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As promised, this lesson will cover how to redeem your points for international travel. You’ll have to be a little more selective about airlines, but using your points to take that international vacation you always wanted is finally within reach.
Here are some of the best deals for travel internationally that do not require complex planning or mostly without picking up the phone.
One of my favorite airlines to redeem international flights for is ANA.
You can only redeem for roundtrip flights on ANA, which is a bit of a pain, but ANA Mileage Club more than makes up for that with:
Stopovers and open-jaws may sound confusing, but they are actually pretty simple concepts.
We’ll start with layovers, the cousin of stopovers.
If you’ve ever had to switch planes to get to your final destination, you’ve had a layover.
If your layover is longer than 4 hours in the US, or 23 hours internationally, tah-dah, you’ve had a stopover. These usually cost more, but some travel itineraries (like with ANA) actually let you stay several days or weeks. Why not leave the airport and check out the city?
An open-jaw is also pretty simple–it’s when you have a pair of two-way tickets that is not a roundtrip. Here are three examples:
So here’s one itinerary that gets the most out of a redemption with ANA, complete with a stopover and two open jaws.
For all this travel in economy, you’re only paying 65,000 miles (and ~$149 in fees), and you can choose to do the Tokyo stopover on the return leg if you prefer.
If any part of the itinerary includes a Star Alliance partner, it’s 75,000 miles and ~$165 in fees.
That’s a very hard price to beat. With United, it would have cost 105,000 miles (and ~$160 in fees).
And if you choose to do the same routes in business class, it’ll only cost 110,000 miles and the same fees. That may sound like a lot of miles, but you get to visit three international cities (Tokyo, Bangkok, and Singapore) in a premium cabin featuring excellent in-flight service, and you get to visit a US city.
Yes, you’ll have to book a separate flight from Bangkok to Singapore, which will cost less than $100 on one of many low-cost carriers connecting those two cities. You’ll also have to get a flight between Seattle and New York.
But what a great deal for an excellent adventure.
Even though Japan Rail’s Shinkansen bullet trains capture the imagination, it is not the only way to get around the country. Another great alternative is to fly.
On ANA, domestic hops are just 5,000 ANA miles. Like everything else in Japan, these flights run like clockwork.
Actually, domestic flights run a bit like Japan’s trains–it’s super efficient, and the time printed on your boarding pass is the actual departure time, not the boarding time. If your pass says 14:05, and you show up at the gate at 14:00, you’re probably going to miss your flight.
Transfer Partner Programs:
If you liked the Alaska Airlines stopover perk, you’re going to love taking that perk with you around the world on Alaska Airlines’s 15 international partners.
However, not all the partner flights can be redeemed on Alaska Airline’s online tool.
So, even though some of the best international redemptions are on Cathay Pacific and LATAM, these require you to call in to Alaska Airlines. For that reason, we’re leaving these two airlines for a later lesson.
Also, since Alaska Airline miles are harder to earn, you shouldn’t use them for programs where the points are relatively easy to accumulate. Unless you are swimming in Alaska miles, avoid using them for partners like:
Of the remaining airlines, the following show up when searching flight availability:
Depending on the partner, the number of miles needed vary widely, although most international redemptions seem to start at between 30,000 to 35,000 for economy.
Most Alaska partners allow you to plan an extended stopover for one-way flights if you are connecting through that partner’s hub, but only if there isn’t any other airline besides Alaska in that booking.
If you do not live near an airport that is an international hub, you’ll love that Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plan actually includes positioning flights in the redemption at no extra points. Yup, you basically get a free segment from your home airport to the international hub that the Alaska Airline partner serves.
There is one thing that I’ve found annoying about Mileage Plan though–and that is, when a flight comprises mixed cabins, it still shows up as an all-premium cabin until you click on the itinerary for details.
On the mobile app, it’s especially vexing as you don’t get to see the actual class of service until you are much further along in the booking process.
That said, Alaska’s Mileage Plan is one of my favorite ways to redeem international flights.
Transfer partner programs:
When it comes to international travel, Singapore Airlines is known for its swanky premium cabins.
While a flight in the famed Singapore Suites is the ultimate in aspirational travel, most of us probably have our sights set a lot lower.
It’s a good thing that Singapore Airlines lets you have up to three stopovers on a single booking.
Krisflyer redemptions come in a Saver category and an Advantage category that has more availability but cost more points. Here’s how it works:
Free redemptions can be added during the online booking process, but you can actually call in to a Singapore Airlines local office and pay $100 per stopover, up to three total (including both free and paid stopovers).
If you have a stopover in Singapore on Singapore Airlines or its subsidiary, SilkAir, you can get hotel stays, some local transportation, and admission to 15 local attractions like Gardens By the Bay starting at $1 for the first night.
This part is important: the flight must be ticketed AND operated by Singapore Airlines. So even if you flew on Singapore Airlines, but your itinerary was ticketed by United Airlines for instance, you won’t get this offer.
This deal is also available if you used Krisflyer to redeem a Singapore Airlines flight with a stopover. Extra nights for two people cost between $66 to $186 per room per night.
Transfer Partner Programs:
One of my favorite uses of the United Airlines MileagePlus program is the use of its Excursionist perk, which is applicable for all redemptions on United and most Star Alliance Partners.
As we write this in April 2019, United removed its award chart, and it is unclear how that might affect values with the Excursionist Perk. We’ll update when we know more.
The way it works is when you book a destination open jaw ticket to a city in a region specified by United, and then depart from another city in that same region, you get a free segment between those two cities.
