Answers to Reader Questions: Recommendations on Award Travel

Here is the final post answering some reader questions on booking upcoming award travel. I don’t operate an award booking service, so I had to do a little more research on these topics rather than pull the information off the top of my head. However, I hope you find some useful inspiration. If any readers think they have a better suggestion, please feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.

p993: I have 220,000 Membership Rewards points and would like to use them to fly to Santorini. We are open to making a stop at another country and spending a day or two. We would appreciate your recommendation on which airline and route to book.

Avios may be your best bet. Through June 7 you can transfer Membership Rewards to Avios points with a 35% bonus. That means every 1,000 Membership Rewards points becomes 1,350 Avios points. The caveat is that Avios uses a distance-based award chart that prices per segment. If you need to make multiple connections to get to Santorini, this coud get expensive quickly. It’s worth noting that flights to Santorini are limited, so you may need to fly on Aegean via Athens — and Aegean is not an Avios partner. But Iberia does fly from Madrid to Athens, so you could get at least that far with your Avios points and then book a separate ticket either with some United Airlines miles or with cash.

Avios also imposes high fuel surcharges if you book through British Airways. To get around those fees, you might try transferring Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios first, then transfer them on to the Iberia version of Avios. Many of the rules are the same, but there are no fuel surcharges for flights ticketed on Iberia.

To give you an idea of cost, lets suppose you fly from New York (JFK) to Madrid to Athens on Iberia using Avios and take care of the onward journey to Santorini separately. JFK-MAD is 3,589 miles (40K Avios in business class one way) and MAD-ATH is 1,481 miles (20K Avios in business class one way). The total cost would be 240,000 Avios for two people traveling round trip. With the current 35% bonus, that requires transferring 178,000 Membership Rewards points. Any taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges (depending on your booking method) will cost extra.

Other options exist on Star Alliance. You could transfer Membership Rewards points to ANA and book a Star Alliance Partner award all the way to Santorini. This would require a routing such as New York to Frankfurt to Athens to Santorini, about 10,268 miles round trip (ANA only cares about the total distance, not per segment) and requiring 85,000 ANA miles per person in business class — so you would transfer 170,000 Membership Rewards points. You could also look at Singapore’s KrisFlyer program, but it would be even more expensive and would cost 260,000 Membership Rewards points.

disqust101: What is the best redemption opportunity to fly Cathay or Singapore from San Francisco to Thailand? I’d be willing to fly one each way and have 280K miles with American Airlines, 1MM miles with United Airlines, 300K points with Membership Rewards, and 200K points with Ultimate Rewards. I’ve been recommended not to use my Membership Rewards points for Singapore Airlines, saving them for a redemption to Australia and New Zealand, and instead tough it out in United Airlines’ first class. Is there a way to leverage the current 35% bonus on Membership Rewards transfers to Avios to get Singapore Airlines in first class for a reasonable redemption?

For starters, you can’t use Avios to book award flights on Singapore Airlines. Some other options, like transferring Membership Rewards to Virgin America, just don’t make sense because the award availability that Singapore releases is not any better than what it gives United, and you would be better off using your United miels for travel on Singapore Airlines if at all possible. The advantage to booking directly with KrisFlyer is that availability is significantly improved despite the added cost.

And you want to fly on Singapore Airlines, because it’s really, really awesome! I would take Singapore’s business class over United’s first class any day. So we get to your question about which trip you should book with Singapore and which you should book with United. Barring a miracle, you are not likely to see Singapore release partner award space to United for either one.

I am inclined to say that you should fly on Singapore Airlines to Thailand and on United Airlines to Australia and/or New Zealand. United operates nonstop flights to Sydney from San Francisco and may reconsider its plans to operate the 787 Dreamliner from Houston to Auckland (currently shelved). Singapore Airlines would make you route through Singapore on either trip, and Singapore is not exactly on the way to Australia. Meanwhile, it is very close to Bangkok, so you would get maximum sleeping time en route vs. flying United and stopping in Tokyo-Narita. Basically, do anything you can to avoid flying United to Bangkok.

I haven’t flown on Cathay, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve heard good things. In summary, you should consider either Cathay and Singapore Airlines to Thailand and you’ll enjoy both, but save United for something else.

Olivia: What redemption strategy would you recommend to get to the United Arab Emirates (either Dubai or Abu Dhabi) in business or first class? We have American Airlines miles, United Airlines miles, and Membership Rewards points and can find our way to any suggested originating airport (preferably HOU or JFK).

Etihad is not a oneworld member, but they are an American Airlines partner. This would be the ideal choice as they are based in Abu Dhabi and have a large global network including a direct flight to JFK.

There are many other options using American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios points (and you can easily transfer Membership Rewards to gain additional Avios with a 35% bonus through June 7). British Airways flies to Dubai via London, and Royal Jordanian operates flights from JFK to Jordan, from which you can connect to either Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

United has a direct flight from Washington-Dulles to Dubai, though it does not fly to Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, it no longer partners with any Middle Eastern carriers. Departing Houston or New York, I recommend looking for an MileagePlus award on Lufthansa and connecting via Frankfurt or Munich.

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • caveman

    You suggested either Houston or JFK to FRA on Lufthansa. Do you know if they have fully flat seats on business or angled flat. If angled flat, then is there a way to know which routes from US have fully flat bed seats on Lufthansa.

  • David

    Not sure about the answer to the first question…as there are better Star Alliance options. Aeroplan might work, 105K RT in Bus, plus 2 stopovers. It depends if fuel surcharges are a dealbreaker, but sticking to UA, LX and LOT could minimize extra $. Or ANA would be 85K RT in Bus. Not sure why you’d book this as 2 one-ways for each person, as described in the text.

    • Scottrick

      I described it as two one way awards because that’s how Avios prices their awards and got carried away when I got to discussing ANA. You’re correct, and I’ll update the post.

  • MLH

    Scott, any general tips / cheat-sheet type stuff on award booking? Like the transfer from Avios to Iberia to avoid Avios fuel surcharges.
    Rough rules of thumb for booking to certain geographies or for certain alliances maybe?
    I’d like to learn how to utilize my points in the most efficient manner without having to go to others for help!

  • sri

    you should do one report on bookings for india