Award Tickets 101: How To Find The Best Redemption

One of the questions that seems to come up a lot lately is “how do I find the best redemption to X destination on my points/miles?” So let me walk you through the process of how to find the best award redemption for your points and miles!

It should go without saying (yet it still needs to be said), but your first step in finding the best redemption is picking a destination. For purposes of this post, I am going to assume that you are departing from Orlando (MCO) and want to travel to Lima, Peru (LIM) in economy class.

Now that you have your destination picked out, the next step is to take stock of the points and miles balances that you have available to use. This balance can be found online by signing into your respective awards accounts. For purposes of this post, I am going to assume that you have the following points balances:

55k American Express Membership Rewards (MR) points

55k Citi ThankYou Points (TYP)

65k Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points

54k American Airlines (AA) miles

54k Delta SkyMiles

34k United MileagePlus miles

Now that you know where we want to go and what points you are working with, you need to make a list of the airlines that you could transfer your transferable currencies (MR, UR and TYP) to.

Your MRs will transfer to the following airlines at the following ratios:

 

AirlineAllianceTransfer RatioTransfer Time
DeltaSkyTeam1:1Same day
AlitaliaSkyTeam1:1Same day
Air France/KLMSkyTeam1:1Same day
AeromexicoSkyTeam1:1Up to 7 days
British AirwaysOneWorld1:0.8Same day
IberiaOneWorld1:0.8Up to 7 days
Cathay PacificOneWorld1:1Up to 7 days
Air CanadaStar Alliance1:1Same day
ANAStar Alliance1:12-4 days
Singapore AirlinesStar Alliance1:1Up to 3 days
Virgin AmericaN/A1:0.5Same day
Virgin AtlanticN/A1:1Same day
Jet BlueN/A1:0.8Same day
Hawaiian AirlinesN/A1:1Same day
El AlN/A50:1Same day
EmiratesN/A1:1Same day

 

Your URs will transfer to the following airlines at the following ratios:

 

AirlineAllianceTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Korean AirSkyTeam1:1Same day
British AirwaysOneWorld1:1Same day
Singapore AirlinesStar Alliance1:1Same day
UnitedStar Alliance1:1Same day
Virgin AtlanticN/A1:1Same day
SouthwestN/A1:1Same day

 

Your TYPs will transfer to the following airlines at the following ratios:

 

AirlineAllianceTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Air France/KLMSkyTeam1:1Up to 2 days
Garuda IndonesiaSkyTeam1:1Up to 2 days
Cathay PacificOneWorld1:1Same day
Malaysia AirlinesOneWorld1:12-14 days+
QantasOneWorld1:1Up to 2 days
QatarOneWorld1:1Up to 2 days
Eva AirStar Alliance1:1Up to 2 days
Singapore AirlinesStar Alliance1:1Up to 2 days
Thai AirwaysStar Alliance1:1Up to 4 days
EtihadN/A1:1Up to 6 days
Virgin AtlanticN/A1:1Up to 2 days
Virgin AmericaN/A1:0.5Up to 2 days

 

Now that you know where you can transfer your transferable currencies, you need to make a list of the potential mileage you would have in each program. That list would look like this:

 

AirlineAllianceTotal Mileage Balance
DeltaSkyTeam109,000 Miles
AlitaliaSkyTeam55,000 Miles
Air France/KLMSkyTeam55,000 Miles
AeromexicoSkyTeam55,000 Miles
Korean AirSkyTeam65,000 Miles
Garuda IndonesiaSkyTeam55,000 Miles
American AirlinesOneWorld54,000 Miles
British AirwaysOneWorld109,000 Miles
IberiaOneWorld44,000 Miles
Cathay PacificOneWorld110,000 Miles
Malaysia AirlinesOneWorld55,000 Miles
QantasOneWorld55,000 Miles
QatarOneWorld55,000 Miles
Air CanadaStar Alliance55,000 Miles
ANAStar Alliance55,000 Miles
Singapore AirlinesStar Alliance175,000 Miles
United AirlinesStar Alliance99,000 Miles
EVA AirStar Alliance55,000 Miles
Thai AirwaysStar Alliance55,000 Miles
Virgin AmericaN/A55,000 Miles
Virgin AtlanticN/A175,000 Miles
Jet BlueN/A44,000 Points
Hawaiian AirlinesN/A55,000 Miles
El AlN/A1,100 Points
EmiratesN/A55,000 Miles
EtihadN/A55,000 Miles
SouthwestN/A65,000 Miles

