Over the past few years airlines have increased the cost of award redemptions even though we still earn the same number of miles for flights. In essence they’ve devalued the value of their miles so we, the loyal traveler, is penalized and it now costs us more miles for tickets on the same routes.
And even with this jack up in award levels, it’s still almost impossible to get an award seat! To counteract complaints the major US carriers have added new tiers of awards. The trend with most US carriers is to now offer two levels of award redemptions; in fact there’s even three for Delta.
American Airlines as an example has Anytime Awards which cost double the normal miles needed for either economy, business or first class as long as there is a seat for sale. While it’s great to have the opportunity to use an award, double the miles can wipe out your account balance pretty quickly. American also last year raised their water levels. For instance, a one way first class award on Cathay Pacific from North America to Asia used to be 67,500 and now is 110,000 miles.
And it’s not just American which has increased award redemption requirements. Delta used to charge 90,000 miles for North America to Europe round trip in business class. The same seat is now 140,000 miles. And again they have other levels that go up from there. As well, United Airlines have followed a similar path to American and Delta.
We’ve also seen a trend of carriers offering fewer award seats on alliance and partner airlines. Clearly the airlines want you to spend more per redemption and to fly on their metal. This of course is better for their bottom line but it’s not good for us flyers.
And let’s be clear it’s not just the US airlines which are devaluing their loyalty programs. British Airways have raised their mileage award levels too. Now from London to Asia in first class it will take you over 220,000 miles plus a lot of tax to book a ticket. Cathay Pacific last year also raised the cost of their awards.
The one mileage program that has not boosted their award levels yet is Alaska Airlines. And Alaska has great partners. You can get a one-way North America to Asia on Cathay Pacific in first class for only 70,000 miles. Alaska has recently been given permission to take over Virgin America so we’ll have to see what changes they may have in store, but right now they’re a great bargain.
Air France/KLM is also one to look out for as they often do discounted awards sales which can be a good opportunity for premium cabin tickets.
Even with the jack up in miles needed, Delta and American seem to be the best airlines when it comes to staff finding you an award. They search the entire system and often come up with pretty smart options. British Airways is far from that. You ask them for a reward to a destination and they look at the most obvious flights only. They seem adverse to piecing together an itinerary on partner airlines. BA also charges higher miles if you make a connection. So a London to Hong Kong flight is less miles than if you went via Paris. Most airlines base their miles on point to point. Not how many stops you make.
So what’s my advice? Save your miles and burn your miles as you need them. Don’t bank them as you never know if there’s going to be another round of devaluations and don’t waste them. Premium cabin international award travel should still be the goal as these are generally the most expensive tickets.
Daniel Green, the Model Cook is a Celebrity Chef known for his healthy approach to food and living well. With TV, books, magazines and live appearances, Daniel spends his time helping fans to cook better, feel better and live better. He’s also an avid traveler and a self-confessed Foodie.