10 Things I Miss About The “Good Old Days” Of Redeeming Miles

I think people spend too much time focused on the past, at least when using selective memory. It’s like when people talk about “the good old days of flying,” when service was good, people dressed up to fly, etc. What they selectively forget is that flying is a fraction of the price it used to be, and that in many ways getting on a plane isn’t that different than getting on a bus. The way I see it, it’s a net positive that flying has become so accessible.

So my goal with this post isn’t to say that “the good old days” are behind us, but rather to look at some of the award redemption possibilities from years past that I miss. I’ll have a separate post about how “the good days” are really now, and about things we have now that we didn’t have then.

I’ll share these roughly in chronological order of when they were pulled, and I’m curious how many of you guys remember these deals. For those who have been around miles & points for a long time, I hope you’ll share any deals that come to mind as well. Here we go:

Aeroplan first class awards from the US to Asia for 120,000 miles

Air Canada’s spun off frequent flyer program, Aeroplan, used to offer the best premium cabin redemption rates of any program out there, in my opinion. For 120,000 miles you could fly roundtrip from the US to Asia with no fuel surcharges. Best of all, you could have two stopovers in addition to your destination, and you could route via Europe.

San Francisco to Munich to Zurich to Bangkok to Hong Kong to Seoul to Frankfurt to Seattle for 120,000 miles in first class with no carrier imposed surcharges? Yes please.

In 2011 Aeroplan devalued their award chart, and shortly thereafter they also added carrier imposed surcharges on most partners.

Lufthansa opening 4-8 first class award seats in advance

Lufthansa used to be one of the most generous airlines in the world when it came to releasing first class award space, even in advance. That’s because they used to have 747-400s with 16 first class seats, so it was perfectly normal to see 4-8 first class award seats in advance. It was actually one of the easiest first class products to book on miles.

Then in 2011 Lufthansa shrank the size of their first class cabin, and the 747-400 went from having 16 first class seats to having eight first class seats. That caused a huge reduction in the amount of first class award space, and then shortly after that Lufthansa implemented a policy where they only began releasing first class award seats to partner frequent flyer programs at most 15 days out.

Earning British Midland Diamond Club miles for award flights

British Midland is my favorite airline that I almost never flew. They had one of the best frequent flyer programs in history, though unfortunately they were eventually taken over by British Airways.

Not only did they make it super easy to qualify for Star Alliance Gold status, but the airline was known to credit miles for award flights. As if that’s not cool enough, they also had among the most lucrative mileage earning rates of any program — under some circumstances, Lufthansa first class tickets would earn 600%+ miles. You could basically earn back as many points as you redeemed.

Unfortunately the British Midland Diamond Club program was discontinued in 2012.

Oneworld Explorer awards with insane rules

American used to offer what they called oneworld Explorer awards, which were distance based rather than zone based, and allowed unlimited stopovers. They ended up discontinuing them in 2014 (with no notice), though that wasn’t even the best part of Explorer awards.

Back in the day — a couple of years before they were discontinued — the Explorer award cost was based on where you chose to have stopovers, rather than the cumulative distance you flew. Traveling continuously from Tampa to Chicago to Hong Kong to Sydney to Los Angeles to Miami without any stopovers? Well you’re just going from Tampa to Miami — you’ll be charged based on your ~200 mile flight from Tampa to Miami. Yes, that’s actually how they enforced it.

Obviously that was too good to last.

Being able to book Swiss first class with partner airline miles

Swiss used to be one of the airlines that made first class so readily available to anyone redeeming miles. I remember that back in the day when Swiss’ A330s had eight first class seats, I’d often see flights with 6-8 first class award seats. Being able to redeem US Airways miles for those flights was a heck of a deal.

Unfortunately as of January 1, 2014, Swiss went from one extreme to the other. They went from making first class awards wide open for members of partner programs, to restricting them exclusively to Miles & More Senator members and above, meaning that Swiss first class awards are off limits for most of us.

Fortunately last June there was a very brief period where Swiss first class was bookable with partner airline miles, which allowed me to fly their new 777-300ER first class product between Zurich and Los Angeles.

