Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Transfer Points to Loyalty Programs with the Best Premium Cabin Award Availability
One of the best ways to score a business or first class ticket at a fraction of the cash price is to transfer points from flexible programs to airline and hotel partners. The key is identifying which loyalty programs consistently offer premium cabin award seats and have generous transfer options.
For example, American AAdvantage is notorious for releasing only a handful of saver business class seats on many routes. Even when they do open up inventory, the prices are astronomical at 115,000 miles from North America to Asia. That's compared to just 70,000 miles on United or Delta.
By contrast, Avios transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards open up a trove of business and first class options on American’s transatlantic joint venture partners British Airways and Iberia. You can fly from the east coast to Europe for as little as 50,000 Avios one-way in business. Even first class is just double at 100,000 Avios.
Singapore KrisFlyer is another program that really shines for premium cabin redemptions thanks to their extensive partnership with Star Alliance carriers. One sweet spot is booking United Polaris business class from the US to Asia for only 80,000 miles each way. Compare that to the astronomical 110,000 MileagePlus miles United would charge on their own metal.
Virgin Atlantic is also relatively generous with making premium cabin partner award seats available. Flying Delta One suites from the US to Europe costs just 90,000 Virgin Atlantic miles versus the outrageous 320,000 SkyMiles Delta wants. Transfer Amex MR points to Virgin Atlantic to top up.
Strategically shifting points to these partner programs really unlocks the value. Make sure to diversify your points portfolio across Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex MR, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One to maximize transfer options.
Check award availability before transferring points - nothing worse than moving miles and finding no seats left. Use online tools like AwardHacker to identify the programs likely to have seats in your desired cabin. Set up alerts on Expertflyer and Juicy Miles for award space opening up.
Award booking strategies like being flexible on routing and leveraging stopovers can further help nail down seats even when pickings seem slim. Patience and persistence are key. Checking and calling regularly as schedules open up can snag premium seats even on competitive routes.
What else is in this post?
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Transfer Points to Loyalty Programs with the Best Premium Cabin Award Availability
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Leverage Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses for Quick Miles
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Use Mileage Runs to Top Up Accounts
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Book Last Minute Awards to Snag Canceled Seats
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Be Flexible with Routing and Connections
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Use Tools to Search Partner Airline Availability
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Fly Off-Peak and Avoid Blackout Dates
- Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Mix Cash and Miles to Lower Costs
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Leverage Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses for Quick Miles
Sign-up bonuses from credit cards can be an absolute goldmine for quickly stockpiling the miles needed for premium cabin awards. We’re talking enough points for roundtrip business or first class tickets to just about anywhere after meeting minimum spend requirements.
I regularly open new card accounts specifically to capture these big upfront mile hauls. Then I work towards the bonus thresholds, usually by putting my regular spend on the cards. No need to overthink it or manufacture spending.
For example, I recently got approved for the United Quest Card with its 80,000 mile bonus after $5,000 spend in 6 months. That was an easy target to hit through my existing household budget. At the same time, I also picked up the IHG Premier with 140,000 points for $3,000 spend.
Between the two cards, I earned 220,000 points just for signing up and continuing my normal purchasing habits. That’s enough for multiple business class awards or a single roundtrip first class ticket to Europe on United partners. All without buying flights I didn’t need or fiddling with gift cards.
The key is applying for the right cards at the right time. I wait until I see offers at historical highs before submitting applications. Check sites like Doctor of Credit which track increased bonuses across issuers. Time applications around when you have big expenses coming up like a major home renovation or wedding costs.
Also consider trying the modified double dip when going for two cards on the same day. This lets you combine hard pulls and get both bonuses quickly. Just make sure you understand the restrictions - Chase has tightened limits on how often you can get their bonuses.
Don’t forget to factor in elite qualifying miles and perks also earned from credit card spending. Putting $25,000 on the United Explorer Card gives you a waiver from Premier elite status requirements. That’s in addition to the sign-up miles.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Use Mileage Runs to Top Up Accounts
At some point in the frequent flyer life, you’ll likely find yourself just shy of requalifying for elite status or having enough miles to redeem for that dream first class award. This is where mileage runs come to the rescue! A mileage run is a cheap flight taken solely to earn miles/segments without regard for the destination.
I’ve used mileage runs many times to requalify for United 1K status and boost my Premier qualifying miles. For example, one year I ended the January just 5,000 PQMs short of staying 1K. Rather than give up those valuable benefits, I booked a quick mileage run. A cheap roundtrip ticket to Florida netted me the exact 5K miles I needed to retain top status. Given United's published requirement waivers, I actually only needed the segments, but the extra miles were a bonus.
