Award Space Series Index
Part 5 | Maximizing Your Miles Through OneWorld Alliance
Star Alliance was founded in 1997 by Scandinavian Airlines, Thai Airways International, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and United Airlines. Since then the alliance has expanded to include 27 airline members.
Like any alliance, some Star Alliance airlines pass on fuel surcharges onto the passenger when booking award tickets and some do not. Below is a table showing which specific airlines pass on fuel surcharges on award. Within the table a (Y) = ‘Yes’ and (N) = ‘No surcharges’:
Star Alliance Members 2014
|Adria Airways (Y)||Air New Zealand (N)||Brussels Airlines (Y)||EVA Air (Y)|
|Aegean Airlines (Y)||All Nippon Airways (Y)||COPA Airlines (N)||LOT Polish Airlines (Y)|
|Air Canada (Y)||Asiana (Y)||Croatia Airlines (Y)||Lufthansa (Y)|
|Air China (Y)||Austrian Airlines (Y)||EgyptAir (Y)||Scandinavian Airlines (Y)|
|Air India (Y)||Avianca (N)||Ethiopian Airlines (Y)||Shenzen Airlines (Y)|
|Singapore Airlines (Y)||South African Airways (Y)||Swiss Air (Y)||TAP Portugal (Y)|
|Thai (Y)||Turkish Air (Y)||United (N)|
While each airline maintains their own award chart, there are award chart sweet spots with certain airlines whose miles can be accrued rather easily. My definition of “easily” simply means the ability to earn those miles through a flexible points earning credit card and/or the airlines co-branded credit card.
Taking these factors into consideration within this post, I will focus on these programs within Star Alliance and the most valuable ways to earn their respective airline miles:
- Air Canada | Earn Miles: Transfer partner of SPG points + AMEX rewards points
- Avianca | Earn Miles: Airline branded credit card + miles purchase bonus
Avianca, while not a transfer partner of any flexible bank points earning credit card, does have a lot to offer with a very competitive award chart. Similar to United, they don’t charge any fuel surcharges, therefore it will be considered for this analysis as well.
Air Canada | Aeroplan
Air Canada miles are fairly easy to come by as they are a partner of both SPG and AMEX Membership Rewards programs.
Air Canada allows one-way awards and selectively charges fuel surcharges on only some carriers. The airlines that do not incur fuel surcharges are: Aegean Airlines, Air China, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EVA Air, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways Swiss Air, Turkish Airways.
Apart from Star Alliance, Air Canada also partners with the following airlines:
- Air Creebec
- Bearskin Airlines
- Calm Air
- Canadian North
- First Air
The partners listed above may not be valuable to the majority of travelers, but some could find them useful for select destinations within Canada.
Air Canada Award Chart
Air Canada recently went through a huge devaluation, increasing their premium cabin redemptions by 25% - 40%. However they did finally make one-way redemptions 50% of the round-trip rate which wasn’t always the case. The following shows the latest Air Canada award chart:
Maximizing Air Canada Miles
Long haul economy award flights from the continental United States are for the most part on par with competition, but Air Canada tends to charge more for premium cabin awards. Almost all of Asia costs at least 150,000 miles for a round-trip in Business class, while round-trips to Europe are only 90,000 miles in Business.
However, the fact that Star Alliance has so many valuable partner airlines and Air Canada’s relaxed routing rules allow either two stopovers or one stopover + one open-jaw, there are awards that can be booked to maximize your miles.
Given you are allowed 2 stopovers per round-trip, you can build the following type of itinerary on one round trip award:
- San Francisco to Zurich on Swiss Air (stopover #1)
- Zurich to Johannesburg on Swiss Air (destination)
- Johannesburg to Sao Paulo on South African Airways (stopover #2)
- Sao Paulo to San Francisco (origin city) via Houston on United
Swiss Air and South African Airways flights do not incur fuel surcharges on Aeroplan awards. The total cost of this itinerary, which includes stopovers in both Zurich and Sao Paulo, is only 100k miles in economy and 150k miles in business class.
Considering this award visits 3 continents and 3 highly sought after destinations in the world for 150k miles in business class, it is an incredible value for the entire trip!
While this is a complex itinerary you can build a much simpler one to take advantage of the 90k round-trip to Europe in business class. Consider the following example itinerary:
- San Francisco to Dublin on United via Washington (stopover #1)
- Dublin to Zurich on Swiss Air (destination)
- Tour Switzerland, Germany and France to end up in Paris (open-jaw)
- Paris to San Francisco on United (Home)
This itinerary will only cost you only 90k miles in business class! Once again there are no fuel surcharges as Air Canada only collects government taxes on the airlines listed above.
How to Find Aeroplan Award Space
Air Canada’s search engine is one of the best “go-to” options for not only Air Canada awards, but redeeming miles with any airline program within Star Alliance.
Aeroplan doesn’t require you to have miles present in your account in order to use their search engine, you only need an Aeroplan account (it’s free).
1. Login to your Aeroplan account and mouse over to ‘Use Your Miles’ and click on ‘Travel.’ Enter the flight details (i.e - San Francisco to Dublin in business class).