So, if you were to fly from Atlanta (ATL) to Amsterdam (AMS), then leave Europe from Athens (ATH) back to Atlanta, you’d get a free flight between Amsterdam and Athens.
This three-flight international itinerary would cost 60,000 miles in economy at the Saver level.
Not bad. But we can do better, which my friend Richard Kerr showed me.
The neat thing is that the perk can be a lot more generous and flexible because it works as long as you meet the following rules:
As with the previous example, you again fly from Atlanta (ATL) to Amsterdam (AMS). This is the opening segment of the perk. However, when your time in Amsterdam is done, you can take a low-cost flight or hop on the train to Paris (CDG).
After you are done with Paris, you can use the Excursionist perk to fly much further than just western Europe, but still in the same region as defined by United. So, you go to Istanbul (IST), Turkey.
When you are done with Istanbul, you can pay for a low-cost flight to Athens (ATH), Greece. From Greece, you can return to Atlanta. This is the closing segment of the perk.
The cost of this four-city itinerary? Also 60,000 United miles plus $127 in fees, not including the extra cost of getting between Amsterdam and Paris, Istanbul and Athens.
Want to get even more mileage out of the perk? If you plan on doing some slow travel for many months, you could nest one Excursionist itinerary within another.
This time, we’ll start from Seattle (SEA) to Amsterdam (AMS). This is the opening segment of the first perk. Let’s call it Segment 1A.
After Amsterdam, we can grab a train to Paris (CDG). Then from Paris, we can hop on a flight to Istanbul (IST). This is the first free Excursionist flight, which we’ll call Perk 1.
Next, we can kick off the second Excursionist itinerary, to connect you from Istanbul to Seoul (ICN), Korea. This is the opening segment of the second perk, so we’ll name it Segment 2A.
From Seoul, we’ll grab the train to the southern port city of Pusan (PUS). After Pusan, we can use the second Excursionist perk to get to Shanghai (SHA), China. This will be Perk 2.
From Shanghai, you grab a high-speed train to Beijing (PEK). Once we’re done with Beijing, we can hop on the closing segment of the second itinerary and fly to Madrid (MAD), Spain. This will be Segment 2B.
From Madrid, we catch one of many budget flights to London (LHR). Finally, after months on the road, we’re probably ready to head home, so we jump on the flight back to Seattle (or any US city with a major international airport, really). This will be the closing segment of the first itinerary–so we’ll call this one Segment 1B.
The total cost of this in United miles? 150,000 + fees, and some extra cash for low-cost carriers and trains (a travel expense eraser like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card sounds pretty good right about now).
Want to go really nuts? Go full Inception and nest one Excursionist perk within another, and then put both inside a third Excursionist itinerary. That’s what I did when my family traveled across 21 destinations in Asia for 5 months.
Transfer Partner Programs:
Spain’s flagship carrier offers valuable business class redemptions from cities on the East Coast to Madrid for the price of what many other carriers charge for an economy ticket. Just remember to avoid any British Airways flights that are offered as you’ll be forced to pay the junk airport fees that Brad hates so much.
Chicago is grouped together with the east coast destinations like Boston and New York City.
While United charges 30,000 United miles in for one way between Chicago to Madrid in economy, it’s only 34,000 Avios for a direct business class flight when redeemed via Iberia Plus. In Iberia economy, it’s only 25,000 Avios.
From Los Angeles to Madrid, it’s 42,500 Avios for a direct business flight, and 21,500 Avios in economy.
Yup–the same currency as British Airways, which means you can transfer Avios from British Airways back and forth. A third sibling airline, Aer Lingus, also uses Avios, but we’ll get to that a little later.
So, open and season your Iberia account now to start the 90-day-clock before you need it, but do not transfer Avios until you know for sure there is an available flight that you want on Iberia.
As a bonus, one of the great things about Iberia is that you do not pay the exorbitant fuel surcharges that British Airways charges. You really get a lot more value for your Avios if you can book with Iberia.
Transfer Partner Programs:
The third airline in the British Airways family that uses Avios as its currency is Aer Lingus, the flagship carrier of Ireland.
As with Iberia Plus, Avios redemptions on AerClub can be a much better value than on British Airways itself.
For instance, off-peak redemptions in economy from cities in the Northeast are only 13,000 Avios, again without the ridiculous fuel charges that British Airways charges.
These cities include: New York, Newark, Boston, Hartford, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and, yes, Chicago again, even though it is no where near the Northeast.
For other cities in the US, such as Orlando, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, it’s 16,250 Avios.
Transfer Partner Programs:
Virgin Atlantic really shines when it comes to redeeming lie-flat business class seats on Delta flights from the US to Paris and Amsterdam in Europe. Why?
Because you can get Delta’s business class cabin, called Delta One, at a generous discount when redeeming through Flying Club.
For instance, for the same one-way flight on Delta One from Seattle to Paris:
You could also redeem Delta One flights through Flying Club to Asian cities like Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai for 60,000 miles, but I think you would get better in-flight service from most Asian carriers, and maybe even for fewer points.
Transfer Partner Programs:
This lesson armed you with everything you need to know to start traveling outside the country. We covered everything from places to fly from (and to) to the best airlines to fly on.
But believe it or not, we still aren’t done.
Our next section will cover even more ways to save on flights. It will take time and patience, but these next tips can help you level up your free travel game.
If you found this course on travel rewards helpful, you may also enjoy this free illustrated guide, packed with many other ways to get more for your buck and win back your financial independence.
Course content originally produced by ChooseFI was edited/updated by CardRatings for this lesson.