Purchasing points to redeem tickets are one of the more advanced methods to score cheap deals on business/first class. Having discussed about Alaska Mileage Plan and Avianca Lifemiles in my recent posts, several readers have reached out to me for advice on how best to optimise successful redemption. Here are some practical tips:
- Choose the right program(s): Each program has their strengths. First figure out your travel goal, then refer to and compare the reward charts/tables, look for the sweet spot that best suits your plan. Links for reward chart:
- Some of my favourite ‘sweet spots’ for business class:
- Australia domestic East-West : 20k Alaska Miles
- Asia to Asia : 22.5k Alaska miles
- Australia/NZ to North America (+ complimentary stopover in HKG) : 60k Alaska miles
- North America to Asia (+ complimentary stopover in HKG) : 60k Alaska miles
- South Asia to Australia/NZ : 30k United miles
- North Asia to Australia/NZ : 40k Avianca Lifemiles
- Register for an account now: Just so you don’t miss out on a deal. Some programs require you to have a valid account for at least 2 weeks before you can purchase miles
- Check availability: Check reward availability online either through the frequent flyer program portal or through the airline that you plan to fly with. Programs such as Alaska Mileage Plan and United Mileage Plus do not even require sign-in to check for award availability. Alternatively you can consider using paid specialised programs such as Expertflyer and AwardNexus to search for availability for multiple airlines/dates at once.
- Wait for the right deal: There are typically 3 or 4 rounds of promotion each year, so be patient if there is not one available now. When a promotion is available, I don’t encourage speculative purchase unless you have a specific use in mind as points may devaluate.
- Plan ahead – I started planning my honeymoon 9 months before the trip knowing that availability will be a big issue during peak season. I was quick to reserve several sectors that are in high demand, particularly long-haul flights. If your plan changes, refund/cancellation may only cost ~$50-$100, which is very reasonable.
UNITED MILEAGE PLUS
As promised I will now do a quick review on United Mileage Plus, another program that sells miles aggressively. Purchasing miles with United is probably the easiest way for non-US residents to accrue large sum of miles, whereas US residents can convert their credit card reward points from day-to-day spending, e.g. Chase and AMEX credit cards.
There is unfortunately no current purchase mile promotion for United Mileage Plus, but I will keep you posted when another cycle of promotion is published. Just last month, United Mileage Plus was running a sale with tiered bonus of up to 100%.
Purchasing United miles with 100% bonus means that you pay around USD 18.8 per 1,000 miles (inclusive of tax recovery fee).
What is awesome about United Mileage Plus
Fuel surcharge and taxes can significantly reduce the value of frequent flyer miles. Thankfully United Mileage Plus does not pass that on to travelers. Another major benefit is that it permits mixed cabin redemption (e.g. First + business class in one ticket), making it possible to tag on a connecting flight in a different cabin within the same ticket, since many flights do not offer first class product nowadays.
Lastly, United allow one free stopover for a return trip or open-jaw redemption. Adding a stopover means that you can visit a new destination without having to fork out extra to pay for an expensive multi-city itinerary. Their ‘return trip’ has a very loose definition, allowing an array of creative itineraries to be had. Here are some mega stopover & open-jaw tricks by Travelisfree; its simply fascinating! Sadly United will soon replace their current rules to abolish the complimentary stopover offer on 6 Oct 2016. There is still a month left if you are interested to maximise your points with mega stopovers. You would need to contact their call center to make such redemption.
Who to redeem with ?
Star Alliance Partner Airlines such as Air New Zealand, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Asiana, ANA, Lufthansa, South African Airways, etc. Having said that Air New Zealand is generally very stingy in releasing long-haul reward seats and Singapore Airlines has stopped releasing long-haul business/first class seats to their Star Alliance partners, so don’t count on them.
What is the sweet spot?
Personally I love using United Mileage for travel between Australia/NZ and South Asia as they are redeemable with just 17.5k miles (economy), 30k miles (business) and 40k (first). If you happened to purchase United miles at USD18.8 per 10k from their recent sale, you essentially pay:
- Economy – USD 329 + taxes
- Business – USD 564 + taxes
- First – USD 752+ taxes
SYD to BKK: Thai Airways 747 Business Class upper deck & dinner service
Sample trip #1 – 40,000 United Miles
First & Business Class between Australia & Indonesia for just USD 752 + taxes
Thai Airways Royal First &
Singapore Airlines Business Class
One of my mates who was travelling to Surabaya in Indonesia for a business trip came to me for advice, and I organised him the following itinerary. He was absolutely trilled to have flown on First class for just a paying a little premium over what he was ready to pay for an economy ticket. This trip required a slight detour to Bangkok, but no worries. Just imagine getting pampered at the award-winning Thai Royal Orchid spa for your complimentary 1 hour treatment (first class) or 30 minutes massage (business class).
Sample trip #2 – 30,000 United Miles
Bali, Indonesia to Queenstown, New Zealand
Business class for just USD 564 + taxes (only the domestic NZ leg is in economy)
Thai Airways Royal First &
Air New Zealand Business Class
Please excuse my obsession, I simply couldn’t help it when I chance upon this itinerary. In the process of planning a trip returning from Bali to Australia, the availability of seats to Queenstown instead for the same number of miles immediately captured my attention – hence my excuse to extend the trip from the heart of the tropics to the global adventure capital. The total journey spans ~8,400 miles in the air, distance comparable to a direct flight from Singapore to San Francisco (redemption cost: 80,000 United Miles). Therefore I classify this 30,000-mile redemption as an amazing ‘sweet spot’.
If you are still not sold on the idea, I’ve deliberately selected long transits in Bangkok and Perth (up to 12 hours), allowing day trip to the city for sightseeing. The other reason I’m so thrilled with this redemption is that the first 3 segments are operated using Boeing 787 dreamliner, one of my favourite next-generation aircraft. I take back my skepticism earlier on Air New Zealand’s business reward availability. In this case I can’t complain, having securing 2 business class seats on their seasonal route from Perth to Christchurch.
Air New Zealand 787 Business Cabin (Courtesy of flickr user Nick Young)