Top 8 Frequent Flyer Programs For Eco-Travelers

*** UPDATED FOR 2016 ***

It’s always good to be diversified but then not TOO diversified that you end up with tiny amounts in too many programs.  Everyone, no matter where you live should join these programs right now and be ready for the New Year in case bonuses and promos are released.  It’s also a good idea to make your own spreadsheet and track your miles in each program and set up a special email folder to put all emails that come from these airlines.  Throughout the year, I will be blogging about any promos that come up but will concentrate on these programs as I feel they offer the best award opportunities for eco-travelers in particular.   You will be on your way to a free eco-tourism adventure in no time at all!

1.  United Airlines Mileage PlusStar Alliance member, very easy for Americans to get LOTS of miles via Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (see reference tab at top), especially strong for Central America with partners Copa and Taca, but can get you to Asia pretty easily on Singapore or Thai.  Has an excellent online award booking engine and allows one ways at half round trip for extra flexibility.

2.  American Airlines AAdvantageOne World member, has more options between USA and Australia on Qantas, Air Pacific or Air Tahiti Nui, also great for LAN or AA to South America.  Can book several of their partners online with AA planning to add more as they go along.  One way awards at half round trip rates.

3.  US Airways Dividend MilesStar Alliance member, noted for great promos in the past such as Grand Slam (between me and my husband, we got over half a million miles in 3 years with this promo).  Good option for non-USA residents as they offer frequent discounted buy/share miles promos throughout the year.  Same redemption opportunities as UA but no one-ways and you must call them to book so they lose points for inflexibility.  They have recently started to enforce MPM (maximum permitted mileage) on award tickets so booking Australia to/from USA via Asia may or may not work.

4.  Avianca-Taca LifeMiles –  Star Alliance member, has frequent buy share promos so good chance for worldwide members to get discounted tickets.  Has online booking of partner awards but the real benefit to eco-travelers is the great rates on their own flights within Central America and Peru.

My analysis of Avianca-Taca LifeMiles


5.  British Airways Avios and Iberia AviosOne World members, same Avios currency but you need to join both BA and IB’s versions to maximize it.  Pretty easy to earn Avios via E-Rewards and can also credit stays at Accor hotels to Iberia’s program and transfer easily between BA and IB.  Americans can get lucrative credit card bonuses.  Not a program for long haul or itineraries needing connections but excellent for short haul within South America on partner LAN or within Australia on partner Qantas.


6.  Qantas Frequent FlyerOne World member – Join at Woolies via Everyday Rewards and get points from your weekly grocery shopping and Optus phone/internet.  Various credit cards to get more points.  Use for domestic Australia or short-haul to NZ, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

7.  Virgin Velocity – Not in an alliance.  Good for credit card bonuses, transfers from Amex and short-haul to New Zealand and Pacific islands.

8.  Singapore Airlines KrisFlyerStar Alliance member.  Don’t keep miles in here if you can’t use them within 3 year because they expire whether you have activity or not.  Good for redemptions on NZ between Australia and Pacific islands.

Travel Promo Year In Review 2012

The quest for free or very cheap airline miles and hotel points is always filled with intrigue and drama!  Here are a few of the most memorable promos of 2012.

1.  Huge credit card signup bonuses – lucky Americans got to collect hundreds of thousands of free miles via credit card signup bonuses.  I have a few of them in my series here if you missed out.  Remember to “learn how to fish” and check out each deal before you sign up for it.  Aussies have a few credit cards too but not as lucrative as the Americans.

2.  Discover America promos in April and May delivered a nice bonanza to those who were quick on the draw.  I am not sure if this will happen next year but I will blog about it if it does.  Meanwhile, read up on it via FlyerTalk.

3.  United’s 4 mile redemptions to Asia.  This was a mistake fare that only a few VERY quick people who were prepared to travel straight away actually got in on.  Many people tried, but when UA discovered the mistake, they cancelled all bookings of people who hadn’t traveled yet.  A few threatened to sue so it got really crazy!  Grab your popcorn and see this FlyerTalk thread!

4.  Club Carlson’s Big Night Giveaway.  What made this one special was that it was available worldwide.  Many people did “mattress runs” to cheaper hotels nearby to get the bonus miles which they could then redeem at an expensive hotel on a future trip or transfer to airline miles.  Lots of fun as most people got in on it!

5.  50% Bonus on Hotel Points converted to Dividend Miles.  Nice way to get rid of extra hotel points or make a huge profit on Starwood SPG points!

