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Change is the one constant in the world of miles and points. People often reminisce about the “good ol’ days” of frequent flyer programs, when you could score 100,000 mile sign-up bonuses and use them to fly multiple round trips across an ocean.
The airlines (and banks) make the rules, and we simply have to adapt to them. Usually when an airline makes “enhancements” to its rewards program, it’s a bad thing. And there are a few of the sweetest spots that I don’t expect to see much longer.
Devaluations are inevitable
We’ve recently saw a United MileagePlus devaluation that took effect in November. American Airlines had their own devaluation prior to that. Alaska Airlines obliterated their Emirates awards without any notice. We’ve even seen things as insidious as an airline changing the distance between airports.
At the end of the day, the airlines make the rules. They set the terms of the programs. The only thing travelers can do is vote with their dollars. Given the recent push by American Airlines to both sell miles and handing out bonuses on transferred miles, something tells me their loyalty program isn’t doing as well as it should be.
I see several awards that I believe could be devalued in the near future. I’m not saying these *will* be, but I don’t think they are sustainable as-is and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up on the chopping block.
Cathay Pacific business awards to Asia using Alaska miles
This is one of the best sweet spots on the Alaska Airlines award chart. You can fly from New York to Hong Kong (nearly 16 hours) in Cathay’s solid business class product, and then onward to another destination in Asia for a mere 50,000 Alaska miles. Not to mention Alaska Airlines’ great award routing rules allow a stopover on a one-way award. You could head onward to Australia for just 10,000 additional miles, plus spend a few days in Hong Kong.
If you need Alaska miles, consider opening a Bank of America Alaska Airlines card. You used to be able to get several of these at a time, but more recent data points indicate that Bank of America has tightened things up. You can also transfer Starpoints to Alaska miles, or use 270,000 Marriott points to get a 7-night hotel stay plus 120,000 miles.
While Alaska’s award program seems healthy (I’ve never heard anything otherwise), I expect them to raise prices on Cathay awards specifically in the reasonably near future. There is little that competes with the 50,000-mile price for a one-way-plus-stopover ticket.
British Airways West Coast to Hawaii sweet spot
When the Aer Lingus award chart rolled out, the location of Dublin (or Boston) was conveniently moved to prevent the route from being included in the rest of the chart. Similarly, British Airways had previously killed the first tier of their distance-based award chart for flights originating in or departing from the U.S., showing they are not afraid to tweak their award chart when they feel like it.
As British Airways has already done everything they can to destroy their brand, I half expect them to nix some of the most lucrative award routes available, including the numerous options between the West Coast and Hawaii. This one may be a bit more safe than I previously thought, as fare sales to Hawaii have been routine and competitive (SEE: Deal alert [expired]: $197 or 13k Ultimate Rewards from California to Hawaii).
Then again, British Airways has plans to go revenue-based. Avios will go from situationally useful to mostly worthless. Maybe the only bright side will be that fuel surcharges are no longer part of award tickets?
Korean Air business round-trips to Europe
Korean Air has some decent sweet spots on its chart. One of the best is the business round-trip between the U.S. and Europe for a mere 80,000 miles. Contrast this with Delta, who often requires 86,000 Skymiles for a one-way award.
While I don’t know how much the Korean sweet spot is being utilized by frequent flyers, it is definitely one of the best options out there to get to Europe. You can easily accrue Korean SkyPass miles by transferring . What *is* a chore is getting your account set up so you can book award for family members. You have to submit documentation to Korean Air, and this headache is one of the hurdles that may keep less-serious travel hackers from booking these awards.
Aeroplan awards within Canada on arctic partners
Granted, this is a very specific use case. But if you are interested in visiting the polar north, there is no better option that using Aeroplan miles to book a trip. You can even get awards for the Reduced Short-Haul award price.
Consider visiting Iqaluit from Ottawa. You can book this trip for 15,000 Aeroplan miles plus taxes and fees. A normal round-trip will run you $1,200 cash. Yes, this is in the 8 cents per mile range for economy. Likewise, you can book Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba to visit the polar bears for a mere 15,000 miles round-trip and like $50 (if I recall my conversation with the phone agent correctly…it’s been a while). The cash cost of this trip is a cool $1,000.
Given that Aeroplan may go the way of the dodo in 2020, I might expect to see these awards around until then. After that, it is anyone’s guess. But I don’t expect either a new program or a revamped Aeroplan to be as lucrative.
ALSO SEE: The 4 best uses of Aeroplan miles
Like….everything on the ANA award chart in business class
If there is one carrier into which you should sink some research time, it is ANA. Their award chart for many, many regions and routes is truly phenomenal. Business class to Europe is available from 88,000 miles round-trip. You can head to much of Asia for between 85,000 and 95,000 in business, again round-trip.
The Middle East? Try 104,000 miles round-trip from North America. Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania will run you only 120,000. Even South America is better than most programs at 88,000 miles round-trip.
Business class is where it is at with ANA. My hope for the program is that the current pricing will stick around for at least a couple more years. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it go much sooner than that, given that ANA is a Membership Rewards transfer partner, so earning their miles isn’t all that hard.
Overlooked programs is where it’s at right now
One thing I am banking on is that the majority of travelers are lazy with their miles and points. Rather than go through the legwork of researching foreign programs, they’ll default to the ones they know. This means that some great programs are very likely overlooked by a large number of American travelers.
That’s why my focus recently has been on programs such as Asia Miles, which has some *phenomenal* potential (SEE: 6 best uses of Asia Miles). As stated above, ANA Mileage Club is another fantastic option. Even Turkish Miles & Smiles (a relatively new Citi transfer partner) holds some potential. Knowing how to leverage foreign programs can really stretch your transferable points.
Again, I’m not saying these awards *will* be devalued, it just seems like the price points are unsustainable. Much like the Emirates award devaluation by Alaska, I see minor tweaks being the norm for a while as carriers patch the “loophole awards” being exploited by frequent flyers.
It all a balancing act. Savvy travelers will seek to maximize their points, while airlines will keep increasing prices as they see fit. Eventually, I expect the whole air travel rewards scheme to be revenue-based, but let’s hope that day is still a long ways off.
Images courtesy of Cathay Pacific and Korean Air.