Miles & More Program Primer & Six Great Uses (and Two Bad Ones) of the Lufthansa Card’s 50k Sign Up Bonus

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The 50k mile bonus offer is back on the Lufthansa card mentioned in this post until 6/30/14. Get it now!

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchases or balance transfer
  • Earn an additional 30,000 award miles when you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Cardholders receive a companion ticket after first use of the account and annually after each account anniversary
  • No Foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance member airlines and on other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee. Please see Terms and Conditions for complete details

Application Link: The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard

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A few days ago I wrote about the new 50,000 mile sign up bonus on the the Lufthansa Miles & More World MasterCard from Barclay’s.

At the time, I laid out two great uses for the sign up bonus for people not very familiar with the Miles & More program. Unfortunately the Miles & More call center in the US was closed all weekend, so I couldn’t investigate further.

I called today and priced out several more awards, so I can now recommend six great uses (and unrecommend two bad uses) of the sign up bonus.

This post is a full primer of the Miles & More program for people who don’t know much about it, plus those six great uses including roundtrip business class for 55k miles and low taxes, how to book online and by phone, three ways to save miles on a Miles & More booking, and comparisons between Miles & More and United MileagePlus and US Airways Dividend Miles.

What is Miles & More

Miles & More is the frequent flyer program of Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Swiss Air Lines, Adria Airways, Croatia Airlines, Luxair, Brussels Airlines, and Germanwings.

Miles & More is such an important program because those airlines–at least Lufthansa, LOT, and Swiss–release more and better award space to Miles & More members than to their partners like United and US Airways.

If you only have United miles, you won’t be able to book Swiss First Class, Lufthansa First Class more than two weeks out, or LOT business class on its Dreamliner at the moment.

Also since Miles & More member airlines are part of the Star Alliance, Miles & More miles can be used on all Star Alliance partners.

Award Chart

Lufthansa has a competitive award chart except on first class awards, which are generally priced way higher than the competition. For instance, USA to Europe with Miles & More miles is only 50,000 miles roundtrip in economy, 105,000 in business, and 170,000 in first class.

Lufthansa Award Chart

Footnote 4

For comparison, United charges 10,000 more miles for a roundtrip economy award, 5,000 less for a roundtrip business class award, and 35,000 less for a roundtrip first class award. (60k/100k/135k)

Unique to Miles & More–to my knowledge–is the fact that it charges the same amount for domestic trips whether those trips are wholly within the USA or wholly within a much smaller country. That makes domestic flight on United and US Airways a great deal with Miles & More miles.

Roundtrip prices within US 48

Unfortunately this deal does not extend to flights to Alaska and Hawaii, which cost more. Hawaii costs 40k/70k/125k roundtrip, a better deal than with United or US Airways miles. Alaska costs 30k/55k/75k roundtrip, a worse deal than with United or US Airways miles.

When reading the Lufthansa award chart, be aware that:

  • US Airways Envoy Suites to Europe book as business class as they should
  • US Airways domestic first class books as first class because US Airways uses the fare code for three-cabin international first class for its domestic first class award space
  • United BusinessFirst international flights book as business class as they should
  • United Global First international flights book as first class as they should
  • United domestic first or business on two cabin planes (basically all domestic flights including transcontinental p.s. service with flat beds in business class) book as business class
  • United domestic first on three cabin planes (rare but they fly some routes) books as first class

Huge and Tiny Miles Savings

You can book one way awards for half the miles price of roundtrips. The miles price will always be a multiple of 1,000, and if it’s not naturally, it will be rounded down!

This strange policy means you actually save 1,000 miles by booking many awards as two one ways. For instance, Chicago to Warsaw roundtrip in LOT business class would be 105,000 Miles & More miles. But each direction as a one way is 52,000 miles. So booking two one ways is 104,000 miles.

Children aged 2 to 11 can be booked as award passengers at 75% of the normal miles price! I don’t know any other airline that allows this significant miles discount.

“Children’s awards are only offered on flights operated by Adria Airways, Austrian Airlines Group, Air Dolomiti, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Luxair and SWISS.”