6.  The rise and fall of Bluebirds and Vanilla Reloads.  No, I don’t mean THIS bluebird!   I mean the frenzy of people seeking cheap Ultimate Rewards via Office Depot and various reload card options.

7.  Wyndham Rewards Phantom Phrenzy.  It was supposed to be a targeted promo but somehow a link got out and people were booking cheap Wyndham hotels and not even showing up to stay in them just to get the 16,000 point bonus.  I didn’t do it as I am wary of mistake promos as sometimes they are honored, sometimes they aren’t and this one you had to fork out for the rooms in advance without knowing if you would get the bonus or not.  It turns out they did get it after LOTS of complaints back and forth to Wyndham.

8.  Cartera Online Mall Mania.  Cartera is dodgy at best about giving you miles for your click-through purchases.  Unfortunately, they operate most of the airline’s affiliate shopping malls so you can’t really escape them.  Sometimes they stuff up and offer ridiculous bonuses that are obviously a mistake but people will try to get them honored.  This Flyertalk thread has one of the best ones that carried over from last year and had most people getting a “goodwill” bonus instead of the cheap miles they had hoped for.

9.  LifeMiles 250 miles per purchase bonus.  New kid on the block, Avianca Taca’s LifeMiles opened an online shopping mall and sent out emails to all members offering 250 bonus miles per purchase.  Of course savvy miles collectors wasted no time in finding the cheapest way to rack up the miles.  Those of us who are eco-friendly opted for online automatic transactions such as e-books, donations to puppies and e-gift certificates.  The worst of the bunch were ordering $1 shampoo bottles, each of which were packaged separately and shipped individually until the drugstore cancelled the unfilled remaining orders and withdrew from the online mall.  So far, no one has gotten their bonus miles but you can read all about it here.

10.  The demise of US Airways Grand Slam promo that had been going for 4 years previously.  This was the one we all waited for with breathless anticipation of cheap miles to be spent on exotic destinations all over the world.  The more experienced Grand Slammers would start saving a year in advance for hotel points and other “hits” to be used in September each year for this extremely lucrative promotion.  Last year, FlyerTalk had a whole forum dedicated to the Grand Slam! In August, we eagerly started following US on Twitter, playing with URLs looking for a hint of the 2012 Grand Slam…………….all for nought!  It didn’t happen!  Most people blame it on several beginner oriented bloggers who spell out the tricks and loopholes in such detail a two year old could do it and it no longer required finesse and intelligence to maximize the promo.  It would have been unsustainable for US to hand out so many miles to so many people.  In October, they did throw us a bone with a Share Miles promo that wasn’t nearly as good as the Grand Slam had been but allowed us to top up our accounts at a discounted rate.

What does 2013 have in store?  Of course no one knows, but if you follow this blog by rss feed or subscription (use the form in the sidebar to the right), we will be right on top of the new promos that come up so you can get to those wonderful ecotourism hotspots you are all dreaming about!

Getting To The Cook Islands Using Frequent Flier Miles


The Cook Islands has only one international airport (RAR) and only 3 airlines that serve this airport.  Air New Zealand, a member of the Star Alliance has the most flights, most of which originate in Auckland (AKL) and a few flights to LAX and SYD (Sydney).  You can use any of the Star Alliance partners to book these flights but depending on where you live and what your profile is, some programs will be better than others.

If you live in Australia or New Zealand, your best bet is probably going to be the Singapore Airline’s Krisflyer.  As you can see by the chart below, Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands are all in the South-West Pacific category.  Round trip awards are only 25,000 miles in economy and 35,000 in business class.  Air New Zealand does not have a first class cabin.  This is the ONLY award I use SQ miles for and I keep my Amex points in Amex and transfer them just when I am ready to redeem because SQ miles expire after 3 years whether you have any activity or not.  I don’t use SQ for any other routings than Pacific awards because they have tremendous fuel surcharges on just about all their other routes.SQ RAR

If you are traveling from North America, Asia, Europe or South America, you will find much easier awards using one of 3 Star Alliance partners:  US Airways Dividend Miles, United Airlines Mileage Plus or Avianca Taca Lifemiles.  There are pros and cons to each program and from the USA especially business class is hard to get so you will most likely end up in economy.  Air New Zealand does release business class within a couple months of departure but by that time, the economy seats will be gone so if you like to plan in advance, I wouldn’t risk it.  On the other hand, it can be good news for more spontaneous travelers who have more flexibility.

Anyone from anywhere in the world can join these 3 programs.  Americans will usually be better off with United if they plan on using any of the Chase Ultimate Reward cards to acquire miles with both personal and business cards available and gift card churning.  This is way too complicated to go into here but if anyone is interested, start with Flyer Talk or ask me to personally recommend a blogger who specializes in this sort of thing in the comment section below.

