This is good news for those who don’t have enough miles for a business class redemption but would like a little more comfort than economy. But in most cases from Australia. the difference between economy & premium economy vs premium economy and business are enough that I still suggest you go for business class awards if you have/can get the miles. SQ miles are relatively easy to get with American Express Membership Rewards and several other Aussie bank issued cards transferable to SQ. Remember, you get a 15% discount for awards on Singapore Airlines & Silk Air booked online!
Singapore Airlines (one of my recommended programs) has prepared some nice how-to videos on how to book a flight with Krisflyer miles. There are 2 options – redeeming an award or using miles + cash. If you want to use Krisflyer for partner awards, you have to call them as these aren’t bookable online.
REDEEMING AN AWARD
Keep an eye on the taxes & surcharges. Business class is a better value if you have to pay taxes anyway.
MILES PLUS CASH
If I didn’t have enough to book the award, I would have only used the 20k that were expiring as this isn’t the best use of miles.
One thing that seems to have escaped most other travel/miles/points bloggers regarding the American Airlines devaluation is that Sri Lanka has shifted to the Middle East/Subcontinent category as of 22 March 2016. Although redemptions from the USA to this region and the Asia 2 region are now equal in cost, there is a HUGE difference for Australians!
Previously it had been in the Asia 2 category which made the beautiful eco-tourism destination of Sri Lanka a much cheaper award with AA miles – 25k in economy and 35k in business increasing a mere 5k to 30k economy and 40k business. Look at it now – a whopping 42.5k in economy and 80k in business class! It’s more than doubled in cost!
United Airlines is now a better option than American. Most Aussies will fly via BKK on Thai as Singapore rarely releases J seats for partner awards. However most Australians can’t get United miles unless they buy them during a “buy miles promo”.
So what about Singapore Airlines? Most Aussies can earn them easily enough from credit cards. It’s still going to cost over 60k miles & fuel surcharge of $472 AUD in business class. Better than both options so far!
But can we do better and still get to Sri Lanka in a lie flat bed? Enter Air Asia. Better known as a low cost carrier, they still provide pretty good service. We flew them in Y last year from Surat Thani to Kuala Lumpur. Check out the prices from the Gold Coast (nearest airport to Brisbane they serve) to Sri Lanka. Economy is dirt cheap and premium flatbed is still excellent value!
You don’t have to spend miles and you are only paying $371 AUD more to travel in a lie flat bed. So it all comes down to whether you would rather save 61,000 SQ miles (or use your credit card points elsewhere that doesn’t have fuel surcharges) or would you rather spend an extra $371 AUD for this?
If you want to go to Sri Lanka on American Airlines miles, book it before 22 March 2016!! Otherwise, I think it’s time to get better acquainted with Air Asia!
I last made my recommendations of which airline miles programs to join back in 2012 so with all the changes I think it’s time for an update! Which programs are still good? Which ones no longer exist? Which ones are less valuable than before? How can Australians and Americans get free miles from credit cards? Read on!
WHAT MAKES A PROGRAM “GOOD”?
- I attribute greater value to programs which require minimal outlay of cash (no fuel surcharges) and better opportunities to get miles from everyday credit card spend and sign up bonuses.
- “Buy miles 100% bonus” deals may have value to people who have cash to outlay but since this is a guide for cash poor people who want to travel I am not including them here.
- These recommendations are for eco-tourists so I haven’t considered luxury travel to Europe and Asia redemptions.
- Free miles from E-Rewards is a plus.
- I have not taken elite programs into account in any of the below programs.
- I am not a credit blogger so please use other resources to find the best deals on sign up bonuses.
Has more options between USA and Australia on Qantas, Air Pacific or Air Tahiti Nui, also great for LAN or AA to South America and Africa via Qatar or direct QF flights. 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. Save AA miles for long hauls if possible, use BA for short haul. No fuel surcharges except BA and IB awards. E-Rewards participant.
Americans get miles from Citibank co-branded cards and the grandfathered Barclays Aviator cards (not available to new applicants). You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.
Australians get miles by transferring preferably blocks of 40k Amex MR points to get 20k SPG, then blocks of 20k SPG to get 5k bonus.