There is a humungous list of discounted flight awards called Mileage Bargains that allow for economy travel to Europe for 30,000 miles roundtrip or business class travel for 55,000 miles roundtrip.

Two of many Mileage Bargains

If your home city and destination city match up, you can save big miles.

Fuel Surcharges

Miles & More does collect fuel surcharges on award tickets, so instead of $100 in taxes on a roundtrip award to Europe, it could be $1,000 in taxes and fuel surcharges.

I gave these examples a few days ago of one way awards that I priced out by calling Miles & More:

  • LAX to Zurich in Swiss First: 85,000 miles + $430.50
  • Washington-Dulles to Frankfurt in Lufthansa First: 85,000 miles + $430.50.
  • Newark to Frankfurt on United: 85,000 miles + $260.50.

All three of those carry fuel surcharges of $258 to $428 for a one way flight. Luckily there are several ways to redeem Miles & More miles for zero fuel surcharges or very minor surcharges. I priced these out today over the phone:

  • Philadelphia to London in US Airways Envoy Suites (business): 52,000 miles + $2.50
  • LAX to JFK in United Business (flat bed on p.s. flight): 17,000 miles + $2.50
  • Philadelphia to Phoenix in US Airways First: 25,000 miles + $2.50
  • Chicago to Warsaw in LOT Business (flat bed on a Dreamliner): 52,000 miles + $2.50

Note that the space I checked on LOT is on February 12, 2014. United doesn’t have access to that space. That means Miles & More miles are the only way to get on that flat bed that day. Until recently I saw fantastic availability on LOT with United miles, but now the only access may be through the Miles & More program.

Stopovers and Open Jaws

Much of the rest of my info will come from the online terms and conditions of Miles & More.

One open jaw is allowed. If the open jaw is between regions–like flying to Frankfurt (Europe) and returning home from Abu Dhabi (Middle East)–you pay the roundtrip price of flying to the more expensive region. This is a customer un-friendly rule. You can easily get around this by booking the award as two one ways. This is also a way to get two open jaws.

“Simple ‘open-jaw’ flights (e.g. where the outbound flight destination and the inbound flight departure airport are not identical) are allowed. The number of miles required is calculated with reference to the higher region chosen.”

I don’t know the stopover policy. I will update this post with that info.

1.5.2 Stopovers
Please contact your local Miles & More Service Team to obtain details of the current terms and conditions.”

Mixing Cabins

If you fly one way in economy and return in first class, you pay the roundtrip first class. This is a customer un-friendly policy. This can be gotten around incredibly easily by booking your roundtrip award as two one ways.

“If the outbound and inbound flights of the flight award are booked in different classes of service, the number of miles required for the entire trip is calculated with reference to the higher class.”

Change and Cancellation

Change and cancellation fees are a very modest $60. This is a very customer friendly policy. The industry standard is $75 to $150 for changes and $150 to cancel.

“Flight awards which are cancelled prior to the start of the outbound journey can be refunded subject to a cancellation charge of €50.”

“A charge of €50 or CHF 70/USD 60 is payable for rebooking or cancelling a flight award.”

When can you book?

You can book almost 361 days in advance. Most US airlines allow booking about 11 months in advance. That means you will have access to Lufthansa, Swiss, LOT, and Austrian space about a month before people using United miles.

“You can book your flight award up to 361 days in advance of the desired travel date. Flight awards are valid for twelve months after the date of issue.”

Six Great Uses of the Lufthansa Card’s Sign Up Bonus

When I say “great” and “bad” below I mean those words in an absolute sense, but also in a relative sense. I am comparing these redemptions to what you can do with a similar amount of United and US Airways miles, which are the Star Alliance miles we are more familiar with in the United States.

1. Fly from Chicago or New York to Warsaw or other Polish cities before June 28 for 55,000 miles and about $200 in taxes and fees. This takes advantage of the Mileage Bargains price and the very low surcharges on LOT flights on Miles & More redemptions. Alternatively you could redeem two economy Mileage Bargains awards for 60,000 miles total.