No matter which Star Alliance partner I am booking on, I find the UA award search tool is the easiest to use because of the colour-coded calendar.  Obviously the miles needed for the redemption are valid only on UA.  If you are after business class awards, beware of the Mixed Class warning as shown in the second screenshot.UA RAR1UA RAR2

You are probably wondering why they are routing you through Sydney instead of the direct flight LAX-AKL, then AKL RAR.   Let’s see if there is any availability.  Scroll down to the bottom, do a LAX AKL search, choose your date and tick the Nonstop flights only box.UA RAR3

There are no non-stop flights available so it gives a warning and shows connecting flights.UA RAR4

At this point, depending on how much flexibility you have, you can keep plugging in dates hoping for the non-stop LAX-AKL (I did a few random dates and couldn’t find anything) or just take what they offer.

Bear in mind that this availability display will be much the same for any of the Star Alliance airlines but not all airlines have the facility to search partner awards.  The ANA tool can also be used.  It’s complicated but I will do a more comprehensive post on how to use it later.

For people who can’t get the Chase credit cards from the USA, your best bets will be either US Dividend Miles or Avianca Taca Lifemiles.  Both these airlines have frequent 100% bonuses on purchase miles throughout the year.  I’ll go into more detail later, because both programs have their pros and cons so I will just show you how many miles it takes to go from LAX to RAR.

Let’s start with US Airways Dividend Miles.  From the USA and the rest of North America, you will need 80k in economy, 110k in business.  From UK and Europe, you will need 100k economy, 120k business and from Australia or New Zealand you will need 25k economy and 30k business-all round trip and no one-way options available.

Using a 100% bonus on purchase miles, an American would pay $1505 USD including tax for 40k miles purchased and 40k given free with the promo.USDM RAR

Avianca Taca Lifemiles offers one-way awards and online booking of partner awards, but people on Flyertalk report it is difficult to deal with the call centres for non-Spanish speakers and you can’t mix classes (economy and business/first) on an award.  I’ll post their award chart and do a more comprehensive post on them later.  Sorry this is going to post very small so I would suggest clicking on the link on their website to see it better.   All the Pacific countries:  Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Tahiti and others fall into the “Others” category.  Don’t ask me why they didn’t just call it “South Pacific” like all the other airlines!  From the USA and the rest of North America, you will need 90k economy and 130k business.  From Europe, you will need 110k economy, 175k business and from Australia/New Zealand you will need 35k economy, 55k business.

Using the 100% bonus purchase miles promo, an American would have to buy 45k for $1350 and get 45k free from the promo.  The website states that there is a tax payable but when I bought a smaller amount of miles earlier, I was not charged a tax.  AviancaTaca RAR


Using the examples above, an American would spend $1505 to use USDM, $1350 to use Avianca Taca Lifemiles (need to add tax on top of that) or a quick look at Expedia shows tickets available for $1313 and you will EARN miles!   So in this case, only use miles if you got them free from a credit card or earned while flying on other paid Star Alliance flights.  Don’t buy miles in this case when the paid ticket is cheaper!!!  Expedia RAR

An Australian would pay $490 to get 13k USDM plus 13k free.  On Avianca Taca Lifemiles, it would cost $540 to get 18k miles plus 18k free.  A quick look at Air New Zealand’s site shows a fare of $1276 NZD which is around $1056 USD so for the Aussie, the better option is to buy the US Airways miles after making sure there is availability on the desired dates.




Virgin Australia serves RAR from AKL with onward connections to Australia.  This program is likely to be useful only to Australians who are using credit cards or every day life techniques to get Velocity points so here is a sample of award levels.   See their website for more information.  Aussies who are using Amex Membership Rewards would be better off transferring to Singapore’s Krisflyer where 50k Amex = 50k SQ which can be redeemed for 2 x Australia to RAR in Y as noted above.

Velocity RAR


Air Raro and Air Tahiti share the route between RAR and PPT (Papeete, Tahiti).  There are no frequent flyer options here, you will have to pay cash for this flight but it could be a useful option if you want to redeem a Star Alliance open jaw award Australia-Raro /- Tahiti-Australia and need to get between Raro and Tahiti.  The flight only operates once a week but does save a lot of backtracking.Air RaroPPT

WHEW, that was confusing!  If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below and I will be happy to clarify anything.  Once you get to the Cook Islands, you will want to organize your neighbor island visits to Aitutaki and Atiu so please check those posts too!


