileage currencies. American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest partner with British Airways Executive Club and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, but don’t partner with Korean Air SkyPass.

This further increases the value proposition of the Ultimate Rewards program given how easy these points are to rack up thanks to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Plus® Business Credit Card, and Ink Bold® Business Charge Card, which offer amazing return on everyday spend. And through this Sunday the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card and Ink Bold® Business Charge Card are offering an increased sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after completing the minimum spend, which is 20% more than usual.

What makes these mileage currencies so valuable?

British Airways Executive Club

British Airways Avios aren’t the most aspirational points currency, but they’re damn practical.

I redeem Avios all the time, more so than any other point currency. British Airways has a distance-based award chart, so I use Avios for last minute domestic US flights on American and Alaska, given that British Airways doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on those flights and doesn’t have close-in ticketing fees.

Distance in Air MilesAvios Cost in EconomyAvios Cost in BusinessAvios Cost in First
1-6504,5009,00013,500
651-11517,50015,00022,500
1152-200010,00020,00030,000
2001-300012,50025,00037,500
3001-400020,00040,00060,000
4001-550025,00050,00075,000
5501-650030,00060,00090,000
6501-700035,00070,000105,000
7001-1000050,000100,000150,000

Some examples of some gem Avios redemptions:


Aer Lingus A330 business class

Korean Air SkyPass

Korean Air belongs to SkyTeam, so their major US partner is Delta SkyMiles. However, one of the major limitations of Delta SkyMiles is that you can’t redeem them for international first class travel on SkyTeam carriers.

As a result, one of the best ways to book first class on SkyTeam is through Korean Air’s SkyPass program. For example, this year alone I’ve flown the following flights using Korean Air SkyPass miles:

What’s so awesome about SkyPass miles isn’t just that Korean Air has an awesome first class product, but also how incredibly available Korean Air first class is when using miles.

Korean-Air-A380-First-Class-002
Korean Air A380 first class

Given how few people redeem SkyPass miles compared to other currencies, and given that many partners don’t have access to the space, it’s quite easy to find the award space.

It’s pretty normal to see 2-3 first class award seats per flight in advance.

Korean-Air-SkyPass-Availability

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Singapore Airlines offers some of the best premium cabins in the world, and over the past year (or so) I’ve flown them several times, mostly using KrisFlyer miles:


Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class

While Singapore Airlines is a part of the Star Alliance, as I explained in my primer post on redeeming KrisFlyer miles for travel on Singapore, they release virtually no premium cabin award space to their partner airlines.

This means:

  • The only way to redeem miles for most of Singapore’s longhaul Suites, First, and Business Class cabins is by booking through the KrisFlyer program
  • Since partner programs don’t have access to this space, premium cabin award space is generally pretty readily available

Bottom line

With the industry changing, having the “flexible” points programs partner with some non-US frequent flyer programs is incredibly valuable.

In my opinion you can’t beat the Chase Ultimate Rewards setup, as they partner with what I consider to be the three single most valuable non-US frequent flyer programs.

Editorial Note: Neither this post, nor the comments, are provided by the Issuing bank, or any other advertiser. The comments below have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not the bank or advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. Bgriff says

    Those Chase referral bonuses sure must pay well, considering that Membership Rewards has two out of these three and a bunch of others besides and yet doesn’t get a single mention.

  2. Matt E. says

    What’s the best way to get back from Europe to the US to avoid fuel surcharges? AAnytime seem to be the only option.

  3. Tyler says

    Way to keep insulting your readers with advertisements hidden as posts. Anything to get one more Chase referral link in.

    Your readers are not dumb, and these type of non-stop peddling advertisements really turn us off to using your links.

  4. says

    @ wj — I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another one in the next few months, but have no inside information there.

  5. Lantean says

    this is why we like you Ben… you at least bother to write a post that has some informational value and wrap it in… unlike other bloggers who shameslessly post a chase sales pitch and no loger provide any valuable view from a wing or anywhere else.

  6. Lantean says

    @ABC

    no way it’s only $200… the word on flyertalk is that for this promo chase pays $500… certain blogger denied that yesterday but he’s not to be trusted with this anyway.

  7. JD says

    @Lantean: Are you suggesting that the miles bloggers should be doing this as a charity (for your benefit)? Everyone knows they’re making a living at it; why else would they do it full-time? They’re not taking money from you, so where’s the problem? If you don’t like the system, maybe you should stick to Flyertalk and Milepoint.

