Not all Miles are Created Equal: Diversifying your Portfolio
Last month I flew first class from New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO) via United’s Premium Service (p.s.) Transcontinental 757 offering. However, it may surprise many of you that United Miles were not the best choice or best value for this itinerary. I actually got a much better deal by using Lufthansa miles to book this flight on United metal.
Why Miles Diversity is Important
Many newcomers to the hobby get confused with the myriad of programs and different ways that you can use points and miles. For example, if you have only United Miles, you can most certainly use them for redemptions on United–but you can also redeem those same miles on any other Star Alliance member airline. However, because you are redeeming United Miles, you would be subject to the United Airlines partner award chart, below:
Last year, United de-velaued their partner award chart, especially on International Business and First Class redemptions. Therefore, it can often be more expensive to use United Miles for Star Alliance partner redemptions than other Star Alliance airline program miles. If you diversify your mileage collection, you can often find more generous award charts to maximize the value of the trip you want to take. Take, for example, Lufthansa’s (Star Alliance) Miles & More partner award chart below:
Some regions are more expensive than United’s Partner chart, but you can find certain redemptions that offer better value. Let’s look at an easy example.
An easy example: United BusinessFirst Redemption from JFK-SFO
Let’s start with a relatively easy example. I wanted to fly from the East Coast to San Francisco last month. Due to the length of the flight, I wanted to check out one of the premium transcontinental first class cabins that American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines are offering from NYC to either Los Angles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO). These products are relatively new and are the best way available to fly from coast to coast.
Delta offers “Delta One” which is available on all flights from JFK to either LAX or SFO. Delta One features 180 degree recline lie-flat seats, an upgraded dining experience, and personal entertainment screens.
American offers their Airbus A321 Transcontinental from JFK to LAX. American has 3 classes of service on their trans-con flights, with both First and Business offering 180 degree lie-flat seats, enhanced food and beverages, and on demand entertainment options on your personal touchscreen.
Finally, United offers their Premium Service or, p.s. for short. Similar to Delta, United only offers 2 classes of service on their trans-con flights, and the p.s. is considered Business Class. Prior to a week ago, the flights were from JFK to either LAX or SFO, but United is now flying all of its trans-con flights from Newark (EWR). It also features lie-flat seats, personal entertainment screens, and premium meals.
I chose to fly United’s product because of availability and an excellent value. If I was to use United miles to fly this route, it would cost me 50,000 miles round trip (25,000 miles each way via the saver award). However, if I use Lufthansa Miles, it actually only costs 35,000 miles round trip (or 17,000 miles for a one-way since Lufthansa, rather inexplicably, rounds their award costs down when flying a one-way trip).
How to search
In order to search for availability for United p.s., go to the United Award Search page, and search for your flight from EWR-SFO or EWR-LAX. In the example below I am choosing to search for one-way flights and somewhat arbitrarily selected 10 December as the date of my flight–however, as you will see shortly, the date doesn’t really matter. Ensure that you select that your dates are flexible and also make sure to select “non-stop” and “BusinessFirst.”
After clicking “Search” my results come up in a calendar view, which allows me to see my options. As you can see below there is quite a bit of “Green” availability, indicating both Economy and Premium cabin availability:
Now, start clicking on dates that work for you, and see what flights are available. Back when I booked the p.s. flight in October, there was better availability on the JFK-LAX leg than the JFK-SFO leg–however, now that the flights are going from EWR, it appears that availability in Dec and Jan is actually pretty slim.
The Final Step: Booking the flights via Lufthansa
Once you find the flight segments that you want, write down the dates and flight numbers. You can book these flights via United.com, however, you will end up paying in United Miles and it will cost you 25,000 miles each way. If you diversify your miles and have Lufthansa miles you can call the Lufthansa Miles & More USA booking center at 1-800-581-6400 and book the same flights for 17,000 Lufthansa Miles each way. Remember to tell the agent you want to book two one-way award flights!
What’s the easiest way to get Lufthansa Miles?
Lufthansa offers a credit card to its US customers, via Barclay’s, here. Currently it is only offering 20,000 bonus miles for signing up with a non-waived $79 annual fee, however, periodically that offer jumps to 50,000 miles. At 50,000 bonus miles this is a great credit card to sign up for. At 20,000 miles, not so much.
However, there is another way–Lufthansa is a transfer partner of SPG. You can transfer SPG points to Lufthansa Miles & More miles with a 25% bonus when you transfer in increments of 20,000 miles. So, for every 20,000 SPG points you actually end up with 25,000 Lufthansa Miles. You can easily earn SPG points via the SPG AMEX currently with a 25,000 point sign up bonus, which periodically jumps to 35,000 points. SPG points are one of the most valuable mileage currencies because of their great flexibility to transfer to many different partners.
The bottom line is that by diversifying your mileage and points portfolio, you can take advantage of award chart “sweet spots” and truly maximize the value of your miles!