Free Points For Everyday Living – Australian Edition

Did you know that you can get free frequent flyer miles and points just for your basic every day living expenses?  Over the last couple of weeks, I wrote about credit card options for Australians so right there if you can route all your expenses for groceries, petrol, utilities via the card (and pay it in full each month) you will accumulate a LOT of points.

There are also ways to earn points that don’t require a credit card.


1.  Join Everyday Rewards.  Then swipe your card when you shop at Woolworths, Big W, Caltex Woolworths Petrol, Dick Smith and BWS you will earn points.  They sometimes email you special offers such as “Spend $25 on pet food and get 300 bonus points”.  They have more recently been giving fuel vouchers as bonuses but hopefully they will return to bonus Qantas points soon but you always earn the base points, so why not turn your groceries, petrol and other shopping into free points?

2.  Link your Optus phone and internet account and get 2 points per dollar for your normal phone and internet expenses.  You can do this whether you are new to Optus or been using them for years.  You pay the same bill you have always paid but now you are getting points for them!

3.  Use Rental Rewards to pay your rent!  In the example here, they show you how you can get 20,000 points per year!

4.  Life Insurance can earn you 10,000 points.  Check here for details.

5.  Restaurants – if you like to eat out, check here to see if your favourite restaurant will give you points with your meal!


1.  Virgin Mobile – if you switch to Virgin Mobile, you will get a bonus of 4000 points plus $3 per dollar on every monthly bill thereafter.

2.  On the same page, you will see bonuses for getting Foxtel, Quickflix, and tickets for events.

3.  Online shopping – Velocity partners with Westfield and most of us do shop at Westfields pretty often so check to see if you can get points for it.  They also have their own online shopping mall and partner with Ebay, the Iconic, Booktopia and more!

4.  Insurance and Financial – maybe not an everyday expense but if these are services you are shopping for anyway, why not get points by using the click-thru link?

5.  Wining and Dining – once again, if you like going out or joining a wine club you can get points!


I know if you are just starting out, this seems kind of daunting, but once you get started, it becomes second nature.  If I get a bonus for pet food, I stock up on bird seed.  I plan my grocery shopping for days when bonuses are on offer and fill my car with the maximum petrol voucher as those also get me points.  It all adds up-it has only taken me a year to get over 16,000 Qantas points just from groceries, petrol and Optus!  Purely free travel!


Oh and if you have a miles/points earning credit card you get to double-dip!  That means you earn the points from the card and from the retail partner.  For example, I spend $150 on groceries at Woolies.  I pay for it with my Amex.  I just got 130 Qantas points and 150 Amex Membership Rewards for stuff I had to buy anyways!


Frequent Flyer Miles Earning Credit Cards – Australian Edition 2

Last week in Australian Edition 1 I showed you how to use the various American Express cards to get a nice sign-up bonus to kick start your mileage balance.  You will remember that you could also use AMEX Membership Rewards to transfer to a variety of partners including airlines and hotels.  Before we start, I want to point out that these are not affiliate links, you will be clicking straight off the airline’s website.  If you have been on USA based blogs and forums, you will probably have seen that they can get even better sign up bonuses through affiliates but we don’t seem to have that in Australia……………yet!  The only situation where you get more sign up points  than is offered on the bank/airline site is the Amex referral program.  Please use the contact form if you would like me to refer you for this bonus which I discussed in Edition 1.

Now let’s look at airline specific cards.  These are co-branded cards that automatically transfer your points into the airline each month.  Even if you get the Amex, you should also get a Visa or Mastercard as there are a lot of businesses and government fees where you can’t use an Amex.


When you click on to their website, you will notice an “Earn” tab and a “Specials” tab.

The “Specials” tab will take you to whatever sign up bonuses are running at the time.  Always check this tab before you sign up for any credit card and make sure you read the T&Cs that go with the card so you know what you have to do to earn the bonus.

Now click on the “Earn” tab and select credit cards to see ALL the credit card options that partner with Velocity.  You will see that just about every bank in Australia has a Velocity card or a rewards card that you can transfer to Velocity.

Here are the banks, quite a lot!

Be sure to check out each bank’s website to look for rewards cards that you can transfer to Velocity.  You will also see different transfer ratios for each one so you have to spend some time reading each one to see which card would give you the best value for annual fee vs transfer ratio and what other benefits the card may have like travel insurance.




Now let’s look at Qantas options.  From their homepage, go to the Frequent Flyer tab and select Earning Points, then “Pay”.

This page is set up a bit differently from Velocity.  If there are any specials, they will be on this page.  I have highlighted in yellow the bonuses that are current as of this post date.



