Gosh, I love that my sister is getting into this travel game. It’s great to have someone else to talk over the pros/cons of different deals. She’s also relatively new to the game so she points out to me when I’m making assumptions about what people know and she asks great questions that make me realize that I should create a post on a certain topic. This is one of those times.
We had a conversation this weekend about how to maximize the use of airline miles, prompted by The Points Guy’s video post on stopover and open jaws. I would be willing to bet that most people redeem their airline miles for travel that they can book on-line with that specific airline. And I’d also be willing to bet that they redeem them for a round-trip ticket that simply goes between 2 points. As a result, many people are missing out on the true potential of their miles.
Each airline has different rules about how you can redeem their points, but there are some concepts across all of them that you need to understand:
- Who are their partner airlines? Most airlines have partner airlines. These are airlines that you can earn and/or redeem miles on. The big groups are the One World Alliance, the Star Alliance and the SkyTeam. The One World Alliance officially consists of: airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines. There are other affliates, members elect and other airlines that you can redeem/earn miles on outside of the alliance. For example, you can redeem British Airways miles on Aer Lingus (but you can’t redeem American Airlines miles on Aer Lingus). The Star Alliance officially consists of: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue1, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, Ethopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Luftansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAM Airlines, TAP Portugal, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United, and US Airways. SkyTeam consists of: Aeroflot, AeroMexico, AirEuropa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Saudia, Tarom, and Vietnam Airlines. As you can tell from the lists, the One World Alliance and Star Alliance are usually preferred by frequent travelers because of the airlines in the alliances.
- What are the rules on redeeming miles on partner airlines? This is a big one. Each airline has different rules around how you can redeem miles in general and also how you can redeem them on partner airlines. There are also rules around what direction you need to fly to certain destinations (e.g. on some airlines, you have to fly over the Pacific Ocean when traveling to Asia). My go-to resource for these types of questions is FlyerTalk. Most airlines have their own forum in the Miles&Points forum. Go to the forum you’re interested in. Within the forum, most of the airlines have a “sticky” post about the FAQs for that airline. For example, the American Airlines thread is called: “FAQ: American Airlines and AAdvantage – Please check here first!”. There is also another “sticky” post called: “Award Desk: Information about AA, Partner, and oneworld Awards”. These are fabulous resources to learn about how you can use your miles.
- What are the rules on stopovers and open jaws? I mentioned the Points Guy’s video post earlier about stopovers and open jaws. Essentially, stopovers are when you are traveling from destination A to C via another city B. A stopover is when you stay in city B for a period of time before traveling on to C. So you trip would look like, flight from A to B, stay for a few days, then continue on from B to C. An open jaw is when you’re traveling from A to D, but you travel via airline from A to B, then you take another mode of transportation from B to C and then continue on via air from C to D. So in this example, maybe you fly from Boston to Paris, take a train from Paris to Madrid, and then fly from Madrid to Rome. In these examples, you’re booking all the airline segments at the same time (so they aren’t considered 2 one way tickets, they are one half of a trip, with an open jaw). Again, check FlyerTalk to learn to use these to maximize your points. Each airline has different rules.
I’ve talked about how to use some of these tricks to book a free one-way to Hawaii when traveling from South America on American Airlines and the magic of the stopover. Get creative and you can really stretch the value of your miles!