Star Alliance first class from the US to Asia via Europe for 70,000 United miles

This actually doesn’t go back that far. In early 2014, United MileagePlus devalued their award chart. While this wasn’t a crazy value like some of the above, redeeming 70,000 miles for something like Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Bangkok was tough to beat.

US Airways business class awards from the US to North Asia for 90,000 miles

I sure do miss US Airways Dividend Miles, and specifically, the ability to redeem just 90,000 miles for roundtrip business class from the US to North Asia. The best part was that you could route through Europe. The even better part was that Dividend Miles agents were geographically challenged, so you could get away with even more than that. (Is Madrid in Spain or Argentina? Frankfurt is really in Kentucky, right?) 😉

I have so many amazing memories of Dividend Miles redemptions, like New York to Warsaw to Zurich to Beijing to Addis Ababa to Frankfurt to Washington. I don’t think there’s an award I’ve ever booked more of than this one.

Given that US Airways sold miles for 1.1 cents each, you could basically book these for $1,000 each. Not a bad deal.

This award redemption was discontinued in April 2014.

Domestic US awards via Europe on Lufthansa

Back in the day, LifeMiles’ website would let you book domestic first class awards within the US on Lufthansa. But wait a second, Lufthansa doesn’t operate flights within the US? That’s correct, so you could do something like Los Angeles to Frankfurt to San Francisco for 25,000 miles in first class, the same price you’d pay for flying United first class from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

25,000 British Airways Avios for transatlantic business class on Aer Lingus

Sometimes distance based award charts work in our favor, and other times they don’t. With British Airways’ old award chart, they charged just 12,500 miles for economy or 25,000 miles for business class on flights of up to 3,000 miles one-way. As luck would have it, Boston to Dublin covered a distance of ~2,990 miles.

Flying across the Atlantic for the price of a domestic ticket was a steal. Unfortunately British Airways devalued their award chart in 2015, and at this point that award will cost you 20,000 Avios and 60,000 Avios in economy and business, respectively.

Cathay Pacific first class for 67,500 American miles (with two seats in advance)

This doesn’t all go back that far. For something more recent, up until March 2016, American charged just 67,500 miles for first class between the US and Asia in Cathay Pacific first class.

But what I’m really looking back longingly on is when Cathay Pacific used to make two first class award seats available in advance. Now that was awesome. Unfortunately for the past few years they typically only make one first class award seat available per flight in advance, which makes it tougher to book the product in advance as a couple.

Ahhhh, good times…

Anyone have exprience with any of the above, or have any other great deals from back in the day to share?

Comments

  1. Not too long ago, you could book Brussels Airlines business class JFK-BRU round-trip for ~37,000 Etihad miles. The redemption cost has gone up a bit, but what’s worse is that capacity is so limited nowadays that it’s practically useless.

  2. For a while there in the US airways and American Airlines merger, award first class tickets on US Airways earned full Y miles on AAdvantage, including EQMS. That certainly helped me requalify for EXP that year when I booked all my transcons and domestic feeders for international awards on US.

  3. Best award ever: TWA Frequent Flight Bonus Program… 100,000 miles for a free first class ticket (in 3-cabin aircraft) anywhere in the world, PLUS a free first class upgrade (from any coach fare “double up” to first class on a 3-cabin aircraft) for EITHER a companion, or for use by the member at a later date. Wowzers.

  4. AA stopover up to a year at international gateway city in the US on award tickets. Booking the flight home from a Europe trip and then the first leg of a separate TATL trip for no additional miles was wonderful.

  5. Lucky: don’t you think part of the blame goes to you and other points for travel bloggers? While it’s nice to share the knowledge, now everyone is doing the mile games through credit cards. I’m sure airlines saw this trend so they made changes ensuring that their frequent fliers get priority to the award seats.

  6. Aeroplan Hawaii – Asia flights for 90k miles in business or 105k in first. You could stop over in North America. I did this:

    OGG-YVR AC J stop
    YVR-MUC-BKK-KBV DESTINATION – 2 LH F flights
    KBV-BKK-FCO-BRU-FRA-YVR stop – TG F and LH F
    YVR-OGG AC J

    105 k miles, and no fuel surcharges, because of “change after first segment flown” trick.

    I did two redemptions similar to that. This does not work any more.