Good for awards to South-east Asia on UA, SQ & TG; Central & South America on Copa & Avianca and Africa on South African, Ethiopian and Egypt Air. Also very good for intra-Latin America and intra-Africa. E-Rewards participant.
Americans get miles easily via Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards and co-branded United Explorer card.
Australians have a much harder time getting miles as the SPG route is a poor value at 20k SPG gets 10k United plus bonus of 2500. Most Aussies will find Singapore a better Star Alliance partner.
Don’t keep miles in here if you can’t use them within 3 years because they expire whether you have activity or not. Be careful of fuel surcharges on Asian routes. Good for redemptions on NZ between Australia and Pacific islands & redemptions on Avianca & Copa for Central/South America trips as no fuel surcharges.
Americans get miles from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards, Citibank Thank You cards, American Express Membership Rewards & SPG.
Australians get miles from American Express Membership Rewards 1000:1000 and transferable rewards programs from Westpac and ANZ.
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. Not a great program for long haul or itineraries needing connections but excellent for short haul within South America on partner LAN, the BA-Comair flights within Southern Africa or within Australia on partner Qantas. Some nice 5th freedom flights in the Caribbean – Trinidad to St Lucia gets you between 2 islands with good birding.
Americans get miles from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards and co-branded British Airways card. You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.
Australians get miles by transferring preferably blocks of 40k Amex MR points to get 20k SPG, then blocks of 20k SPG to get 5k bonus. Aussies need to use a European or American address as they don’t accept memberships with Australian addresses.
Be careful as most redemptions here attract fuel surcharges. Flying Blue can get you some places that are otherwise very difficult to get to such as Kenya Airways flights to Madagascar and Garuda domestic Indonesia flights (no surcharges). Also use on short haul flights on Gol, Aerolinas Argentinas (no surcharges) and some other interesting partners. Participates in E-Rewards. Miles expire after 20 months of when they were earned unless you credit a Sky Team flight to Flying Blue. Non-flying activities such as credit card spend and E-Rewards don’t renew your expiration date.
Americans get miles from Citibank Thank You cards & Amex Membership Rewards. You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.
Australians get miles by transferring preferably blocks of 40k Amex MR points to get 20k SPG, then blocks of 20k SPG to get 5k bonus.
6. Virgin Velocity – Not in an alliance.
Good for short-haul to New Zealand and Pacific islands, domestic Australia flights and sometimes long haul to USA and Asia. Participates in E-Rewards.
Americans get miles from transfering SPG points best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus. You need an Aussie address to join.
Australians have numerous credit cards (basically every bank in Australia) that earn Velocity points directly or transfer there. Keep an eye out for huge sign on bonuses which have greatly improved in the last year or so. There is a new partnership with BP to get 2 points per litre with occasional targeted bonuses.
7. Etihad Guest – Not in an alliance
I never looked twice at this program until they partnered up with Flybuys. I did a recent review with Aussies in mind (sorry Americans) and found some interesting options with partners and decent value to Africa. Probably not a good program for Americans to join, better to use AA redemptions on Etihad awards. Beware of miles expiring after 2 years, don’t transfer them until you are within booking range. Activity does not renew the expiration.
Americans get miles from Citibank Thank You cards. You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.
Australians get miles from American Express Membership Rewards 1000:1000 and the new Flybuys partnership FB 10,000: EY 4000.
Use for domestic Australia or short-haul to NZ, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Has fuel surcharges on most routes with the possible exception of LAN intra-South America.
Americans get points from Citibank Thank You cards.
Australians get points from co-branded Qantas cards, just about every bank in Australia has them. Unfortunately the Woolies and Optus partnerships are gone so much harder to get points now outside of credit cards.
Obviously not everyone needs to use ALL these programs. It depends on where you want to go. Situations change so you need to be constantly evaluating. A month ago I wouldn’t have considered Etihad Guest but now I can see getting at least 16,000 free miles each year just by grocery shopping at Coles and using bonuses. From the previous list US Airways Dividend Miles is gone and the Avianca Lifemiles program is no longer as valuable as it once was due to devaluations. It is no longer so easy to get Qantas miles as they eliminated their best “every day spending” partners. American may lose it’s #1 position if they devalue their awards. I say as long as it’s free to join a program, then do so as you never know what deals may come in the future!