  8. Dan says

    $500 seems like way too much for an affiliate link. Add the point bonus to that and they are paying $1000+ per new customer. I think the $200 is more correct. If one really wanted to figure this out, they could probably do so by carefully reviewing Chase’s regulatory filings.

    see – http://www.dbmarketing.com/articles/Art175.htm

  9. Lantean says

    i am not suggesting anything, i like Ben. like I said i always use his links because he’s super helpful when I have a question. I totally understand he has to make living somehow and I appreciate the fact that he writes and actual whole post with information around the links unlike other bloggers who don’t bother doing that.

  10. Matt E says

    Lucky, in response to previous post..I have 200k+ in AA and 60k+ in UR…looking to return on 11/30.

    I was looking at Avios from DUB-BOS on EI, but then I’d have to get myself over to DUB from either CDG or LHR.

  11. says

    @ Matt E — If you’re flexible to return on the 2nd, Iberia has space from Madrid to New York and Chicago. Otherwise, on the 30th I see space on airberlin in business class from Dusseldorf to New York, and you could connect on both ends. And I’d also look into Aer Lingus in your shoes.

  12. Matt E. says

    Awesome, thanks for the headsup on the DUS-JFK! Time to compare that to Aer Lingus option and pull the trigger.

  13. Ed says

    The real gem on the Avios chart is BOS-DUB-BOS for 25k RT in economy. Yeah you can do it for 50k in business, and that’s still a tremendous deal, but doing it for half in economy is even better given how short that flight is.

  14. Charlie says

    I don’t mind the affiliate links; they cost me NOTHING and the content Lucky provides is either useful or easily ignored. I’m quite thrilled to learn how to use Krisflyer points since the UA bloodbath and US/AA merger made a mess of my *A redemptions.

  15. Doug says

    @Lucky – Is it possible to redeem Korean Air miles for an LAX-ICN-SYD itinerary? I would want to book in F (understanding that the second leg would be J on the A330)

  16. says

    @ Doug — You sure can. And Korean Air actually has first class on their A330s, so you should be able to book first class on that, availability permitting.

  17. Rob says

    Some of the people reading and posting on these blogs are serious losers who need to get a life. Who cares if Lucky makes money with his referral links? That’s his business. I’m an educated reader who actually learns a thing or two from these blogs and if I can help him back by signing up for a credit card that will help me in turn get another free trip, then everyone wins. Is there something wrong with that?
    He also discloses that he is benefiting so nothing is hidden here. Tell me how many attorneys you have met who give free legal advice.

  18. Rob says

    Question about flying from LAX to Seoul:
    I have about 800k UR points that I’d like to use to fly from LAX to Seoul RT with a family of 5 either in business or 1st class.
    I am considering transferring to Korean Air Skypass, United Airlines and use on Asiana (partner airlines), or Singapore Air KrisFlyer.
    I believe with KA and Asiana I can fly direct, but SA I would have to connect somewhere. Also, I believe KA I would have to pay fuel surcharges. Are there fuel surcharges on Asiana or SA? Which is the best option?
    Lastly, how likely is it that I would be able to get 5 seats in either of these classes for the same flights?

  19. Rami says

    @Bgriff et al;
    You always have the option of not reading the blog if the links bother you. Reading this and any material on line is optional as is putting your comments.
    I have gotten 5 cards in the last 2 years using Ben’s links and I sure hope he gets lots of money from the credit card companies.
    The information he provides is worth a lot and the points, miles and upgrades I have accumulated make me smile.
    I would gladly pay a subscription fee to read this blog.
    Ben; keep the great postings. I have noticed that now that you live in hotels you are posting more than before. Maybe it is my imagination.

  20. Ivan Y says

    @ Rob – SQ flies directly to ICN from SFO (65875 miles each way in J after 15% online booking discount). Per SQ’s chart, you can’t fly LAX-ICN for the same price because it involves two flights: LAX-NRT-SIN (one flight with a stop) and SIN-ICN; that prices as two awards for a total of 102,000 after 15% online booking discount (although, you would get a stopover in SIN).

    FYI, you’d have to transfer your miles to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program if you want to book their J & F as they block their premium award space.

    In case you are curious if it’s possible to get 5 tickets in J/F on SFO-ICN, it IS possible — just searched next few dates for J awards and see 5 seats on June 6 on SQ site); prices out to 329,375 miles and $1,027.50 in taxes/fees for 5 people on one-way awards. However, it could be so wide open because it’s 3 days from today; far more likely to get some sort of a combination of J + F seats (e.g. 3 J & 2 F) I’d imagine. From experience, SQ taxes & fees are almost the same for Y/J/F so either way you are looking at ~$200 per person one-way.

    Hope this helps!

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