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- It’s tough to always use your frequent flyer milers in the most optimal way, and it’s more difficult the more programs you have because there’s a lot more to take into consideration for each trip.
- I try not to focus too much on how many cents per point in value I’m getting out of my miles and rather consider the full experience.
- Some of the best redemptions I’ve made with my miles have been simple economy flights at a great discount, while others have been luxury first-class experiences.
What’s the best redemption? It’s different for all of us, but I consider a great redemption to be some combination of an aspirational product, a great schedule, or an incredible value. Miles and points can be just as great for flying in economy class as for flying in business or first class, although I really love to treat myself, too.
I’ve been redeeming frequent flyer miles to cover some of my travel expenses since 2013. This, in addition to working remotely, allows me to travel six or more months of each year, including taking some amazing business and first-class flights I would otherwise never be able to afford.
Hanoi to Bangkok to Frankfurt to Detroit in Thai and Lufthansa first class
While Thai first class is perfectly lovely, I booked this to enjoy the veritable celebrity treatment that Lufthansa gives to its first class passengers.
It’s very difficult to book Lufthansa first class, and it typically only becomes available starting 14 days before departure (and yes, I did have to change my flights less than two weeks out to score this fun itinerary). Even then, it can be tough. However, Lufthansa flies some point-to-point routes terminating in cities that aren’t Star Alliance hubs (like Detroit), and there is sometimes more generous award availability on these.
I was on a trip in Southeast Asia and was flexible about when I returned, so when I saw award availability open up, I jumped on it right away. The ticket cost 140,000 United Mileage Plus miles and about $150 in tax one-way I had earned the required miles through a combination of flying and my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (I’ve since upgraded to the Chase Sapphire Reserve).
What did it buy me? Two of the most exclusive first class products in the sky, with a 23-hour layover in Bangkok and another 12-hour layover in Frankfurt along the way. I spent my layover in Bangkok exploring a city I had never visited before, but the long layover in Frankfurt was all about the exclusive first class Terminal where I ate entirely too much food. Just before my flight, I was whisked directly to the plane in a private car.
Doha to Detroit in Etihad Apartments and American first class
Although Etihad has cut back a lot of the perks in its premium cabins, the Etihad Apartment is still a super-premium product which is really only matched in its opulence by Emirates first class (another favorite of mine, but I didn’t book it with miles).
At just 115,000 miles and a little over $100 in tax one-way, this is probably one of the best first class flights I have ever booked in terms of value. It’s almost impossible to book the Etihad Apartments departing from the US, but it’s sometimes possible to find availability on inbound flights. I was able to book the flights with American AAdvantage miles that I earned from the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard by calling the Australian call center and asking the friendly Aussie agent to search for availability.
The only downside? The routing was Doha to Abu Dhabi to New York JFK to Washington Reagan to Detroit. I could have skipped the Washington connection with an airport change in New York, but decided that an easy connecting flight in American Airlines "first class" (with time for a shower and lounge visit at JFK) was considerably less painful.
Note that owing to the diplomatic dispute between Qatar and its neighbors, this specific routing is no longer possible.
Tokyo to Osaka in JAL Economy
Intra-Japan flights on JAL booked using British Airways Avios remain one of the best deals in the world. At the time I booked this, it was only 4,500 Avios that I transferred from my Chase Ultimate Rewards points (which you can earn with seven Chase cards including the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve) plus $1.49 in tax for a flight that would have cost over $100 (and the train costs around as much).
These days, the same flight will cost 6,000 Avios. It’s still a bargain, given the frequent transfer bonuses offered by credit card programs into Avios.
Saigon to Tokyo to Chicago in JAL first class
Who doesn’t love a few extra days in Tokyo? If you book an award ticket on JAL with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, it’s possible without even paying extra miles.
While Alaska’s program can have unusual and frustrating routing rules, they allow you to take a stopover at any point en route on a one-way ticket. This allowed me to visit two countries for the price of one ticket.
While that was good enough on its own, JAL first class is phenomenal, with some of the kindest and most thoughtful service I have ever experienced in the air, and one of the best meals I have ever had on a plane. Best of all, the whole ticket cost just 75,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles and about $200 in taxes.
Alaska miles are relatively difficult to earn, but I earned some of them through the Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card.
Curacao to Cusco in Avianca economy class
Well, I haven’t taken this flight just yet, but it’s coming up soon!
It was a struggle to decide how to book my ticket because I actually had to get from Georgetown, Guyana to Cusco, Peru. Luckily, I had quite a bit of flexibility and was able to avoid the high flight prices and terrible award availability by visiting a couple of islands in the Caribbean first.
I’ll be spending a few days in Trinidad and Tobago, where award availability still wasn’t great, and then heading to Curacao for a few days. When I searched for the price of flights between Curacao and Cusco, my jaw just about hit the floor. The cheapest flight was a little over $600.
United Mileage Plan to the rescue. The routing was only 12,500 United miles (plus about $80 in tax) on an easy, convenient connection through Panama City and then Bogota on Copa and Avianca. Yes, the flights were in economy class, but they aren’t too long, the service will be fine, and I’ll get there safely in new, well-maintained aircraft.
I already had these miles in my United account from taking flights, but I could have transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards if I needed to. What’s not to like?
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