7 best airline award chart sweet spots
One important distinction between advanced award travelers and those newer to the world of points and miles is how each group searches for award space.
Those with experience earning and burning points and miles will carefully study various partner award charts, looking at where to transfer their flexible points and what sweet spots they can utilize. Meanwhile, beginners may log into their United MileagePlus or American Airlines AAdvantage account, search for the destination they want to visit and book the first award they see regardless of price or convenience.
While anyone can accrue a good amount of points by earning welcome bonuses on top travel credit cards, this difference in redemption strategies is huge. Using the right partner program to book your award could save you as much as 50%, depending on the carrier and route.
With major programs switching to dynamic pricing and 500,000 miles for one-way business-class flights to Europe becoming increasingly common, it’s more important than ever to know the best ways to maximize your points and miles.
Today, we’ll look at some of the best value sweet spot award redemptions. While this list is not exhaustive, if you plan to travel to one of these destinations and have points at your disposal, these are surefire ways to get an excellent redemption value every time. If you’re new to the world of points and miles and any of these destinations interest you, you can use this as a road map to instant success.
ANA premium cabins to Japan with Virgin Atlantic points
Virgin Atlantic’s partner award chart for ANA is one of the best sweet spots out there. While availability can be hard to come by, and the first-class rates recently increased, this remains an incredible use of Virgin points.
The sweet spot
For this sweet spot, it’s important to know that the prices differ if you’re flying from the West Coast versus the central and eastern U.S. You can also book one-way flights for half the round-trip prices noted below.
ANA’s new business class is called “The Room,” and its new first class is referred to as “The Suite.” Both are excellent products that we are big fans of here at TPG — and flying in either means you can visit the always-popular Japan.
You’re allowed an open-jaw routing as long as you stay within the same region of the U.S. (West or Central/East). This means you can mix and match airports wherever you find award space.
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For example, flying from Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) and then returning from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) would be a valid itinerary, costing only 95,000 points in business or 170,000 points in first class.
Availability can be scarce — you will have the best luck booking 12 months in advance (as soon as the seats are loaded) or last minute (less than 14 days before departure when unsold seats are often loaded for awards). Your best bet for finding availability is to search for it using the United MileagePlus website and call Virgin’s Flying Club to book.
Related: Feels like first class: Flying ANA The Room business class from LA-Tokyo
Earning Virgin Atlantic miles
Virgin Atlantic miles are among the easiest to earn. You can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One, Bilt Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy to Flying Club. Keep an eye out for transfer bonuses from Amex or Citi that could drop your costs even further.
Related: How to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for maximum value
Iberia business class to Spain with Avios
Iberia Avios can unlock one of the cheapest ways to fly to Europe in business class.
The sweet spot
The key to this sweet spot is to fly a nonstop, Iberia-operated flight of 3,001 to 4,000 miles on off-peak dates (check Iberia’s peak and off-peak calendar). This is because Iberia uses a distance-based award chart for its flights.
Iberia operates several transatlantic flights that fall into the 3,001- to 4,000-mile distance band. As such, you can book Iberia flights between the following city pairs for just 34,000 Avios, plus modest taxes and fees:
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD).
- BOS to Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN).
- JFK to MAD.
- JFK to BCN.
- IAD to MAD.
While flights from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to MAD are slightly outside this range, they also price at 34,000 Avios one-way in business class.
There are three primary ways for U.S.-based travelers to earn Iberia Avios:
Related: 4 versions of Avios: When to use Aer Lingus, Qatar Airways, Iberia and British Airways
Qatar Airways Qsuite business class to the Middle East or Africa with AAdvantage miles
Qatar Airways has won numerous awards for its innovative Qsuite business-class product, regarded as one of the world’s best business-class experiences.
The sweet spot
If you don’t live near a Qatar Airways gateway, you may be able to find an itinerary that allows you to connect domestically in the U.S. for the same cost.
You can search for award availability online, even if you don’t have the necessary miles. Just note that award space may be difficult to come by, so check back regularly if you can’t find flights on your desired route.
Earning AAdvantage miles
There are a few American Airlines cobranded cards you can use to quickly accrue AAdvantage miles.
The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard and AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
You can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to American Airlines AAdvantage at a 3:1 transfer ratio. Additionally, if you pay your rent with Bilt Rewards or spend on the Bilt Mastercard® (see rates and fees), you can transfer your points 1:1 to AAdvantage. Points transfer from Bilt to AAdvantage instantly.
Related: Best uses of American Airlines miles
Cathay Pacific business class to Asia or Africa with Alaska miles
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan used to be one of our favorite airline programs, as the program once offered some incredible award flight sweet spots. Sadly, Alaska has removed many of its award deals, but Cathay Pacific is one of the remaining Mileage Plan sweet spots that you should book before it disappears.
The sweet spot
Flying with Cathay Pacific from the West Coast to its Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) hub will cost 30,000 miles each way in economy. If you can find available seats in premium cabins (which is difficult), you’ll pay 50,000 miles per person in business class and 70,000 miles per person in first class.