 

 

With this list, you now know how many miles/points you have to work with in each program. The next step is to start looking at the award charts for each of those airlines that you could utilize with your points/miles. This process can be a bit time intensive, but you should be able to find award charts for most every airline online by doing a simple Google search for “yyy Award Chart” (with ‘yyy’ being the airline you are searching).

A few things to keep in mind with award charts:

1) Delta eliminated their award chart approximately a year ago, so you’re not going to find an award chart online for them. Instead, simply enter in your origin, destination and date(s) on their website to determine the award cost.

2) Southwest and JetBlue tie their award ticket cost to the cash price of the ticket. This means that there is no set award chart and you award cost is instead entirely dependent on how expensive (on inexpensive) a cash ticket for a trip would cost you.

While reviewing the award charts, I generally recommend that you write down the 2-3 least expensive options in each alliance, as well as the 4 least expensive options for non-alliance airlines. This allows you to have multiple options to search for award space with if the least expensive option shows no award space for your desired dates/class of service.

In the example of a flight to Lima, that list would look this:

 

AirlineAllianceRT Redemption Cost
American Airlines (Off-peak)OneWorld30k Miles (pre-deval); 35k Miles (post-deval)
British AirwaysOneWorld40k Miles
UnitedStar Alliance40k Miles
ANAStar Alliance50k Miles
Air France/KLMSkyTeam35k Miles
DeltaSkyTeam45k Miles
Virgin AtlanticN/A45k Miles (Delta)

 

With the short list of best redemption values in mind, you can start the process of searching for award space utilizing miles on those carriers. Most every airline these days allows you to search for award space online. Sometimes to search for partner award space you will need to utilize a different program to search. For example, if you were looking to redeem Korean Air miles for a Delta flight from Orlando to Lima, you would be better off using the Alaska Airlines or FlyingBlue search tools to find award space.

A few other things to keep in mind with this process:

1) You can usually book award tickets on partner airlines, so just because you are using United miles does not necessarily mean that you would have to be flying on a United flight.

2) Certain airlines will allow a free stopover or open-jaws which can create additional value in your redemption. A stopover is a stop in a city for more than 24 hours on the way to or from your destination. Your award ticket might look like this – Orlando-Bogota-Lima-Orlando. An open-jaw is where you start in one city and return to a different city on one award ticket. Your award ticket might look like this – Orlando-Lima-New York. Stopovers and open-jaws are a bit more advanced so I will not get into those on this post, but they are definitely something to be aware of.

3) Be cognizant of airlines that use a distance based award chart (British Airways, Iberia, ANA, etc.) as the particular routing you utilize could substantially increase or decrease the cost of your award ticket.

4) Do NOT transfer your points until you have confirmed that there is both award space showing and that the airline you intend on booking with can both see and book that space. Several airlines will also allow you to place a hold on the award ticket for 1-5+ days, so it never hurts to ask if you can place the seat on a hold while you transfer your points.

5) The award chart for the carrier you plan on redeeming your miles with will control – regardless of the airline that is operating the flight. For example, a flight from Orlando to Lima on LAN using AA miles will be charged according to AA’s award chart – not LAN’s.

No Destination In Mind?

What if you just want to see where your points/miles can take you though? Well, in that case you are better off taking stock of the points/miles balances you have available, figuring out how many miles you would be able to utilize in each of the programs you could transfer your points to/already have points or miles in, and then reviewing the award charts for each of those airlines to see what your options are. This is a very time consuming process though, so be prepared to put some time in.

Final Thoughts

This is the process that I use for determining the best redemption value for my points and miles, so hopefully it helps shed some light on how to find the best redemption value for your trip. Remember, if you need help redeeming your points or miles or want some advice on a credit card strategy to help bring your next award trip closer, check out my Award Consulting page!

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