Back when I first started Prince of Travel in early 2017, I vividly remember my article on “9 Amazing Redemption Ideas” being my first-ever post to attract some meaningful attention of any kind.
(And by “meaningful”, I mean that everything else I had written thus far had seen about two or three visitors if I was lucky, and then suddenly I was putting up crazy numbers with about 50 people on the website reading my hot takes on the best ways to redeem points.)
Looking back on that article now, many of those redemption ideas remain very much valid and worthwhile. Sure, the ones that are modelled after the three-stop Aeroplan Mini-RTW (such as #3, #4, #5, #6, and #9) will need to be tweaked to account for the September 2019 Aeroplan rule change, but things like #2 (visiting the Canadian North with Aeroplan), or #7 and #8 (one-way trips with a stopover on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, respectively, using Alaska miles) remain on the table as some of the highest-value ways you can redeem your miles.
Since then, however, I’ve spent a lot more time dreaming up even more such possibilities for clever ways to book award trips, and in this sequel post to the original, I’ll share with you 9 more amazing redemption ideas that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest in terms of value. Like before, we’ll divide things up into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, so that we can get comfortable with a few “easy” sweet spots before delving into the more byzantine stuff.
Shall we begin?
1. Short-Haul Flights in Atlantic Canada
I covered the Aeroplan short-haul sweet spot in a recent video, which allows you to redeem only 15,000 Aeroplan miles for a round-trip on Air Canada flights, including a stopover along the way, within certain zonal groupings designated as “short-haul”.
One of the best manifestations of this sweet spot is for exploring Atlantic Canada – a place where the cost of travel tends to be disproportionately expensive – where all four Atlantic provinces are grouped in a single short-haul region along with Quebec, and you can also “nest” a trip within a larger trip in order to see even more of the region at a generous price point.
Cost: 15,000 Aeroplan miles + $150 in taxes and fees
Notes: If you’re coming from anywhere else in North America, redeeming 25,000 miles for a trip to the Atlantic provinces is still a very good deal, especially if you take advantage of the free stopover to check out, say, Halifax and St. John’s in one go.
This sweet spot is especially rewarding for those based in Montreal looking to take cheap and easy weekend trips, and if you live close enough to Montreal – like Ottawa, for example – then it could be well worth the drive over to catch your short-haul flight.
2. Off-Peak Aer Lingus with Avios
Because of its unique distance-based award chart and the finicky availability situation on many Oneworld airlines, British Airways Avios will work a lot better for you if you can tailor your travel patterns to its specific sweet spots, rather than the other way around.
One of the best such sweet spots lies in redeeming Avios on Aer Lingus, in particular from the East Coast of North America. The Toronto–Dublin route sees generous award availability in economy and business, both of which can be booked at very compelling one-way price points of 13,000 Avios or 50,000 Avios, respectively.
Cost: 13,000 Avios + $150 in taxes and fees (economy class); 50,000 Avios + $150 in taxes and fees (business class)
Availability: Very good
Notes: Make sure you check the Aer Lingus peak/off-peak calendar, since the above prices are only valid on off-peak dates. On peak dates, you’d pay 20,000 Avios in economy (which is still good, just not quite as good) or 60,000 Avios in business (which is probably less compelling than redeeming Aeroplan miles to Europe, but could still be justifiable for the convenience of a direct flight).
This sweet spot is obviously ideal for those based in Toronto – if you live anywhere else, you’d need to find your own way to an Aer Lingus gateway airport first, and the Avios program regrettably doesn’t make it very easy to do that.
Finally, you can’t book these awards online, since Aer Lingus doesn’t show up in the British Airways Avios search engine. You’ll need to use either ExpertFlyer or United.com (another partner airline of Aer Lingus’s) to search for space, before calling British Airways to book over the phone.
3. Hidden-City to North Africa & Middle East
Here’s a fun one to get you started on thinking outside-the-box when it comes to creative ways to redeem your miles. If you head to the Aeroplan Reward Chart, you’ll see that a one-way flight in business class between North America and the Middle East & North Africa – including places like Morocco, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan – will cost you 82,500 Aeroplan miles.
Or will it? Simply tack on a flight to a European destination at the end – Istanbul is a popular choice due to its proximity to the region – and you’ll only pay 55,000 or 57,500 miles, even if you simply get off at your Middle East or North African destination with no intention of taking the last flight. As long as the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) works, you’re golden!