With Qantas, it is also worthwhile to check its partner Jetstar because their credit card also has the option to credit the points to Qantas.

No matter which credit card you choose, always make sure you are prepared to pay it off every month because if you incur interest, then the miles and points are less valuable.  Be sure to read the T&Cs of each card, check for annual fees, interest rates and minimum spend within a specified time to get the sign up bonus.  If you haven’t already, you should join both Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Velocity because they will email you special deals that may include targeted sign up bonuses.

In the next post in this series, I will show you (Aussies) how to get miles and points for FREE just from every day living!

Recap – Building Your Eco-Tourism Adventure

Over the past couple of weeks, I have shown you the different elements to consider when building your customized ecotourism adventure and how to facilitate it with miles and points so you have more to spend on the eco-lodges and supporting the local economies.  During the course of this blog, I will be adding MANY destinations that are ideal for birders and eco-travelers in general but this is a good start!


1.  Identify the goal of your trip.  What bird species are you most interested in?  Are birds the only focus or do you want other animals too?  Use the right guidebooks and resources to help you plan.  Use the maps in the book to help you locate the best places to see your target species.

2.  Be familiar with airline alliances.  There are 3 alliances:  Star Alliance, One World and Sky Team.  Know which one can get you to your destination as easily and cheaply as possible.  Check this example of using miles to get to Lima, Peru.  Know how to use airline partners such as credit cards, online shopping malls and services you already use such as phone companies, internet providers, supermarkets and insurance companies to get free miles for paying for things you already use.  Don’t shop more, shop smarter!  Check the resources tab at the top of this blog for advice on this.

3.  Know how to save money by using hotel points for free nights at the gateway city before you head off into the bush.  Depending on your flight schedule, you may need a gateway hotel in your home country before the flight and/or the destination country between your international connection and domestic flight to the staging point.  See this example of Lima, Peru.

4.  Research how exactly you get to your main destination.  Can you fly?  Drive?  Take a bus or riverboat?  Or maybe a combination?  What do you have to pay for and what is included in the cost of your eco-lodge’s package.  See this example of Tambopata National Reserve for ideas on how to do this.

5.  Know how to choose an eco-lodge in an area where there are many options available.  How do you find the various options?  See this example of Tambopata National Reserve’s lodges and how I analyzed an area where there are a lot of choices and sorted them out by my priorities.

6.  Read as many reviews as possible of the lodges and try to get a feel of the people who posted them.  For example, one lodge may get a bad review because they were too remote and hard to get to by someone who likes more of a bar/social scene.  Or one lodge may get a bad review because there were or were not facilities for kids.  Trip Advisor, Fat Birder and Surfbirds all have lodge reviews or trip reports from people of all walks of life so try to find reviews by people who are similar to you.  Here is a review I did for Tambopata Research Center.  My priorities were sustainable, helping conservation efforts, abundance of parrots and other birds and preferably adults or at least teens only(no small kids).  Remoteness, social life not an issue but I did need to keep in a budget.  They have packages of various sizes to suit most anyone.

7.  If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask questions!  Use the comments on any of my posts if you have a specific question or want to request advice on a specific location.

Frequent Flyer Miles Earning Credit Cards – Australian Edition 1

I am sure that many Aussies have looked with envy at the huge credit card signing bonuses available to Americans and the free trips they brag about in forums such as FlyertalkMilepoint and some blogs.  Amex Bluebird, Vanilla Reloads, Green Dots, Chase Sapphire Preferred and similar are out of  reach for most Aussies but cheer up!  While Australia doesn’t have nearly the amount of affiliate cards as the USA, there are still a few good options.  Disclaimer:  I do not have any affiliate relationships with any of these banks.  The links below take you directly to the bank’s website or the airline’s website.  I am not a qualified financial advisor and the links are only to let you know what is available.  It is up to you to analyze your own financial situation.  I personally RARELY carry a balance on my credit cards and if I do, it’s only for a month.  Interest charges can be very high, please be aware of these charges on the bank’s website.  The invitation I offer in the red text below is available to most people once they have a similar American Express card.


These come in various types with different mileage earning partners.  Click HERE and let’s compare the options, scroll through the different options and take some time to read the T&Cs of each card.   There are two types of cards that will get you miles.  Travel cards are affiliated with a particular airline such as Qantas or Virgin Australia and will automatically sweep into the airline’s program each month.  Rewards cards will earn Membership Rewards points which you can transfer manually to your choice of programs.

