Normally we focus on UK based frequent flyer schemes such as BA or Virgin. However, with your status secure for a while in most cases, you may want to consider some other programs. For many of them, you don’t even need to fly – you can transfer from schemes such as Marriott Bonvoy or Amex Membership Rewards.
If you aren’t numerically-inclined, you are probably bored senseless by airline award charts. British Airways Executive Club has simplified this by getting rid of region-based charts and replacing them with distance-based charts. Fly a certain distance and you’ll pay a specific number of Avios. Sadly, over the last few years British Airways has taken a simple idea and complicated it with peak/off-peak and BA/partner pricing. But the concept is still relatively straightforward.
Most other airline loyalty programmes still operate on a region-based system, however. Fly between Europe and North America, for example, and you’ll be charged a fixed number of miles – it doesn’t really matter whether you are flying to New York or Los Angeles, flying non-stop or requiring connecting flights. But due to airline partnerships and alliances, these award charts need to cater for every possible combination. You might live in Europe, be a member of an American frequent flyer programme, but want to redeem your miles between Australia and Singapore, Chile or South Africa – the award chart must specify the number of miles required.
Because of this complexity, many airline programmes offer a sweet spot or two. That hypothetical American programme might have so few members wanting to fly between Australia and South Africa that they charge far fewer miles than they should. A savvy mileage collector – especially those with access to convertible loyalty currencies such as American Express Membership Rewards points or Marriott Bonvoy points – will look around for what are often called “sweet spots“. Here are a few that you might not be aware of:
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can use their miles to fly on a number of different partners. One of my favourites is Cathay Pacific, where you can:
- fly between Europe and Hong Kong for 42,500 miles in Business Class or 70,000 miles in First Class (each way)
- fly between Hong Kong and Australia in First Class for 45,000 miles (each way)
You can also:
- fly between North America and Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, stopover for as long as you like in Hong Kong, before continuing onwards to Johannesburg, Dubai or Tel Aviv (amongst many other options) in First Class for 70,000 miles
- fly between North America and Tokyo on JAL, stopover for as long as you like, before continuing to anywhere else in Asia that JAL flies… for 70,000-75,000 miles
You can read more about the Alaska Mileage Plan here.
American Airlines AAdvantage
AAdvantage members can redeem miles on all Oneworld airlines (i.e. Qatar Airways), as well as Etihad. This allows you to:
- fly between Europe and the Middle East / Indian Subcontinent (including the Maldives) for 62,500 miles in First Class or 42,500 miles in Business Class
- fly between the Middle East / Indian Subcontinent and Asia (i.e. Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, etc.) for 50,000 miles in First Class or 40,000 miles in Business Class
All Nippon Airways Mileage Plus
Star Alliance member ANA allows you to spend miles on their Star Alliance partners such as Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways, although you are only allowed to book return itineraries. I mention those African airlines because my favourite ANA sweet spot is:
- fly between Europe and Seychelles, Mauritius or South Africa (Africa and the Middle East region) in Business Class for 68,000 miles RETURN.
ANA also places most of the American continent within one zone. As a result, you can:
- fly between Central America/Caribbean and Chile/Argentina in Business Class for 55,000 miles RETURN
Because Avianca has both a wide regional network and excellent Business Class award space, the main limitation for using this sweet spot is your imagination!
Asiana Mileage Club
Asiana is also a member of the Star Alliance, allowing you to spend your miles on Star Alliance partners. It also partners with Etihad, allowing you to:
- fly between Europe and the Middle East in First Class for 40,000 miles (each way)
- fly between Europe and North America in First Class (i.e. Lufthansa) for 50,000 miles (each way)
You will still pay Lufthansa’s outrageous fuel surcharges, but for their First Class product it might actually be worth it!
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
Krisflyer members are the only ones able to access most of Singapore Airlines’ Business Class and First Class award space. Despite this restriction (or perhaps because of it), Krisflyer’s award chart is not very attractive. One sweet spot does stand out though:
- fly between Istanbul and Southeast Asia for 49,000 miles in Business Class (each way)
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance, although booking partner reward flights is notoriously tricky. But thanks to Miles & Smiles you can:
- fly between Hawaii and the North American continent on Air Canada or United in Business Class for 15,000 miles (each way)
Instead of Tier Point running to Hawaii, you might want to consider a cheap flight to Toronto or New York, then using some Turkish miles to fly the rest of the way in Business Class, direct or via the West Coast.
You can read about the Turkish status match here.
A common thread linking many of these programmes is that it is rather difficult for Brits to EARN these miles. But once you have earned the miles, perhaps via Marriott Bonvoy, you can find some amazing sweet spots that will make your convertible currency stretch MUCH farther…