Conde-Nast Traveler does some interesting articles as do some miles & points bloggers who specialize in luxury travel. In this slideshow, they show the first class cabins of several airlines – Singapore, Etihad, Air France, Qantas, All Nippon, Asiana & Emirates. Sure they look fancy but do we really need all this luxury for a mere 8-15 hours of your life? Redeeming miles for first class could be anywhere from double to triple the miles for an economy flight.
Yeah, I know economy sucks but at the end of the day, you get to your destination the same time as everyone else and at worst you have to wait for them to disembark first. But then once off the plane, even a middle-aged backpacker like me can outrun someone dragging a rollaboard!
I’ve had my fair share of flights in business class which in recent years could be had for around 25-50% extra miles over the economy redemption. I’ve never flown first class but on our last trip to Europe, we had one segment BKK-IST in a wet-leased Jet Airways plane (they are no longer doing wet-leases). These trips were booked using US Airways miles obtained from lucrative promos such as Grand Slam that are now obsolete.
Thai Airways Business Class BNE-BKK
Turkish Airways wetleased Jet Airways first class suite (sold as business class) BKK-IST
Normal Turkish Airways Business Class Seat (as comparison), still pretty nice!
Swiss Euro-business Class BCN-ZRH-FCO, I would never redeem an intra-Europe award in J but this was part of a longer route back to Australia.
Air China Business Class FCO-PEK
Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class PEK-SIN, these seats were huge!
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BNE, not an A380 but still nice and plenty of free Singapore Slings!
SO NOW WHAT?
So I’ve been there, done that and got the selfies. Now what? Airlines are tightening up on business class award availability. They are also devaluing their miles making premium seats much more expensive. It can come down to a question of do you want to travel in a larger seat, eat fancy food and drink champagne or do you want to have two trips instead of one?
Sure it was nice to have the lie-flat seats and get a good night’s sleep but we did have to take some very convoluted routes to do that. BCN-ZRH-FCO-PEK-SIN-BNE That’s 4 changes with security screening and lines at each stage which kind of negates the relaxation from the larger seat. The first 2 flights were delayed. Yes SWISS was delayed, who’d of thunk it? We could have been home a day earlier if we had done BCN-SIN-BNE but it wasn’t available at time of booking. We aren’t fans of fancy-schmancy food, I actually prefer the simplicity of economy food. The big seats that lie flat do make a big difference in arriving somewhere well-rested and I love having lounge access to surf the net on layovers and have free snacks.
Now that I have had the experience of luxury travel, it’s made me rethink what is important. OK, so I’m a destination based traveler so I know what’s important to me. Definitely not the food. Some airports have free wifi, otherwise I can just read or watch something I downloaded. Free snacks and drinks are nice but not a deal-breaker. Economy seats suck but my DR helped me out with sleeping pills and my husband can already sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat. The journey is basically what gets you to the destination. Some bloggers will have you believe that you shouldn’t leave home if it’s not in a premium cabin, but what’s the real point of travel? You need to GET some place first and if economy is the only affordable way to do it than so be it!
I’ve been blogging a series about a trip to Africa which was the last trip we did in business class using United Mileage Plus. Our most recent trip in April 2015 was Thailand, Malaysia & the Cook Islands all in economy. I’d blown my stash of UA miles and that’s all we could afford. Thankfully we survived! I’ll be blogging about this trip starting in June.
Now I am looking towards next year – 2016. This will be a major trip to Ecuador, Colombia, some Caribbean islands to see some amazing birds and a visit to family in the USA.. Looks like we are in for economy tickets again. If you are using AA miles, it’s almost impossible to get business class between Australia and South America or the USA and Australia as Qantas members have earlier access and snap them up. While I do participate in Qantas’ program, I am not about to pay their hefty fuel surcharges. I don’t have enough QFF points anyway. So once again, it will be the back of the plane but to some pretty amazing destinations!