You can also continue on to several points in Asia, such as various destinations in India and Dubai International Airport (DXB), paying just 50,000 miles per person for a one-way flight in economy. Expect to pay 62,500 miles for a one-way business-class ticket and 70,000 miles for a first-class ticket.
Unfortunately, Cathay Pacific’s premium cabin seats are extremely tough to find. If you find availability, we recommend booking immediately. If you need to cancel your ticket later, Alaska will redeposit the miles and refund the taxes and fees without penalty.
Earning Alaska miles
Alaska miles aren’t the easiest to earn, as they are not linked to any major transferable program. Thankfully, Alaska’s broad list of airline partners means you can earn when flying with many different airlines.
Alaska Airlines also has two cobranded credit cards with Bank of America.
- Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card: Get a $100 statement credit, 50,000 bonus miles and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $122 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card: Get 50,000 bonus miles, a $100 statement credit and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $122 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
Related: Which credit card should you use for Alaska Airlines flights?
Short-haul flights on British Airways with Avios
With dynamic pricing in some programs showing up to 100,000 miles for a single flight in economy, British Airways is a good alternative. The Executive Club program offers low prices on short flights.
The sweet spot
British Airways only charges 4,750 Avios each way for off-peak flights it operates from London to destinations up to 600 miles away. This includes destinations in Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Taxes will set you back just $31 (this can vary depending on current exchange rates), though you also have the option to reduce this to $1 by redeeming 9,250 Avios.
Award flights include full-size cabin baggage and checked baggage.
Earning British Airways Avios
The easiest way to earn a meaningful number of Avios for everyday spending is by applying for the British Airways Visa Signature Card. You’ll earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. TPG values Avios at 1.5 cents each, making the full bonus worth $1,125.
The British Airways Visa Signature has a $95 annual fee and earns 3 Avios per dollar spent on purchases with British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, and Level. Plus, you can earn 2 Avios per dollar spent on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel. All other purchases earn 1 Avios per dollar spent.
British Airways is also a transfer partner of Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy, making Avios one of the easiest currencies to earn.
Points transfer from Capital One, Chase, Bilt and Amex at a 1:1 ratio (in addition to occasional transfer bonuses of up to 40%), while Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to Avios at a 3:1 ratio. Plus, you’ll get a 5,000-Avios bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.
Related: 5 reasons why you should care about British Airways Avios
Air France-KLM Flying Blue promo awards
From paid ticket sales to redemption promotions, there are endless opportunities to book travel at a discount. However, few sales are as reliable as the Promo Rewards we see each month from Air France-KLM Flying Blue.
With Flying Blue adopting dynamic pricing with highly variable rates in all classes, this monthly offer is an excellent way to save on award travel.
The sweet spot
These monthly Promo Rewards regularly appear on the Flying Blue website and offer discounts on flights to and from select cities or region pairs. All discounts are only bookable through the end of the month, and there’s a set travel window.
Each month, the destinations, discounts and classes change, so keep an eye out for what is currently available. In the past, we have seen deals like:
- 39,000 miles in business class from Miami International Airport (MIA) to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR), flying KLM.
- 22,500 miles in premium economy class from IAD to Munich Airport (MUC), flying Air France.
- 11,250 miles in economy from ORD to Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN), flying Air France.
Earning Flying Blue miles
Boosting your Flying Blue balance is easy since the program partners with all major transferable points currencies.
You can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio from American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. You can also transfer Marriott points at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Based on our tests, Amex, Bilt, Capital One, Chase and Citi transfers should post almost instantly. However, that wasn’t the case with our test transfer from Marriott, which took three days to arrive in our Flying Blue account.
Related: Is KLM premium economy worth it on the 787 Dreamliner?
Domestic United flights with Turkish Airlines’ Miles&Smiles
United’s dynamic pricing means you won’t find a set price for flights booked via the MileagePlus program. However, when there is saver-level inventory (the X fare class for economy or the I fare class for business), Turkish Airlines’ Miles&Smiles becomes one of the best options available.
The sweet spot
For any domestic flight in the U.S., including to or from Hawaii, Turkish requires just 7,500 miles each way in economy. If you’re lucky enough to find domestic first class, those award tickets only cost 12,500 miles each way.
For example, we found a round-trip ticket in economy from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hawaii’s Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) that only requires 15,000 Turkish miles plus $11.20 in taxes and fees.
This exact same flight would be 25,800 United miles.
The key to this sweet spot is finding saver-level inventory. You can search for these fares on United.com, though note that award tickets in any fare class other than X for economy and I for business class are not bookable through partner programs.
Earning Turkish miles
Miles&Smiles partners with a trio of programs: Capital One, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Bilt Rewards. You can transfer rewards from any of these programs at a 1:1 ratio, and our tests indicate that transfers should process instantly.
Related: The ultimate guide to Citi ThankYou Rewards
When it comes to making award reservations, you need certain stars to align. A little bit of flexibility is required to make the process run smoothly, and that might mean changing the dates of your trip a bit or opting for a destination with more plentiful award space. If these three things fall into place, you’ll have a solid award flight.
However, there’s a fourth element to the equation: value. If you can score one of the above sweet spots, you’re essentially guaranteed to get incredible value from your redemption.
Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh and Ethan Steinberg.
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