When you click on each card in turn, the details of that particular card will show on the right.  For example we can see that the Velocity card has no annual fee and a 7500 sign up bonus.  You have to apply and be approved by 28 February 2013 and spend $300 on your Card within the first 3 months.  The Qantas version of this card is much the same so you would choose which program you want to earn points in first.

Now let’s look at the Rewards card which comes in several varieties.  The most expensive one, the Platinum Card has a $900 annual fee and you receive 45,000 Membership Rewards Bonus Points when you spend $500 on your Card within the first 2 months of receiving it.  While the fee may seem high, it does come with other benefits, so have a read through and see if they appeal to you.

Much cheaper is the Platinum Edge card with a $149 annual fee, a free flight on Virgin to your choice of several selected destinations.   These are short haul domestic trips.  The sign up bonus is 10,000 Membership Rewards Bonus Points when you spend $500 on your Card within the first 2 months.

And then there is the Platinum Reserve card with a $395 annual fee.  Some Aussies got grandfathered into this card when Amex discontinued the Gold Rewards Maximizer so we have a lower annual fee but no free domestic flight.  This is the currently offered version of the card.  There is no publicly available sign up bonus at present but I can refer you for a limited time special until 31 Dec.  You will get a large bonus and I will get a smaller bonus for referring you.  These bonuses come up throughout the year so once you have a card, you can then refer your friends and family and get bonuses for yourself!  The included flight with this card is much more generous and depending on your city of origin, you can even go to Bali or New Zealand!  For example if you live in Brisbane, you can go to Perth, Darwin, several cities in New Zealand- all flights which compensate for the annual fee.  Plus you get other benefits such as free lounge access via Priority Pass, travel insurance and more-you really need to read the whole description on the Amex site.


The special offer is:

You will receive 40,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $500 within the first two months of Cardmembership. If you have already applied for The Platinum Reserve Credit Card without using this recommendation, you will not be eligible for the bonus Membership Rewards points. If you already have an American Express Card, you will not be eligible for the bonus Membership Rewards points as this offer is not valid for upgrading Cardmembers. Please allow 8 to 10 weeks for the Bonus Points to be awarded once approval is made. Offer expires 31 December 2013. Subject to the Terms & Conditions of the Membership Rewards Program.  The email invitation you get will have the T&Cs and more details. 

UPDATE FOR 2013:  I can give referrals for the following American Express products:

PLATINUM CARD – You get 60,000 points

PLATINUM RESERVE CREDIT CARD – You get 40,000 points

PLATINUM EDGE CREDIT CARD – You get 15,000 points

GOLD CARD – You get 30,000 points

AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD – You get 10,000 points

If you would like a referral, please use this contact form.  I will need you email address to send you an invitation.




You can either spend them directly with online shops or transfer them to airline partners.  Obviously, the biggest value is in transferring them to airline partners for free or greatly reduced flights.  In most cases, you will have to pay some taxes but if you transfer to Virgin Velocity there are options for using points to pay the taxes and even the checked bag fees!  Here is an overview of the Membership Rewards Program.  The participating airlines and transfer ratios are HERE and the participating hotel programs and transfer ratios are HERE.


I will tell you how I use my Membership Rewards points to best advantage having been a member for 7 years.  I use 3 transfer partners.  Virgin Velocity (usually to top off what I get from my NAB card), Singapore Krisflyer for cheap awards to Pacific Islands and SPG to use on either hotels or transfer to airlines in blocks of 20,000 to get a free bonus of 5000 miles.  Transferring SPG to American AAdvantage works best for me.  If you have a 40,000 sign up bonus and you use the card for your everyday expenses like groceries, phone bills, fuel, etc; you should have 50,000 within 6 months to a year.  Here’s some ideas!

Keas, Kakarikis, Kakas and maybe Kakapo if Sirocco is doing one of his tours in New Zealand.  Remember, you get one trip included with the card so use the points to take a friend!  45,400 with no additional taxes!   Here is an example.

Or how about the Pacific Islands?  Rimatara Lorikeets and Tahitian Blue Lorikeets in the Cook Islands?  Ultramarine Lorikeets in French Polynesia?  Shining Parrots in Fiji?  Although you will need some domestic flights at additional cost, you can get from Australia to the main airports of Rarotonga, Papeete or Nadi using a Star Alliance award with Singapore’s Krisflyer.    Awards within South West Pacific are the greatest bargains in this region!

I think I’ve probably overloaded you now with information and lots of studying to do, so I will continue next week with other mileage earning credit cards in Australia.  I have seen on Flyertalk how most people dislike seeing credit card posts all the time so I am not going to do that.  I will do one edition each week until I have most of the world covered, then just link them all on a master list.  If you have any specific questions, please ask in the comments.


