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January 17, 2006

Shopping around for the best mileage award (Part I)

Not all airline awards are created equal. You may already know that each airline has a different pricing structure for awards with some awards being more of a bargain (for instance, United to Australia) compared to other programs.

So if you have a special destination in mind, start by shopping around; you may find a program that lets you reach your goal faster.

You can also take advantage of airline alliances. These are groups of airlines banded together to offer greater coverage. United, Air Canada, Singapore and a several others are part of Star Alliance; American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Aer Lingus, Iberia, Finnair, Qantas and LAN are part of Oneworld. I mostly fly American, so I know the Oneworld partnership better. If you are a member of an alliance member's frequent flyer program, you have some privileges throughout the alliance and can earn miles in your own program flying on other alliance members subject to restrictions provided by your own carrier. For example, some fares on Iberia don't earn miles on American. Acquiring miles and program choices will be discussed later. The important aspect of alliance partnerships in this discussion is the ability to redeem awards on other alliance carriers. Here are some ways to make the most alliance partnerships.

If you’ve been following my Russia saga, you may know by now that a business class ticket on British Airways to Europe from the East Coast is cheaper purchased via Asia Miles than via British Airways itself. That’s because Asia Miles (the rewards program associated with Cathay Pacific) sets rewards by distance rather than zones. In specific circumstances you can use this to your advantage.

You need to know the distance you’ll be flying. Webflyer’s MileMarker is a good simple tool.

New York to St. Petersburg is approximately 4750 mi/7650 km one way and 9500 mi/15300 kms round trip. Oneworld offers two methods to get there, British Airways via London or Finnair via Helsinki. American Airlines and British Airways price this by zone. For a partner award (American doesn’t fly to St. Petersburg itself) American charges 60, 90 or 125 thousand miles in Economy, Business and First Class. That’s less than British Airways charges for the same award on its own airline: 65, 97.5, 130 and 195 thousand miles. The 97.5 is for a premium economy class BA has that AA doesn’t, but AA will charge you less for business class on BA than BA will charge you for premium economy.

Asia Miles charges by distance; anything 2500-5000 miles is 45, 60 or 90 thousand miles. Their website also has a very useful award calculator. So that same BA business class ticket I just redeemed with 60,000 Asia Miles would have cost 90,000 AA miles or 130,000 BA miles. Big savings, but it depends on the distance. New York to Moscow is just over the 5,000 mile mark, and while it costs the same as a ticket to St. Petersburg on both AA and BA, there’s a big jump at Asia Miles. A business class ticket is 100,000 miles; more than on AA, though less than BA.

We'll throw another monkey wrench into the works next post!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at January 17, 2006 3:18 AM

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