Cost: 55,000–57,500 Aeroplan miles; taxes and fees will vary, but can be kept to $100–150 by choosing the right airlines
Notes: This works best for places in North Africa and the Levant; if you want to visit the Gulf countries, then the MPMs might be a little tight for you to double-back into the Europe 2 zone.
Also, it’s always best not to check any bags on hidden-city itineraries; if you must check bags, it’s probably best to schedule your throwaway segment for the next day so that there’s at least a coherent story for why you’d need to pick up your bags at the intermediate point for your “overnight layover”.
4. Qsuites with Asia Miles
Qatar Airways Qsuites is widely considered to be the best business class product in the world, and I’d say that the best way for Canadians to redeem miles for Qsuites would be via Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, which are especially easy to come by thanks to Amex MR transfers and RBC product switching.
In theory, you could redeem Asia Miles on any two of Qatar Airways’s routes with a stopover in Doha in-between. However, Qatar Airways imposes $500+ fuel surcharges on these redemptions, so the way to avoid those is to start your journey somewhere that has fuel surcharge regulations like Japan, Hong Kong, or Australia, and then fly from there to Doha, and then back to Montreal (the airline’s only Canadian destination).
Cost: 90,000 Asia Miles + $100 in taxes and fees
Availability: Limited; you’ll want to book far in advance for best results, especially on the Qsuites flights between Doha and North America
Notes: To avoid surcharges, you could use this opportunity as the return portion of a larger trip to Asia or Australia, while booking the outbound portion with a different mileage currency. Or, if you’re good with paying the surcharges, then a redemption like Montreal–Doha–Sydney is a very stylish way to fly 15,000+ miles as well!
5. Singapore Business Class with Alaska Miles
Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines get all the attention from Alaska Mileage Plan users due to their extremely low award redemption rates, although the new Singapore Airlines is worth paying attention to as well.
After all, Alaska’s partnership with Singapore is unique in giving them access to large swathes of premium transpacific availability, giving Canadians a way to redeem miles for Singapore Airlines business class across the Pacific without having to jump through the hoops associated with getting US credit cards.
The challenge here is that the redemption rates on Singapore Airlines is quite high: the most reasonable price point is probably the 80,000 Alaska miles for North America to North Asia, on the Los Angeles–Tokyo route.
Cost: 80,000 Alaska miles + $20 in taxes and fees
Notes: Yes, it would probably still be a better deal to snag Cathay or JAL First Class seats for only 70,000 miles, but those awards are quite tough to find compared to the extremely plentiful Singapore business class awards throughout the schedule. Also, as with all Alaska awards, you may or may not need to book separate positioning flights depending on where you’re starting from.
6. Aeroplan Mini-RTW, with Avios on the Side
The Aeroplan Mini-RTW may have been whittled down to just two stops instead of three, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still incredible value to be extracted from it. By combining, say, a Mini-RTW hitting up two places in Europe and Asia with a series of short-haul flights on British Airways Avios, you’re still getting to see a whole range of destinations at a spectacular discount.
For example, you could book a Mini-RTW with stops in Madrid and Kuala Lumpur, and then sprinkle in a few short-haul hops like Madrid–Frankfurt–Helsinki–Madrid (on Iberia and Finnair) as well as Kuala Lumpur–Bangkok–Hong Kong–Kuala Lumpur (on Malaysian Airlines and Cathay Pacific), all for 6,000–11,000 Avios per segment. Throw in a few 24-hour layovers on the main Aeroplan booking and you’ve got a nicely jazzed-up itinerary on your hands.
Cost: 150,000–155,000 Aeroplan miles (in business class for the main flights) + 6,000–11,000 Avios per segment (in economy class); taxes and fees will vary, but can be kept to $100–150 by choosing the right airlines
Availability: Limited; you’ll want to book far in advance for the widest selection of flights, particularly for the main Aeroplan booking
Notes: There are really endless possibilities here, although keep in mind that Avios side-trips only work on Oneworld partner airlines, so some parts of the world where this will work particularly well might include Europe (British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Finnair), South East Asia (Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific), Japan (Japan Airlines), and Australia (Qantas). It won’t really work in Africa, for example, because Oneworld doesn’t have any African members, at least until Royal Air Maroc joins in 2020.