How To Get There-Peru

One of the first things you need to know about to get you to your destination as cheaply as possible is how to work with airline alliances.  Yesterday, I showed you how to use a guidebook to identify possible locations to see the targeted species, Scarlet Macaws.  There are several places in South and Central America where they can be seen so I will just pick the famous clay licks of Peru and show you how to build a trip.

The gateway city is Lima (LIM) and you need to get to Puerto Maldonado (PEM) where you can be transferred to one of the outstanding lodges in the area.  Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out, Wikipedia will show you a list of all airlines that fly into a given airport.   So we can see that Lima is served by a nice choice of airlines, but Puerto Maldonado is only served by 3 airlines.  If you want to use miles to get all the way to Puerto Maldonado, you have two choices-One World or Star AllianceSky Team can get you to Lima, but you would have to use a separate ticket to get to Puerto Maldonado.

One World Options:

From North America you can use American Airlines or LAN.

From South America you can use LAN.

From Australia and New Zealand you can use Qantas or LAN via Santiago.

From UK and Europe you can use Iberia (direct to Lima) or travel via the USA on American and LAN.  Lan Peru also serves Lima from Madrid.

From Asia or Africa there are no direct flights so you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.

In all cases, once you get  to Lima, you will be connecting on LAN Peru to Puerto Maldonado.

Star Alliance Options:

From North America you can use Avianca, Copa or United.

From South America you can use Avianca.

From Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you will need to travel via the USA.  Depending on which program’s miles you have, this may require one or two awards.

In all cases, once you get to Lima, you will be connecting on Taca to Puerto Maldonado.

Sky Team Options:

There are no options all the way to Puerto Maldonado so in all cases you will need to get to Lima and buy a separate ticket to Puerto Maldonado.

From North America you can use Aerolineas Argentinas, AeroMexico or Delta.

From Europe you can use Air Europa, Air France or KLM, or you can connect in the USA or Buenos Aires on Aerolineas Argentinas.

From Australia you can use Aerolineas Argentinas, from New Zealand possibly Qantas to Sydney and then Aerolineas Argentinas.

From Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.


Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program.  They often have alliances with other airlines outside the program.  I have made some reference charts for the airline alliances and I strongly recommend that you check out the program of the airline in your country and the USA based partners of each program as the USA airlines tend to have the most lucrative bonuses.  Americans can get very generous credit card bonuses.  Details of credit card partners (and other partners) will be on each airline’s website, however often there are more lucrative sign up bonuses.  Details are usually posted in the Flyer Talk thread so I strongly suggest you read this thread and the Miles Buzz forum before you apply for any cards just in case a better bonus has been offered.  I don’t have any affiliate links and I recommend you do extensive research on your own when applying for airline credit cards.


So how do I go about booking an award for myself?  Lots of advance planning!  I have a pretty good idea of where I want to go and which airline alliance is the best option.  To get to Peru, I would use AAdvantage miles and take a route similar to BNE-AKL/SYD-SCL-LIM-PEM using Qantas or LAN between Australia and Santiago, then LAN Peru to Puerto Maldonado.  Looking at AA’s award chart, we can see that Peru is in Central/South America Zone 1.


So let’s look at the chart.  You will notice there are taxes and fees with certain routes and that the awards are prices as one way trips.

We can see that a South Pacific to Central/South America award will cost 40,000 miles each way (80,000 round trip) in economy, 65,000 (130,000 round trip) in business class and 75,000 each way (150,000 round trip in first class.  AA doesn’t allow you to transit the USA on this award so you must fly on the only carriers that operate between Australia and South America-Qantas and LAN.

If you are based in North America, economy will cost 17.500 each way (35,000 round trip), business class  is 30,000 each way (60,000 round trip) and first is 40,000 each way or 80,000 round trip.  You would be flying on AA or LAN.

If you are based somewhere else, leave a comment if you don’t understand this part and I will help you out.  Meanwhile, here is a reference list for other One World carriers.


Star Alliance can also get you to Peru.  Let’s use US Airways as an example.   US does not offer one way awards so these are round trips.  Peru is obviously in South America so it is pretty easy to just follow the line across to see how many miles it would cost from your region.  You can use any Star Alliance carrier so if you are in North America, you could use a combination of United, US Airways, Avianca/Taca and Air Canada to get there.  For Aussies and Kiwis it gets a bit more complicated.  Theoretically you should be able to use Air New Zealand to LAX and then pick up Avianca/Taca which is probably fine in economy but availability is scarce in business.  US Airways has recently been enforcing MPM (maximum permitted mileage) so while in the past we could route through Asian airports such as Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul; this may no longer be possible.