  7. I remember a SWA companion coupon when you bought a meal deal at Burger King. That was about 30 years ago so my memory may be faulty.

  8. travel bloggers like you and readers like us are to blame! too many people have entered the points game and now too many people have miles cards causing inevitable inflation. use your miles before they devalue further.

  9. One of best redemptions was redeeming BA miles on partners with “unlimited stopovers” as long as it didn’t backtrack. We used 80K per person for roundtrip business class from LAX-LIM-IPC (Easter Island)-SCL-EZE-MIA-LAX with stopover on each!

  10. DOH-BKK in QR F for 32,5K GOL Smiles 😉
    (Which could be bought for 50-200€, depending on the moment of purchase)

  11. Give a hand and people will take an arm and leg. The good old days went away because people abused them.

    Are you glaas half full or glass half empty kind of person?

  12. This nostalgic post is kind of funny since all these sweet spots are gone due to bloggers. Not Ben specifically, but in aggregate. Flyertalk wasn’t enough to kill it by itself. But to their credit, a lot of people wouldn’t have know about it at all or gotten to fly any of these awards.

    @Rico- my first flight as a semi-adult was on one of those Southwest burger king coupons! Heard about it on the travel forum on Compuserve, a pre-internet version of Flyertalk

  13. I do miss USAirways and the routing you could do with Dividend Miles. The craziest routing I ever did using DM was EWR-DUS-ZRH-BKK-SYD-BKK-NRT-MUC-EWR. The good old days!!!

  14. 1995 bought DL FLO ATL PDX GMP TPE. Bought economy, used a cert to upgrade (they were only supposed to upgrade one level to C but somehow we got upgraded to F) plus also used a $99 companion ticket. It was amazing!!!!

  15. Ok, so what are the sweet deals still available TODAY that are most likely to go the way of the ten sweet deals above???

    I’ll say 4,500 avios shorthaul redemptions for a start.

  16. I remember how easy it was to get upgrades to J on US Airways TATL flights out of PHL for just a few hundred dollars and reasonable miles. Almost always a sure bet. Now with AA, it’s a long shot.

  17. I wish somebody could have blogged about it when these options were valid. I have been following boardingarea and some other blogs for last 7-8 years, I guess I need to switch to some other useful ones

  18. How about the old BA award chart, unlimited stopovers as long as you stick with one airline. I think one was able to book 100k RT per person in business.

    I miss the 120k Aeroplan redemption more.

  19. 160 000 AF Frequence Plus miles for a round-trip Europe-JFK with Concorde.
    100 000 miles for the same round-trip with Concorde (outbound) + AF Espace 180 first class in the nose of the 744 (inbound).

    No fuel surcharges.

    Those were the days…

  20. The best thing were the good old Lifemiles Tricks. ZRH-KHV 30’000 Miles in Frist Class or SAW-LAX costs the same as LAX-SFO

  21. I remember flying round-trip JFKPRG for 30K Pan Am WorldPass miles. That’s 15K each way for a TATL flight! They also had a cool system whereby WorldPass members could reserve meals for long-haul flights, even in economy. I’ll never forget the confused, envious looks on my seatmates’ eyes as the college kid in the window seat was served a strip steak that wasn’t even on the economy menu — before anyone else had even gotten their trays. Alas, Pan Am went bankrupt mere months after my trip. I’m sure their generosity toward frequent flyers played a part!

  22. My favorite. RTW (JFK-HKG-BKK-DOH-BCN-JFK plus connecting flights to my home airport) for 80K in business class using US Dividend Miles – because after all it’s really just a round trip to Europe even if we did spend a week in Hong Kong! I loved the US Chairman’s desk. And that was just barely years ago; things have sure changed quickly.

  23. And let’s be real. Had it not been the bloggers many of these tricks of the trade would still be in existence.

  24. In 2009 or so, Star Alliance introduced Round the World fares and preposterously undervalued them.

    I paid 220K OnePass miles for a month long trip with 5 stops in business class. You didn’t even have to start and stop in same city, just same country.

    With the network, it was all Lufthansa, Thai, South African and Air New Zealand. It was fantastic.

