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January 18, 2006

Shopping around for the best mileage award (Part II)

Distances versus zones

Distances don’t always work your way. Most domestic awards in the U.S. would cost more from Asia Miles than from American. A ticket from New York to San Francisco (which just breaks into the C award zone of 2,501-5,000 miles) costs the same as a ticket to St. Petersburg.

A distance based reward might be more advantageous than a zone based award if you’re working from a gateway city at the edges of the US traveling in the same direction. The magic number for business class awards on Asia Miles is less than 5,000 miles one way. More than 5,000 miles and they jump from 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

Most gateways from the eastern seaboard are less than that distance to most of Europe, though it’s dicier the farther south you go. Going from Miami to the lower part of South America from (Buenos Aires, Santiago or Rio) an award that will cost you 90,000 miles on AA will cost 60,000 Asia Miles. There’s no advantage over AA’s own reward structure as far south as Peru. From New York, Rio de Janeiro is only 60,000 Asia Miles in business (flown on AA) but Buenos Aires is 100,000.

Travelers in Vancouver and Seattle can get to Tokyo or Seoul. L.A. might work for Papeete, Tahiti. Honolulu is only 45,000 Asia Miles in business class from San Francisco; it would be 75,000 on American or as low as 60,000 miles on Alaskan.

The monkey wrench I thought I was going to throw in here isn't turning out to be as good a savings as I had hoped. LANPass is also distance based, but instead of earning miles you earn kilometers. LAN also has different zone dividers than Asia Miles. Just to add to the confusion, the LAN chart is based on round trip distances; Asia Miles’ is based on one way. The awards jump at 6,500 and 20,000 kms total in business class and 10,000 kms in economy. 20,000 kms is farther than Asia Miles' equivalent zone (6,214 miles one way rather than 5,000) but the 140,000 kms needed is about 85,000 miles if you earned them flying. Not much of a savings. However, non flying mileage partners such as credit cards usually value LANPass kilometers at 2 per mile, so if you're earning them from those sources rather than flying, it's as low as 70,000 miles.

There are also a few weird situations where LANPass would be a savings. Boston to Dublin is under 10,000 kms round trip, making economy on AA or Aer Lingus cheaper on LANPass (65,000 kms or between 32,500 and 40,400 miles depending on how you earned them). Trips in business class from Miami to Central America might also be a savings. LANPass is worth keeping in mind, especially as there are a few bonuses for new members that might make it worthwhile if you're contemplating flying LAN for the first time anyway.

I also checked Star Alliance to see if there's an equivalent situation. The only distance based awards I found were on Asiana, and there's some savings (JFK-LHR would be 75,000 Asiana miles as opposed to 80,000 on United) but it isn't that great.

[Update 2-7-06: There is another distance based carrier on Star Alliance - ANA. The magic number for ANA is a business class award for less than 8,000 miles total distance. That's as far as JFK-Berlin, and it's only 65,000 miles. I don't think that works for any transpacific flights.

How do you get these miles? Stay tuned.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at January 18, 2006 7:45 PM

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