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One Travel Hacker’s Favorite Sweet-Spot Redemptions

Aug. 21, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Reward Optimization, Travel, Travel Credit Cards
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Every year, I earn millions of frequent flyer miles through credit card sign-up bonuses and strategic spending. While maximizing every dollar spent is important, I also try to find the cheapest award prices to help stretch my miles further. That’s where sweet spot redemptions come in.

To give you an idea of what’s possible, below are my five favorite sweet spot redemptions:

Europe in business class for 80,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles, round-trip

I get puzzled looks when I pull out the SKYPASS Visa® Signature Credit Card to pay for purchases. It’s tied to Korean Air’s rewards program, which many people aren’t familiar with, and the card has no significant category bonuses. The real value is in the sweet spot redemptions you can earn miles for.

» Learn more: Baffled by points and miles? Let the 80/20 rule guide you

My favorite is the 80,000-mile round-trip business class award to Europe. Considering most other rewards programs require 115,000 miles or more for the same award, this is a real bargain. For another 20,000 SkyPass miles, you can even upgrade to first class.

Bali via Hong Kong for 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles in business class, one-way

Alaska’s Mileage Plan is one of my favorite award programs. Even though Alaska Airlines isn’t part of a major alliance, it partners with some of the best airlines in the world. More importantly, award redemption rates are sometimes lower compared to other programs, especially for international flights.

One of the best sweet spot redemptions is Alaska’s 50,000-mile business class award to Asia, which includes a free stopover. My favorite use of this award was flying from San Francisco to Bali with a stopover in Hong Kong, all in Cathay Pacific business class. Considering American Airlines charges 70,000 miles for the same award (sans stopover), this is quite a bargain.

You don’t have to fly Cathay Pacific to take advantage of this great value: Flights on Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines also require just 50,000 miles each way in business class. Flying from Los Angeles to China? You can work in a free stopover in Chengdu on your way to Beijing.

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card sign-up bonus goes a long way toward making this award attainable: Get 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.

» Learn more: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card review: Well worth $75 a year

San Francisco to London in economy class for 15,000 Flying Club miles, one-way

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has several sweet spot redemptions. While I always appreciate a premium cabin, economy class awards between the West Coast and London are worth a look. You can fly from San Francisco to London Heathrow for just 15,000 miles and $149.20 one way. That’s unheard of. The return flight carries higher taxes and fees ($315.83), but that can still be a good value depending on the cost of revenue fares.

Flying Club miles are fairly easy to earn, thanks to a co-branded credit card from Bank of America® and transfer partnerships with AmEx Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards® and Citi ThankYou Rewards.

Royal Air Maroc business class for 44,000 Etihad Guest miles, one-way

Using Etihad miles for business class on Royal Air Maroc is one of the best sweet spot awards out there. For just 44,000 Etihad miles each way, you can fly on any Royal Air Maroc route over 2,000 miles.

If you’ve never heard of Royal Air Maroc, the airline offers daily flights between Casablanca and New York-JFK, Washington-Dulles, Miami and Boston. Royal Air Maroc operates their 787s on these routes, meaning you get a fantastic new business class cabin with lie-flat seats.

If you’re wondering how you can score some Etihad Guest miles to book this award, they’re surprisingly accessible. Etihad Guest is a transfer partner of both AmEx Membership Rewards and the Citi ThankYou program. The current Citi Premier Card sign-up bonus is a great way to start building up an Etihad Guest balance as it gets you more than half the points needed for a round-trip flight.

» Learn more: Top airline credit cards that offer companion tickets

Business class to Australia for 105,000 ANA miles round-trip

To avoid making the long journey to Australia in economy class, I once spent 36 hours in a first class seat. My itinerary took me from San Francisco to Honolulu, Tokyo, Bangkok and finally Sydney. It was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had getting to any destination — and it only cost 140,000 miles round-trip.

All Nippon Airways’ award chart is such a terrific value. For just 105,000 miles round-trip during low season, you can score a business class seat on ANA from the U.S. to Australia via Tokyo. If you can’t travel during ANA’s low season, regular tickets are just 115,000 miles round-trip.

Making the deal even sweeter:

  • Much of the summer season Down Under has traditionally been included as part of ANA’s “low season,” since it corresponds to winter in Japan.
  • A free stopover is included, so it’s easy to add a few days in Tokyo to create two trips in one.

The bottom line

These are some of my favorite sweet spot awards I’ve come across over the years. By being aware of the cheapest awards out there, you can make smart decisions when it comes to earning and redeeming miles. More importantly, you’ll be able to use your miles to travel much more.

When booking your flights, be mindful of taxes, fees and carrier-imposed surcharges, which have the potential to dent the value of your rewards.

What are some of your favorite sweet spot redemptions?

How to maximize your rewards

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