While the concept of formal alliances is only a little over a decade old, airline partnerships have existed for a very long time. I’d argue that as a consumer, the three major alliances are probably the best thing to happen to the industry in the past decade. But there are still some great award redemptions out there that don’t involve redeeming with an airline’s formal alliance. And these redemptions can often land you on airlines that you couldn’t otherwise redeem miles for, since they’re often not part of formal alliances.
While I’ve discussed many of these at one point or another and several other bloggers have covered them as well, I don’t think I’ve seen a single consolidated list of the best redemptions (admittedly a bit subjective). So here are some of the best non-alliance redemptions in my book (in no particular order):
Using ANA miles for Virgin Atlantic. You can redeem ANA miles on Virgin Atlantic at the same rate you’d pay for redeeming on any of their other partners. The award availability is identical to what’s available to Flying Club members directly. This also presents the single best transatlantic award travel bargain. ANA’s award chart is distance based, and since New York to London is under 7,000 miles roundtrip, it costs only 63,000 miles to fly Upper Class on the route. Keep in mind that ANA is transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood, so their points aren’t that hard to come by.
Using Continental miles for Virgin Atlantic. While the deal typically won’t be quite as good as booking through ANA, there are a few advantages. Continental allows you to combine Star Alliance partners and Virgin Atlantic flights on a single award, so the ability to mix and match is pretty nice. Furthermore, Continental doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic redemptions, while ANA does.
Using ANA miles for Qatar. Qatar is one of those airlines that has very few partners for those with miles in a North American frequent flyer program, so the ability to redeem through ANA is quite nice. ANA bills awards on Qatar the same as on any other partner, so a roundtrip business class award from Washington to Doha is 90,000 miles. While availability isn’t great, I’ve managed to find seats with a bit of searching.
Using American miles for Air Tahiti Nui. While they don’t seem to be the world’s best airline, there are very few ways to practically get to Tahiti. Air Tahiti Nui availability can be tough to come by, though isn’t impossible. Finding two seats in the same cabin is tough, as they seem to often release only one first class seat and one business class seat on a flight at a time (though occasionally you’ll see two business class seats). Still, for that special trip, this is the way to get to Tahiti.
Using American miles for Jet Airways. Jet Airways is a great airline and flies nonstop from New York to Brussels. Their business class seats are fully flat herringbone seats (similar to Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, etc.), and they’re the only airline I know of that serves Dom in business class. Availability is usually okay for a single seat, though finding two seats can be tough. Still, I can’t think of many airlines that offer a better business class transatlantic product (ignoring ground services).
Using Delta miles for Jet Airways. All of the above stays the same, and as far as I know, Delta’s access to Jet Airways space is very similar to that of American.
Using Delta miles for Virgin Australia. Awards to Australia are among the toughest out there. And “SkyPesos” are among the most devalued mileage currency out there. Mix the two and what do you get? Surprisingly decent business class award availability. It’s 150,000 miles in business class for flights from the U.S. to Australia, and you can include the domestic connection on Delta as part of the award, assuming “saver” space is available.
Using ANA miles for Etihad. Etihad is regarded as one of the world’s best airlines, so the ability to redeem for their first class product between New York and Abu Dhabi for only 140,000 miles roundtrip seems like a bargain.
Now there are dozens and dozens of other partner award redemptions that are possible, but I feel like these are some of the best. That’s to say that these options can often get you into more comfortable cabins than you’d get sticking to an alliance partner, and often at a better price. The thought of flying Kenya Airways, Air Macau, or GOL, doesn’t really excite me, though maybe they work for your travel plans. So be sure to look at the redemption page for the airline you’re trying to redeem miles with to see a full list of their partners.
For more from Lucky, see his blog at BoardingArea.