I always enjoy a long layover in certain cities as it gives us a chance to go into town for a quick bit of sight-seeing or shopping but not have to fork out for a hotel. The best layovers are when you arrive in the morning and depart in the evening. Here are a few we had last year.
Singapore – not yet blogged but we went to the Jurong Bird Park.
These layovers don’t always go to plan. Last year we had planned on a 12 hour layover in Beijing so we could go to the Great Wall on the way home from Europe. Singapore Airlines had a schedule change and rebooked us on a flight leaving 2 hours after we arrived but they left our final leg alone from Singapore to Brisbane so we now had a long, boring NIGHT layover. I didn’t want to fork out for a hotel and the timing was such that we wouldn’t have been able to do or see anything. We just wanted to get the next flight home but guess what? The ticket was issued by US Airways while they were still in Star Alliance but the change came after they switched to OneWorld. I didn’t want to mess up the ticket and on one level I was at least grateful SQ rebooked us instead of stranding us.
I did call and try to get SQ to move us to the 11pm flight so we didn’t have to stay overnight and could get home in the morning but they wouldn’t do any changes because it was a US ticket.
Once we arrived, I tried one last ditch attempt. We went straight to the transit desk with boarding passes in hand and asked if there was any way to get on the earlier flight. Much to our relief, there were 2 last seats in business class on the red-eye to Brisbane! We were spared 12 hours in the albeit pleasant Krisflyer Lounge and arrived home (with luggage) in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
Moral of the story: It never hurts to ask. Airlines can’t change another airline’s ticket before departure but once a boarding pass has been issued and the ticket is in their control, you might get lucky!
For once Aussies are getting a really good deal! Singapore Airlines is giving 5000 miles free to new accounts who register between 4 – 31 March 2015, insert the promotional code “KFACQPU” in the communication preferences area of the form, and you will earn 5,000 Bonus KrisFlyer miles to count towards your next trip.
Double your rewards and earn an additional 5,000 bonus miles when you book and complete your first return journey within six months of your enrolment date.
My previous account had been deleted several months ago for non-activity within 18 months so I re-registered myself and also signed up my husband yesterday around 6pm-ish. This morning I woke up and found the 5000 miles already posted to both accounts. I still haven’t decided whether to keep the SQ miles or convert them to 3403 Virgin Velocity points, that will depend on what trips I need to book but the options are there.
Singapore Airlines is on my recommended list of airline programs to join, especially for Australians as there are a number of credit card options to earn miles. I got this email from Krisflyer announcing their new rememption option which is great if you just need a few miles to top up your account. I also like the possibility of using miles to pay the taxes. This is very similar to Virgin Velocity’s program.
We are pleased to inform you, that from 18 July 2013, you will be able to use your
KrisFlyer miles to pay for all, or a part of your Singapore Airlines or SilkAir airfare
(including taxes and surcharges) when you book on singaporeair.com
With this new feature, you can:
You may also like to know that in subsequent enhancements, you can use your
KrisFlyer miles to cover the cost of taxes and surcharges associated with your
redemption award tickets.
We hope that you will benefit from this additional option to use your KrisFlyer miles,
and we look forward to welcoming you on board soon.
They have prepared a nice tutorial on how to use the new feature. Launch the demo to see a step by step guide. This feature will only work on booking SQ flights as partner flights can’t be booked online. The screenshot below shows the slider tool you can use to toggle between cash and miles. Always great to have more options!
Africa attracts the lion’s share (pun intended) of eco-tourists and the good news is you don’t have to spend a fortune to get there!
There are several regions in Africa that will appeal to birders especially so in this post we will have a look at South Africa. Most people would be flying into Johannesburg (JNB) but some may prefer to fly into Cape Town (CPT) so I will give options for both using my recommended frequent flier programs.
With United, it’s easiest to use their interactive award chart. To illustrate the mileage required you can just look at the “from Africa” section. These awards are on a one-way basis. If you are planning a multi-destination trip around Africa, you should book it as a round-trip to take advantage of a free stopover and open jaw to get more destination in the award.