LOT bed on Dreamliner that serves Chicago to Warsaw

2. Fly from LAX/SFO to JFK for 17,000 miles and $2.50 each way in a flat bed on one of United’s p.s. flights.

United bed on p.s. flight

This would cost 25,000 United miles. US Airways would charge 50,000 miles for the roundtrip or one way, since it doesn’t discount one way awards.

3. Fly US Airways Envoy Suites to Europe for 50,000 miles and $2.50 one way.

US Airways Envoy Suite (convertible to bed)

This is the same price it would cost with United miles. US Airways would charge the 100,000 mile roundtrip price.

4. Book Lufthansa or Swiss First class up to 361 days in advance for 85,000 miles + $460 one way.

The price is high, but neither airline’s first class is bookable with US Airways miles. United can access the Lufthansa space 15 days in advance if you can make last second bookings. To make up the shortfall from the sign up bonus, you can transfer 25,000 SPG points to 30,000 Miles & More miles. Coincidentally (?) that is the current sign up for the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card–25,000 SPG points.

5. Book a roundtrip economy award to Europe for 50k miles.

Tip 1: Book it on US Airways planes to avoid fuel surcharges.

Tip 2: Add a 2 to 11 year old companion for 37,500 more.

Note that Tip 1 and 2 are NOT combineable because “[c]hildren’s awards are only offered on flights operated by Adria Airways, Austrian Airlines Group, Air Dolomiti, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Luxair and SWISS.”

6. Fly from the US to Europe on LOT Airlines in business class on flat beds on the 787 Dreamliner for 52,000 miles and $62 one way.

This use is made even more valuable because LOT seems to have stopped releasing award space its award space to United and US Airways miles holders.

Two Bad Uses of the Lufthansa Card’s Sign Up Bonus

1. United First Class from the US to Europe for 85,000 miles and $260.

This is a stinker on so many levels. One, that’s way too many miles for a flight in United First Class, which is nice, but not an aspirational award that should cost that much.

Two, United would only charge 67,500 miles for the same flight. US Airways would charge 125,000 miles roundtrip.

Three, United and US Airways would not charge the $258 per direction fuel surcharge.

2. US Airways First Class domestically for 25,000 miles per direction.

This isn’t nearly as horrible, but I don’t like it. It’s true this award would have no fuel surcharges and taxes of less than $10. And it’s true that United would also charge 25k miles for the same flight.

But United First Class domestically is only 17,000 miles per direction with Miles & More miles. It’s as nice or nicer than US Airways First Class, and you can get on flat beds on United between JFK and LAX/SFO for only 17,000 Miles & More miles.

Booking Online and By Phone

Once you have your miles, booking Miles & More integrated airlines is a snap on milesandmore.com.

Unfortunately you can’t even search the availability open to Miles & More members without signing up for the program and having some Miles & More miles in your account.

Luckily new account sign ups right now earn 500 miles as long as you leave the pre-checked boxes allowing emails to be sent to you checked during sign up. A phone agent gave me this tip. When I signed up for a new account to test it, I got 500 miles immediately upon opening the account even though at no point was I told that signing up for emails would earn me 500 miles.

With the miles in my account, I can perform award searches and see space. Unfortunately I can’t price the space. I get an an error message that tells me I don’t have enough miles in my account if I try to select award space to price it.

To price space, you can call the Lufthansa Miles & More center in the US at 800-581-6400 from 8 AM to 8 PM ET Monday through Friday.

In my experience, I had to hold for about 15 minutes on each call at which point I was contacted to an agent whose competence easily extended to the simple pricings I requested.

The Deal

With all this information, I think you can easily get as much value from Lufthansa miles as from United miles in small quantities. This doesn’t mean you should earn 1 million Lufthansa miles instead of 1 million United miles. United miles are far more versatile, so they are better to stockpile.

But in small quantities–say 55,000–Lufthansa miles have several values that are as good or better than United miles.

That tells me that I should continue to focus more on earning United miles and Ultimate Rewards, but I need to jump on this 50k Miles & More miles sign up bonus before it drops back to the normal 20k mile offer. Additional factors that make the decision easy include the card being issued by Barclay’s, so I don’t have to worry about adding another application to my list of past Chase applications, and the card being a MasterCard, so I don’t have to worry about it not being accepted everywhere.

