*** 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 Plus – Star 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 AAdvantage – One 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 Miles – Star 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.
5. British Airways Avios and Iberia Avios– One 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.
FOR AUSSIES ONLY
6. Qantas Frequent Flyer – One 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 KrisFlyer– Star 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.