I have my Top 8 programs that I concentrate on for miles collection to maximize opportunities in both One World and Star Alliance. I am not lucky enough to have employer paid travel that allows me to earn “free” BIS (butt-in-seat) miles so I have to be more creative in using partners to earn miles. However with limited funds, there is only so much I can do and even within my Top 8 programs, I need to prioritize whose miles I want to earn first. Sky Team doesn’t interest me at all because I don’t like their major US partner – Delta’s frequent flyer program. If Virgin Australia joined Sky Team, they may be of interest but for now they have nothing to offer me that I can’t already get from Star Alliance and One World.
Factors that I don’t care about but you might: Business travel (employer’s preferences), paying for mileage runs and earning elite status.
KNOW WHERE YOU WANT TO GO AND WHICH AIRLINES CAN GET YOU THERE
I want to go to destinations that offer good birding with a high population of parrot species. I also have family in the USA and I attend a major parrot conservation conference in Tenerife, Spain every 4 years. If there are promos (Grand Slam, credit cards) that allow me to easily acquire miles I would spend them on business class for at least long-haul, otherwise we would fly economy if that's all we can afford. So here's how this all adds up.
- SOUTH AMERICA - can be reached directly from Sydney on LAN with connections elsewhere. Y class is reasonably easy to get, J class is very difficult.
- CENTRAL AMERICA - could reach from South America via LAN or from the USA via Avianca-Taca, Copa, US Airways, United (Star Alliance) or American and LAN (One World).
- ASIA (INDIA, SRI LANKA, THAILAND, MALAYSIA, INDONESIA) - easily reached on either alliance with generally good availability in award seats.
- EUROPE - has good connections with both alliances to major European cities, however only Iberia (One World) can get me all the way to Tenerife. I want to avoid using BA for long haul due to high taxes.
- USA - this is the most difficult award for me to get as there is a lot of demand from both USA and Australian based frequent flyers. Award seats in business class are very hard to get, even economy is drying up on Air New Zealand. It can be possible to route via Asia but MPM (Maximum permitted miles) can cause problems. For Star Alliance, NZ would be ideal if they would just start releasing award seats! Otherwise, we need to connect in either BKK or SIN and again in NRT or ICN to get to the USA. For One World, Qantas has the only direct flights but since I am using AA miles, I also have Hawaiian and Air Pacific as potential award routes. Unfortunately no stopovers are allowed.
- PACIFIC ISLANDS - We go to Rarotonga every few years so my husband can see his family. Only served by Air New Zealand (Star Alliance) and Virgin. Other islands that are on our radar with airlines that can get us there are: Tahiti (NZ), Fiji (Qantas, Air Pacific, Virgin, NZ).
- DOMESTIC AUSTRALIA - One World has the monopoly on alliance based flights - Qantas. I can also earn miles on Virgin with everyday shopping and partners.
- AFRICA - I have a bucket list birding trip I would like to do with stops in DAR for Tanzania, JNB and PLZ for South Africa and MRU for Mauritius. This trip would have very high out of pocket costs on the ground so would require years of saving or a Lotto win. There are options with both Star Alliance (South African, Turkish, Ethiopian, Egypt Air) and One World (Qatar, Malaysian) but once again this is a major goal I would have to save a long time for. I would most likely use United miles for this one, possibly Avios for JNB-MRU.
KNOW WHICH AIRLINES SERVE YOUR HOME AIRPORT
I use Google flights to look this up. Just type in "Flights to LAX", replacing LAX with your home airport code. In my case, this is BNE. Now scroll through the list and pull out the airlines which are in alliances and non-allianced airlines that you have easy access to partner earnings on.
- Qantas - One World
- Cathay Pacific - One World
- Malaysian Airlines - One World
- Air New Zealand - Star Alliance
- Thai Airways - Star Alliance
- Singapore Airlines - Star Alliance
- EVA Air - future Star Alliance
- Virgin Australia - not in an alliance but able to get free points from local partners
- Hawaiian Airlines - not in an alliance but partner of AA
- Air Pacific - not in an alliance but partner of AA
- Emirates - doesn't partner with any airline I can easily earn miles with so not a good option for me.