Lufthansa Miles & More World MasterCard bullet points:

Update 12/17/13: The 50k mile offer is dead. All Lufthansa card links in this post go to the following offer:

  • Earn up to 35,000 award miles with qualifying transactions
  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase or balance transfer
  • Earn up to 15,000 award miles with balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) within 30 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Complimentary Companion Ticket after first purchase, then annually thereafter
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $79 Annual Fee, waived for SEN and HON Circle Members

Application Link: Lufthansa Miles & More World MasterCard

54 Responses to Miles & More Program Primer & Six Great Uses (and Two Bad Ones) of the Lufthansa Card’s 50k Sign Up Bonus

  1. SAS and IcelandAir have 50% award discounts for children. Both have been useful in the past.

  2. As usual, while other bloggers merely scratch the surface of a card’s opportunities, your in-depth evaluation consistently hits bedrock. Thank you!

  3. Travel Splash

    Thank you for the diligent and in-depth work on this lesser known program. I always appreciate your high quality research and insights.

  4. Child Policy – is the 75% discount just when flying Lufthansa metal or any airline? Thanks for great work!

    • “Children’s awards are only offered on flights operated by Adria Airways, Austrian Airlines Group, Air Dolomiti, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Luxair and SWISS.”

      I have corrected my post.

  5. One of your best yet. My 500 sign up miles appeared instantly. Now to drag my 10 and 11 year old to Europe:)

    • See my correction about the discount! Sorry: “Children’s awards are only offered on flights operated by Adria Airways, Austrian Airlines Group, Air Dolomiti, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Luxair and SWISS.”

  6. I’ve always thought the “domestic” award only applies to flights within Germany… has anyone actually confirmed that it works for intra-US flights?
    thanks.

  7. THEFRUGALMOMPOINTSMILESHACKINGNEWBTRAVELER

    Extra Good Content as usual

  8. MV: Any analysis on whether there is value in the card’s Companion Pass (which gets the Companion on flights to Asia, Europe, and Middle East)?

    Cardholder gets new CP each year upon anniversary, so there is “sustainable value” there, not just “signup value”.

    • I’ll look into it. I am pessimistic. I editorialized it’s worthless to most without running numbers, just based on the fare class restriction and my experience with companion passes.

  9. Extremely in-depth and insightful post, as always! You really set yourself apart from the others. Thank you!

  10. To get the discounted child award ticket you can’t be on US metal, you have to be on flights operated by Adria Airways, Austrian Airlines Group, Air Dolomiti, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Luxair and SWISS. Great post though!

    • Nice catch. Writing at 5 AM… I don’t know how you write mistake free about traveling with kids WHILE you have kids.

  11. Hmm… now I have to decide between hitting the USAir card one more time or going for this card in my May churn.

  12. Isn’t it the same for US Air redemption to Hawaii? It’s 40K for US Air to Hawaii if you can find low level awards in Y.

  13. I don’t know if LH comps status, but Senators can book an award flight for their spouse @ 50% off on flights operated by Lufthansa, Luxair, SWISS, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, LOT, Croatia Airlines and Adria Airway. So theoretically, a family living in a gateway city could travel very reasonably compared to other airlines. See https://www.miles-and-more.com/online/portal/mam/us/spend/flight/offer?l=en&nodeid=2547978&cid=1000390

  14. Hi there. I’m getting ready to book a US AIR flight to North Asia for 120K miles in first class. Am I going to be available to book it on Lufthansa, if there is availability, or am I excluded from Lufthansa first class when using US Air miles? I know they release to United in the last two weeks before booking. Do they do the same with US AIR? Thanks.

  15. Great post, thanks for the info. One question I have that I might of missed above is can United and Miles and More miles be combined for a trip?

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  20. If I get 50K Miles & More from the Barclays card, can I combine them with my United miles to fly Lufthansa or Swiss (SFO to PRG). DO I have to pay to transfer them one way or another. The other part of my trip is VCE back to SFO.
    Also noticed on the Lufthansa site that if I buy the remaining miles needed, you get a 20% purchase bonus. Thought??
    Thanks

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