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 Miles||Avios Cost in Economy||Avios Cost in Business||Avios Cost in First|
Some examples of some gem Avios redemptions:
- 4,500 Avios for a one-way economy flight of fewer than 651 miles
- 7,500 Avios for a one-way economy flight of fewer than 1,151 miles
- 25,000 Avios for a one-way business class flight from Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus
- 40,000 Avios for a one-way business class flight from New York to Berlin/Dusseldorf on airberlin
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:
- Korean Air First Class Los Angeles to Sao Paulo
- Korean Air First Class Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles
- Korean Air First Class Tokyo Narita to Seoul Incheon
- China Southern First Class Guangzhou to Tokyo Narita
- China Southern First Class Los Angeles to Guangzhou
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.
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.
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 Suites Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
- Singapore Airlines Suites Class Hong Kong to Singapore
- Singapore Airlines First Class Singapore to Seoul Incheon
- Singapore Airlines First Class Seoul Incheon to San Francisco
- Singapore Airlines First Class Singapore to Frankfurt
- Singapore Airlines First Class Houston to Moscow
- Singapore Airlines First Class Moscow to Singapore
- Singapore Airlines First Class Singapore to Tokyo Narita
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.
- 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
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.