2. You will see an award calendar appear to show availability. In this case it looks like the 16th is our ideal choice.
3. Ensuring that there are no hidden fees, click ‘SELECT >’ and we see there are only $27.60 in taxes and fees.
Now steps 1 - 3 have to be repeated for the rest of the itinerary, segment by segment. Once you have the dates and flights of choice for all the segments needed for the entire itinerary.
You can build it using the ‘Multiple Destinations’ option on the search page so the website can price the award for you, but it may also be easier to call in to the Aeroplan reservation department.
Drawbacks to Using Aeroplan Miles
One of the main drawbacks of using Aeroplan miles are the inflated prices for regions apart from the ones discussed above. Fuel surcharges are not passed on for only a selected set of airlines and sometimes they are entirely unavoidable.
For instance, if Germany was your selected destination in Europe, then you will be charged heavy fuel surcharges since Lufthansa controls that entire market.
Avianca | Lifemiles
Although you can’t transfer miles to Avianca Lifemiles through a flexible bank-point account their miles are fairly easy to accrue because almost every two months or so, Avianca has a 100% bonus on purchased miles like this one:
Additionally, you only need 40% of the miles required for an award to be in your account at the time of booking as you can buy the rest for ~1.55 cents a mile. The 1.55 cents a mile rate will only happen when you buy larger amounts of miles. The purchase price starts at $30 for 1k miles and doesn’t increase linearly therefore the more you buy, the lesser it costs per mile.
Avianca has gone through multiple devaluations in terms of the cost of purchased miles, however it can still be a good deal if you have an award in mind.
One of the greatest loophole awards has also been closed, which included flying to Guam for the cost of a domestic US round-trip award.
Besides the Star Alliance partners, Avianca also partners with the following airlines:
Avianca Award Chart
Avianca has one of the most reasonable award charts for all regions, including premium cabins. Just like United, Avianca also doesn’t charge any fuel surcharges on its partners which means even Lufthansa and other such European carriers with high fuel surcharges won’t be passed on to you!
Avianca allows one-way awards at half the price of round-trips.
All prices on the award chart shown are for round-trip awards unless otherwise noted.
Maximizing Avianca LifeMiles
Given that Avianca’s routing rules are so prohibitive that they don’t allow stopovers or open-jaws, in order to maximize your miles it comes down to studying the award chart. For example, a round-trip to South / Central Asia only costs 130k miles in business class and since there are no fuel surcharges on partners there is no need to avoid certain carriers to fly. Likewise for 135k miles, you can visit Oceania, Australia and/or New Zealand in business class!
How to Find Avianca Award Space
Avianca also has a strong search engine for finding all Star Alliance partner flights. You do not need miles in your account to search for award space, you simply need to register for a LifeMiles account (its free!)
1. Login to your Lifemiles account and mouse over ‘Enjoy’ and click on ‘Air Tickets.’ Enter the origin and destination (i.e - search for a San Francisco to Frankfurt flight to see the availability in February 2015).
2. Looks like there are available seats on the date of our choice. If there isn’t availability, then Lifemiles returns a weekly view of what is available.
3. Notice on the bottom it gives you the option to use ‘More Money’ or ‘More Miles’. Using full miles this one-way ticket to Frankfurt on Lufthansa will cost 30k miles. You can however purchase miles if needed to top offer your account.
4. It’s possible to only use 12k miles and purchase the remaining 18k miles for $283.68 which comes out to ~1.57 cents per mile.
Drawbacks to Using Avianca LifeMiles
While Avianca has a great award chart and is flexible with allowing one-way awards for half the price of round-trips, their routing rules make it nearly impossible for people to get creative in any way.
No stopovers or open-jaws are allowed and the awards can mostly be booked online as their call centers are notorious for being rather incompetent. One of the biggest downfalls is that the search engine doesn’t show more than 1 connection for a given route and won’t display results where the connection is longer than 8 hours.
LifeMiles also doesn’t allow you to book multiple cabin itineraries, therefore if you are traveling from a small city where the carrier doesn’t have a business class, you can’t book your international portion in business class either!
Lastly, not being a transfer partner makes it a bit of a chore to earn miles as you have to wait for the purchased mile bonuses rather than accrue and plan at your own schedule. Also, since the purchased mile bonuses are controlled by Avianca, they can be devalued at any time!
The airlines discussed today show the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of inflated award chart (Aeroplan) vs. a very competitive award chart (Avianca). However, valuation of the program is not so straightforward once you consider routing rules, and ease of booking and accrual of miles.
There are situations where almost each partner within Star Alliance offers useful and valuable awards. For example, Avianca doesn’t allow stopovers, therefore, using their miles to book a one-way wouldn't cause you to miss out on a possible free one-way or seeing another destination en route to your destination. With Aeroplan, however, you lose one stopover on a one-way award which won’t maximize the usage of your miles.
Fuel surcharges are absolutely ridiculous for some itineraries which may make more sense to use LifeMiles so you don’t have to worry about only trying to fly on certain carriers (as the case would be with Aeroplan) especially being a Star Alliance member with 27 airlines to choose from.
The ease and price at which Aeroplan miles can be accrued tilts the scale back in Air Canada’s favor. It’s possible to earn their miles just by signing up for a flexible bank-point credit card and transferring points to Aeroplan and using bonus categories to earn miles.