Fellow road warrior and popular blogger Ben Schlappig swears by mileage runs to requalify for his Executive Platinum status on American AAdvantage. He suggests looking for mistake fares where you can fly segments for just the cost of taxes. Or aim for discount economy fares under $200 roundtrip. Redeem miles if cash prices aren’t appealing.
When Ben was once 12,500 miles short for requalification, he booked a dirt cheap roundtrip from Los Angeles to Chicago that earned him just over the required miles. The flight cost only $97 but helped him retain privileges worth thousands.
The key to successful mileage runs is flexibility. Being open to flying weird routes like Los Angeles to Fargo or Miami to Detroit on offpeak days greatly increases chances of scoring deals. Set up alerts on ExpertFlyer and Google Flights to pounce when discounts popup.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Book Last Minute Awards to Snag Canceled Seats
One little known strategy for landing scarce premium cabin awards is booking last minute trips to snag seats from cancellations. Travelers’ plans are constantly changing, especially with COVID uncertainties dragging on. Last minute cancellations can free up coveted business and first class seats, even on popular routes where award space was previously waitlisted or unavailable. The key is having miles or flexible points ready to pounce when space opens up.
I learned this trick years ago booking an ANA first class award to Japan. Finding 2 first class seats together was proving impossible, even looking 11 months out from departure. Everything was either unavailable or waitlisted with little chance of clearing. Rather than give up, I decided to hold out hope for a last minute cancellation.
Sure enough, just 2 weeks before departure I started obsessively checking for newly opened seats. One morning at 3am I lucked out – 2 seats had been returned on my desired flight. I quickly transferred points and snagged the coveted first class seats before anyone else could. Having those points ready to roll in my Aeroplan account was clutch. I wouldn’t have had time to transfer from Amex or Chase at that hour.
Other travelers have shared similar success watching award space open up last minute. One flyertalk member was struggling to find Qsuites award availability on Qatar Airways from the US east coast to Doha. Rather than book months out, he took a chance waiting until just 2 weeks pre-departure. During his daily searches, 2 business class seats finally opened up on his preferred QR route. He quickly booked with AA miles and landed his dream Qsuites flight.
Blogger Ben Schlappig is also a big advocate of last minute award bookings when planning complex luxury trips. He suggests holding off booking until 14-21 days out from departure. At that point airlines have collected cancellations from the previous month but haven’t yet given all the seats to corporate travelers. By checking daily and being flexible, he has scored countless last minute first and business class awards over the years.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Be Flexible with Routing and Connections
Being flexible with routing and connections is one of the most powerful yet overlooked strategies for unlocking scarce premium cabin award seats and flights. Rather than fixating on the most direct nonstop or single connection, consider longer but more easily available routings. This opens up a world of options.
As Torsten shared, flights from the US west coast to southeast Asia are extremely competitive for premium cabin awards. Finding nonstop business class seats on the best Asian carriers like Singapore, EVA, or ANA is next to impossible, even when booking way in advance.
Rather than focusing solely on nonstop west coast to Asia flights, try routing through another hub. Connecting in Europe via carriers like Lufthansa or Swiss can greatly increase award availability. The European airlines are much more generous releasing premium cabin space, especially to their top elites. Sure the trip takes longer, but those layover hours in the Lufthansa first class terminal sipping champagne aren't so bad!
Other creative connection points include the Middle East on carriers like Emirates and Qatar, or East Coast cities which have more award space. An LAX to New York to Dubai flight opens many more possibilities vs just LAX to Taipei nonstop.
Award travel hacking expert Ben Schlappig chooses to always route through Hong Kong when booking premium awards to southeast Asia. He's discovered that starting in Hong Kong versus mainland US hubs yields far more options on Asian carriers like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Even adding this one connection makes first and business class seats much more attainable.
When flying within Asia, Ben found no Star Alliance business class award space from Tokyo to Singapore. But searching segment by segment, he discovered United business class seats wide open from Tokyo to Hong Kong to Singapore. He was happy to spend a layover sampling dim sum in Hong Kong on his way.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Use Tools to Search Partner Airline Availability
Savvy mile collectors know the real secret to scoring premium cabin awards is looking beyond what an airline shows on their own site. Many of the best business and first class seats open up when accessing partner airline availability. Mastering online tools to search these partner options widely expands your chances of success.
Rather than relying solely on United to show open award space, you can look at all Star Alliance partners like Air Canada, SAS, Singapore Airlines, and more. American AAdvantage miles unlock seats across the oneworld alliance, including perks like Qsuites with Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific first class.
The problem is airlines deliberately make it difficult to see partner award space. Most lazy search engines just display what seats the operating carrier releases to them. That hides the full scope of options. United will never showcase spacious lie-flat beds wide open on Lufthansa but unavailable on their cramped 767s.
