This is the twentieth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.
I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics of several international airline programs which are transfer partners of one or more of the following types of points:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints
- Citi ThankYou Points
I think of these international airlines programs as niche programs. Most of their redemption options are terrible because of fuel surcharges, but a few redemptions with each program are great because of no fuel surcharges or a super cheap miles price.
Know the great options in each program to save yourself miles and cash by maximizing these programs:
- Singapore KrisFlyer (UR, MR, SPG, and TY)
- Air Canada Aeroplan (MR, SPG)
- Lufthansa Miles & More (SPG, also the only one of these programs that offers a big 50k sign up bonus on an American credit card every few months)
- ANA Mileage Club (MR, SPG)
- Air France Flying Blue (MR, SPG)
- Korean SkyPass (UR, SPG)
Why Collect These Miles?
Most of these programs have a sweet spot that lets you book the same flights for fewer miles than if you used United or Delta miles. For instance, pay 30,000 Singapore miles each way in First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii instead of 40,000 United miles.
Korean, Singapore, and Lufthansa miles allow the booking of mind-blowing First Class products you can’t book with Delta and United miles.
- What airlines can you fly with these miles?
- What are the routing rules for these awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
- What are the special deals in each program?
- What about fuel surcharges?
Singapore, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and ANA are members of the Star Alliance. That means you can use their miles on all 27 Star Alliance carriers including United.
Air France and Korean are members of SkyTeam. That means you can use their miles on all 20 SkyTeam carriers including Delta.
Each Program’s Sweet Spots in One Sentence
Singapore miles are best for United flights especially to Hawaii, Central America, and South America AND Singapore Suites Class. No other airline can book Singapore Suites. Awards on United flights do not include fuel surcharges, though most other awards do.
Aeroplan miles are best for business class to Europe on partners on which Aeroplan does not collect fuel surcharges. You can book such a one way award for only 45,000 miles.
Lufthansa Miles & More miles are best for awards on United flights within the United States including Hawaii and other United routes on which there are no fuel surcharges AND Mileage Bargain awards (55,000 miles roundtrip to Europe) AND booking Lufthansa First Class more than 15 days before departure. No other type of miles can book Lufthansa First Class more than 15 days before departure.
ANA miles are the best for Business Class awards on United flights from the East Coast to Europe. Because of ANA’s distance based chart, you can book such roundtrips for 68,000 miles with no fuel surcharges.
Air France Flying Blue miles are best for Promo Awards (12,500 miles to Europe) AND one way awards on Delta flights since Delta charges the roundtrip price on one way awards.
Korean miles are best for booking First Class on SkyTeam members like Korean and China Southern since Delta miles cannot be used to book international First Class on any partners.
Click the links in the previous section for more information on each specific program.
Also check out my recent post, which runs through the routing rules of several of the Star Alliance carriers in this post.
Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges
All awards require you to pay the government taxes associated with the itinerary.
These start at $5.60 each direction for domestic awards and go up to $300 if you fly to a high tax country. Generally international awards have roundtrip taxes of $50 to $150.
Fees vary by program, but I find the fees to usually be lower than fees for awards on US-based airlines. Many of the programs in this post have no phone booking fee or fee for booking within 21 days of departure, which are staples of American programs.
Often change and cancellation fees are lower than the $150 – $200 we are used to from domestic programs.
All the programs mentioned in this post collect fuel surcharges on almost every partner. The key to maximizing these programs is to book awards that cost very few miles and/or incur zero or low fuel surcharges.
How to Book These Awards
As usual, you book with the airline whose miles you’re using. Booking may be available on that airline’s website or by phone.
If you can’t seem to find the award you want for your dream trip, you can hire my Award Booking Service to search and book awards with all these programs. We have the expertise to search all their partners and to minimize or eliminate fuel surcharges.
Foreign frequent flyer programs offer far worse value on average than American programs, but you shouldn’t ignore them.
Each of the six programs in this post has one or more award for which it is the best program in the world!
Know the transfer partners of the four big transferable points, and know the best award or two from each of those programs to truly maximize your miles and points.
Any questions? What did I leave out?