7. Almost-Around-the-World with Cathay Pacific
Starting in Toronto or Vancouver, fly Cathay Pacific business class to Hong Kong, have a stopover there for as long as you’d like, and then continue all the way to somewhere in Europe, like London, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris, Zurich, or Manchester, all for just 85,000 Asia Miles.
Combine with one of the many transatlantic sweet spots (like #2 above) for best results, effectively making it a round-the-world journey.
You could also elevate the experience to First Class for 125,000 Asia Miles, although you’d have to make sure you choose routes where Cathay operates First Class (which means Toronto is off the table, as is Vancouver next year when it loses its First Class services).
Cost: 85,000 Asia Miles (business class) or 125,000 Asia Miles (First Class) + $300 in taxes and fees
Availability: Limited, although the Cathay Pacific award space via Asia Miles is much more generous than what’s given to other partner programs, so you should be able to find something that works for you with a few days’ flexibility
Notes: This combines nicely with using Avios to book nested side-trips on Cathay Pacific during your Hong Kong stopover to get to where you actually want to go in Asia. Furthermore, both programs are 1:1 transfer partners from RBC Avion with frequent transfer bonuses, so this could be a way for those of you who have been exclusively collecting large stashes of RBC points to recreate the Aeroplan “style” of round-the-world travel.
8. The Avios Multi-Carrier Round-the-World
See this post for everything you need to know. Essentially, besides the distance-based one-way redemption chart that we’re all familiar with, British Airways Avios also has a “hidden” award chart that’s only used when two or more Oneworld partners are combined on the same redemption.
These redemptions allow stopovers at every single intermediate point, so that’s already very good value; however, the real payoff here is that the class of service of the ticket also seems to be calculated in a very peculiar way. 😉
I’ll leave it to you to see what kind of crafty itineraries you can put together.
Cost: Up to 160,000 Avios in “economy class”; taxes and fees will vary, and will likely be in the range of $800–1,000 unless you originate in a country that has fuel surcharge regulations
Availability: Varies depending on the segments; book far in advance for best results, especially on First Class flights
Notes: You can expect British Airways phone agents to be rather confused by this award chart; some might not even know that it exists in the first place. Moreover, the ticketing process for complex itineraries seems to be quite an involved affair, with multiple reports of the phone agent having to calculate the taxes with a different department and call you back the next day to finalize the booking.
9. The “Frankenstein” Round-the-World
There are tons of niche sweet spots out there, which are allowed to remain as sweet as they are only because of how niche they are. So if you have the flexibility, why not have a little fun with them?
Here’s one example: take the sweet spot of redeeming 50,000 Avios for business class on Aer Lingus’s Toronto–Dublin route, throw in the very generous Etihad Guest sweet spot of redeeming 25,600 miles for Prague–Seoul on Czech Airways business class, and then combine all that with the Alaska Airlines sweet spot of 50,000 miles for Cathay Pacific transpacific business class with a stopover in Hong Kong.
(Oh, and I don’t know, book a Ryanair flight to get from Dublin to Prague or something.)
Altogether, you’ve now circumnavigated the world in business class for 125,600 miles in business class, visiting four cities along the way at once. Not too shabby when you compare it to the more “standard” Aeroplan Mini-RTW at 150,000 miles, is it?
Cost: It’ll depend on which specific sweet spots you choose, but the lower, the better!
Availability: Again, varies depending on the segments, but the rule of thumb is always to book as early as possible
Notes: While these “Frankenstein” business class round-the-world trips sound nice on paper, it’ll take a lot of careful planning in terms of earning and transferring points, as well as plenty of flexibility in your schedule, to make these types of trips happen. More power to you if you can pull it off, though!
Understanding the prevailing redemption sweet spots and how they can be tailored towards your travel goals is an essential part of any Miles & Points strategy, and as we’ve summarized here, there’s a huge range of exciting opportunities available for the taking at the moment – no matter whether you’re looking for weekend trips to nearby places, a straightforward set of flights to Europe or Asia, or a multi-stop round-the-world trip in the mold of the Aeroplan Mini-RTW.
I look forward to writing “9 Even More Amazing Redemption Ideas” sometime in 2021 – I’m sure plenty of new ones will have sprung up by then!