CAN YOU CONNECT IN A LARGER AIRPORT WITHIN YOUR COUNTRY?
Brisbane is not Australia's major airport, Sydney is. However, since Star Alliance does not have a partner which serves domestic Australian flights, One World is going to give me a lot more options since I can use Qantas to get to Sydney, Melbourne or Perth from where there are additional flight opportunities. Using the Google Flights tool, I now look up flights to Sydney (SYD). Now I can see that in addition to the airlines that also serve Brisbane, I could connect on:
- Etihad - partner of American and Virgin Australia, but not in an alliance
- Air China - Star Alliance
- Air Canada - Star Alliance
- United Airlines - Star Alliance
- Asiana - Star Alliance
- Japan Airlines - One World
- Air Tahiti Nui - AA partner, non alliance
- Qatar Airways - future One World
ANALYZING THE INFORMATION AND SETTING THE PRIORITIES
On the surface, it looks like I should prioritize Star Alliance and seek out mile-earning opportunities on United and US Airways. BUT, the main problem is getting award seats from Brisbane as I don't want to pay out of pocket for feeder flights to Sydney or waste Virgin miles. Two of the 3 Star Alliance partners (NZ, SQ) that serve Brisbane rarely release business class awards and even economy can be hard to find. TG is more generous and when EVA Air joins in a few months, hopefully they will also be generous with award seats and routes via TPE will fall within the MPM for US awards. On the other hand, One World has the only domestic Australian partner that allows me to route via Sydney's international connections. American Airlines has 2 major partners that serve Brisbane - Air Pacific and Hawaiian and also Etihad via Sydney. So here is how I prioritized my airline programs:
MAIN PROGRAMS/LONG HAUL
1. American AAdvantage - because of more flexibility and domestic Australian feeder flights, extra partners like Etihad, Air Pacific and Hawaiian, one way awards permitted and most airlines I use bookable online. Also, One World and AA partners serve more of the airports that matter to me. Can transfer from SPG at 20k SPG = 25k AA and use E-Rewards and flower partners to top up. Citibank denied me the co-branded credit card but planning to try again in 6 months for the sign up bonus.
2. United Mileage Plus - would have been first place if they had a domestic Australian partner or better flights out of BNE; but I value one way awards and online booking so they edged out US. Can get miles from Chase's Ultimate Rewards and co-branded cards and any partners which I can't credit to AA.
3. US Airways Dividend Miles - good redemption levels but I find the restrictions of round-trip awards and having to call them to book awards stifling. They have had the best ever promo - Grand Slam which ran every Sept - Nov 2008-2011 which allowed us to earn huge amounts of miles fairly cheap and they also can run good 100% buy or share bonus promos, making it fairly cheap to buy their miles. If they merge with AA, these miles could potentially become AA miles which I personally value much higher.
SECONDARY PROGRAMS/SHORT HAUL
4. British Airways Avios - I used them for a bargain one-way LAX-HNL and also have them earmarked for short haul domestic Australian and intra-South America awards. Can transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards and E-Rewards.
5. Avianca/Taca LifeMiles - Good awards within Central America and South America, sometimes offers 100% buy/share miles promos. The credit card has an anniversary bonus of 6000 miles for $75 annual fee which is a good deal and painless.
6. Qantas - Awards are expensive so prefer to use AA as main One-World program, also Australian co-branded credit cards can have higher annual fees. I can get free miles from shopping and phone bills so I just let them silently accumulate.
7. Virgin - Good for credit card bonuses, transfers from Amex and short-haul to New Zealand and Pacific islands. Can earn miles with NAB card and Virgin mobile through everyday normal use.
8. Singapore Krisflyer - Has the best award rates between Australia and Pacific Islands, can use Amex MR to get miles but otherwise no easy "everyday spending" opportunities.
So now I know where I want to look first for incidental bonuses for car rentals, hotel stays, flowers, surveys and where to credit them to!
What are your miles collecting priorities and why?