United Airlines is a USA based carrier that offers one way awards and so do some of the other Star Alliance carriers.  I have made up a reference list of all the airlines with links to their websites so check them out to see if any of them are better suited to your needs. Bear in mind that the tickets are not completely free, there is usually a booking fee of $25-50 and various taxes, but you have to pay the taxes whether you pay cash or miles for the ticket.

Well, that’s Step 1!  We have now used our miles to get to Peru.  Next step is to get to the lodge where you can start your adventure but enroute you will probably need a night to transit in Lima.  Tomorrow we will look at the gateway city of Lima.


Getting to Peru

Gateway Lima

Getting to Tambopata

Choosing an Eco-Lodge

Tambopata Eco-Lodges

Review of Refugio Amazonas and Tambopata Research Center



Airline Alliance References – Sky Team


Aeroflot (SU)

Aerolíneas Argentinas (AR)

Aeromexico (AM)

Air Europa (UX)

Air France (AF)

Alitalia (AZ)

China Airlines (QC)

China Eastern (MU)

China Southern (CZ)

Czech Airlines (OK)

Delta Air Lines (DL)

Kenya Airways (KQ)


Korean Air (KE)

Middle East Airline (ME)

Saudi Arabian Airlines (SV)


Vietnam Airlines(VN)

Xiamen Airlines (MF)


Garuda Indonesia (GA)

Sky Team is the youngest of the 3 alliances but the second largest.  They are very strong in Europe and Asia but weaker in the Americas and they have no member at all in Australia or New Zealand.  Most people who are interested in Sky Team join Delta Airlines but some people who get Ultimate Rewards via their Chase credit cards will join Korean to transfer their points to.  I am not a member of any of the Sky Team partners because they don’t serve the places I want to go very well.  Since I expect people from all over the world to be reading this blog, I would recommend you check out the program of the Sky Team member in your country or join Delta as they do have promos from time to time.

These links are also good if you want to check out an airline’s route map to see where they fly, join their frequent flyer program and see what you can do to earn miles by flying on partners, staying in hotel partners and patronizing their other partners such as credit cards, shopping malls, phone companies and survey companies.

This is a just a very brief overview of Sky Team and there is so much more to learn.  The best source of information is on FlyerTalk  where each airline has its own forum, most forums have wikis or “read this first” posts to get you started.  I will be going into some programs more in depth as the subject relates to building your ecotourism dream trip

Airline Alliance References – Star Alliance

Star Alliance

Adria (JP)

Aegean (A3)

Air Canada (AC)

Air China (CA)

Air New Zealand (NZ)


Asiana (OZ)

Austrian (OS)

Avianca and TACA (AV), (TA)      My analysis of Avianca-Taca LifeMiles

Blue1 (KF)

Copa (CM)

Croatia Airlines (OU)

EgyptAir (MS)

Ethiopian Airlines (ET)

EVA Air (BR)

LOT Polish Airlines (LO)

Lufthansa (LH)

Scandinavian Airlines (SK)

Singapore Airlines (SQ)

South African Airways (SA)

Swiss (LX)


Thai (TG)

Turkish Airlines (TK)

United (UA)


As you can see, Star Alliance is the largest of the 3 alliances and is very strong in the Americas, Europe and Asia but has no domestic service in Australia.  Most people are members of several Star Alliance programs so they can take advantage of local credit cards and promos and also the more lucrative promos with United.  Avianca/Taca has  several 100% buy miles bonuses throughout the year and less frequently an even more lucrative share miles promo.  I am a member of United, Singapore and Avianca/Taca.  The main reason for joining Singapore Krisflyer is because my Aussie Amex MR points can transfer 1:1 and they are good for redemptions on NZ, but on most of their Asian and European partners will attract a very high fuel surcharge.  Buying miles on  Avianca/Taca is a great way to get cheap business class or economy awards when they have a double miles bonus promo.  United is a partner for Chase’s Ultimate Rewards programs with several credit cards that can accrue miles for sign up bonuses.

These links are also good if you want to check out an airline’s route map to see where they fly, join their frequent flyer program and see what you can do to earn miles by flying on partners, staying in hotel partners and patronizing their other partners such as credit cards, shopping malls, phone companies and survey companies.

This is a just a very brief overview of Star Alliance and there is so much more to learn.  The best source of information is on FlyerTalk  where each airline has its own forum, most forums have wikis or “read this first” posts to get you started.  I will be going into some programs more in depth as the subject relates to building your ecotourism dream trip