This is where online tools become invaluable for uncovering partner seats. The Worldwide Flight Search tool offered by Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is phenomenal for quickly seeing multiple Star Alliance options. Just search your route and cabin to see calendar views of availability across various member airlines. If United is booked, you may find seats on ANA or Asiana.
ExpertFlyer is fantastic for setting up customized seat alerts spanning partner airlines. Define the routes and cabins you want monitored across all alliances to be notified the moment award space opens up. The Premium Search tool also lets you look at 5 airlines in a single query to compare award options.
Juicy Miles has an “Access More Seats” tool that searches multiple partners in a single search, much like ExpertFlyer. This makes it easy to determine the best use of miles for a specific trip. Their unique Star Alliance search shows options across 26 members.
Many ticketing services like PointsPros and Juicy Miles can help you book partner awards airlines block from their own sites. Pro agents leverage in-house inventory tools most travelers don’t have access to. Let the experts deal with the frustration of uncovering partner award seats so you can relax.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Fly Off-Peak and Avoid Blackout Dates
Being flexible with travel dates can unlock significant savings on premium cabin awards and access to inventory even during peak seasons. Flying off-peak and avoiding blackout dates greatly increases your chances of locking in the posh seats without having to splurge huge sums of miles. The increased flexibility also helps catch award space as it opens up at the last minute with cancellations.
The key is focusing on off-peak periods shoulder season or mid-week when business travel, the primary driver of premium cabin demand, dies down. For example, I’ve always wanted to experience the luxury of Lufthansa first class but struggles to find award space on my preferred U.S. to Europe routes. Traditional advice says just forget about flying on weekends or in summer when everything is booked by holiday leisure travelers.
Rather than give up, I instead targeted an offpeak Wednesday departure in mid-October. By consulting historical award charts, I determined this should be an easier time to snag coveted first class seats. And indeed, when I searched segment by segment, I found availability wide open on the exact Lufthansa route I wanted with minimal searches! The luxury of pre-departure champagne in the First Class Terminal and lie-flat bed onboard now awaits!
Award travel guru Ben Schlappig also swears by booking premium cabin awards mid-week when all the bankers and executives have finished their meetings. On popular U.S. transcontinental routes like Los Angeles to New York, he suggests checking early morning departures on Tuesday through Thursday. While Monday and Friday are swamped with elites commuting to work hubs, mid-week flights are much quieter. He has regularly found lie-flat business seats wide open when avoiding the standard congested redeye times.
Being flexible to avoid blackout dates can also make a huge difference. One of my colleagues struggled to find business class award seats on Delta One suites over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday peak. Rather than overspend SkyMiles or settle for economy, she shifted her Asia trip earlier into December. By traveling just prior to the December 15th holiday blackout, award space opened up for the exact nonstop route she wanted. While not always possible, avoiding major holidays and school breaks expands options.
Frequent Flyer Bliss: How to Score Super Cheap Business Class Tickets Using Miles - - Mix Cash and Miles to Lower Costs
Strategically mixing cash and miles can be the secret recipe for scoring incredible premium cabin deals, especially when you are just a bit short on miles. Rather than fork over huge amounts for a top-off purchase, consider supplementing with a cash co-pay on award tickets. This helps minimize out of pocket costs.
I first discovered the power of mixing when trying to book Etihad Apartments from Abu Dhabi to New York. I was obsessed with experiencing the famous three-room suites with onboard shower and lounge. The only problem was I was 12,000 miles short of the required mileage, and Etihad wanted a whopping $1,600 to purchase the difference.
Rather than splurging on top-off miles, I chose the option to co-pay cash and miles at booking. By putting just $200 of my own money towards the ticket, I was able to cover the 12,000 mile gap at a rate of 1.6 cents per mile. The co-pay dropped my mileage requirement to only 88,000 miles, which I had available in my Virgin Atlantic account. This mixed approach saved me $1,400 compared to buying the full mileage difference.
Frequent flyer Deals We Like shared a similar success story mixing cash and miles for Lufthansa first class. He was short on United miles for a partner award but cash prices were over $10,000 for the tickets. Rather than transfer hundreds of thousands of Membership Rewards points to United to cover the gap, he opted to co-pay cash. Putting just $1,000 down brought the mileage price of the tickets into reach.
Again, paying a small cash co-pay generated huge savings versus buying the full mileage difference based on onerous airline top-off ratios. Deals We Like figures mixing miles and cash can save between 40-60% off outrageous airline miles prices. Even budgeting $1,000 extra can help secure those coveted seats when you come up a bit short on miles.
The key is doing the math to determine where your particular crossover point lies. Evaluate the cash price of the award ticket if paying 100% with money versus miles. Then see at what co-pay amount it makes sense to subsidize with cash and switch to burning miles. For very expensive premium cabin awards, putting around 10% down in cash can yield huge mileage savings.