  25. Remember when Jeff Kwok filed a complaint against Lifemiles when he was denied boarding with his mom on a cabotage routing, and he basically single handedly ruined Lifemiles redemptions?

  26. I’m really curious why people keep repeating the mantra that “if it weren’t for the bloggers, all the sweet spots would still be sweet.” What evidence do you have that it is bloggers specifically that cause airlines to withdraw these? Before bloggers, there was FlyerTalk, and before FlyerTalk, there were newsletters and the grapevine. Information gets out eventually, and people learn what makes economic sense and act on it. If overuse of a benefit doesn’t make sense to the airline after they set it up, they change it. That happened 20 years ago as much as it happens today

    Bloggers just help to spread information more efficiently. That actually helps people to take advantage of deals as much as it leads to companies figuring out that they’re losing money and changing the rules. Sure, without bloggers, the sweet spots might be around a little longer – but then YOU might be the one who doesn’t know about it and therefore can’t take advantage of it. So, given that you are here reading a blog presumably in part to be informed of deals, why all the hate towards bloggers?

  27. I wouldn’t say it was the bloggers as much as the proliferation of credit card bonus miles. There’s way, way, way more points in the system now than there was even 5 years ago, much less 10.

    Go back to your college microeconomics class on supply and demand and you have your answer as to the devaluations.

    If you were running an airline, you’d do the same thing.

  28. I always jokes that it was might fault Swiss stopped the First awards on partner airlines, in the good old days I would book 40-60 seats a year… it made no sense to me that you could get that with so few miles (or even miles to start with).

  29. 35k UA MileagePlus miles: SIN-HKG-BKK-HKG-SGN in UA&TG F (except the SGN-bound in J).

    I like the part that I could actually book “return” segment here (HKG-BKK-HKG) with just one-way price and enjoyed the TG A380 First class service and spa at BKK.

  30. Showing my age….

    -United “original awards”, which were booked in full “Y”, with no capacity controls. (Example: 2 people could fly round trip from US to New Zealand/Australia for 75,000 miles total round trip Mon-Thurs., or for 100,000 miles Fri-Sun – and could book the last seat on the plane.)

    -US Airways in late 1990’s – 3 people could fly round trip to Europe in Economy for 60,000 miles total – just 20,000 miles round trip per person.

    -TWA awards on PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines) – 10,000 miles round trip, again booked with no capacity controls. (And those round trips from California to Portland/Seattle often ran over $300 before Southwest entered the market.)

  31. I’d add an honourable mention to the Indian BMI Diamond Club phone agents. Their lack of geographic knowledge was phenomenal and allowed some particularly creative award routings including BKK-SIN-BKK-CMB as a one way award and JFK-LAS-LAX-LHR.

  32. @TEX277 – yes, a nice NOU-ASB one way ticket with a stop in LAX for 18750 miles in J … those were the days – the BMI call center….

    @Yevgeny – destroying GUM/SAW on Lifemiles – yes, Jeff Kwok, truly an ‘expert’ in the world of frequent flyer programs.

  33. I was able to do two of the above (BA Aer Lingus & US Star below) plus the BA to Easter Island
    my favorite Star award via USAirways was essentially RTW business for 110k

    PHL-ORD US
    ORD-ICN Asiana
    ICN – SIN -MEL Singapore
    MEL – BKK
    BKK-CDG Thai A380
    CDG -FRA (LH strike)
    CDG – PHL US

    I spent 18 hours mapping out flights to Australia from all directions (Europe, Asia and others) ready to feed the US agent – I was her last call of the night and she was a star bc once Singapore wasn’t option from FRA I picked up via Asia and booked in less then 30 minutes so she could leave on time. Ah…USAirways I miss Dividend Miles everyday

  34. Delta’s Medallion only awards, when delta was truly a great airline:

    Anywhere in the US RT for 25K in F. Bookable if there was a seat – and there was always a seat.

    2500 mile RT upgrade coupons for medallions. Didn’t matter how many segments for 2500 miles and you earned miles for flying first. AND no one knew about them, so there were always seats.

    I’m going back to the 90s here – before there were so many elites when there was only one medallion level at 40 in flying per year.

    At the same time, every RT I took for work, the fare was over $1K. So, @Lucky’s point is not lost on me.

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