Category

Sky Team

The Benefits Of Point Based Systems Like Ultimate Rewards & SPG

If you have been following the Blog or following me on Twitter, you are aware of the struggles I had trying to find a cheap One Way ticket from LAX to SEA.

I will spare everyone my soapbox rant about how ridiculous it is that some One Way fares cost almost if not more than a Round Trip Ticket, for another day.

First, I used ViewFromTheWing’s advice and tried looking for Hidden City Ticketing.

However since Seattle is so close to the Canadian Boarder, most of the cities that used Seattle as a Hidden City were in Canada, so I wasn’t able to find anything that was cheap.

With only 2 or so weeks until departure, I was starting to think that I might just have to suck it up and drop $250 on a One Way ticket.

I did one last search of Saver Availability on United, AA, and Delta (who wanted at a minimum 60k SkyMiles for a One Way that should cost 12.5k), and came up empty handed.

While doing a final Fare Search on Kayak.com, I saw they had listed Southwest in the sidebar but didn’t publish the fare, so I thought what the hell, maybe they have a cheap $100 One Way fare.

Unfortunately Southwest’s prices were in line with everyone else’s.

However Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Program is “neat” in that they used a fixed formula to determine how many “Rapid Reward Points” it will take for a free flight.

Whereas United, AA, and Delta have a fixed redemption Award Chart, meaning that the cheapest One Way ticket in the U.S will be 12,500 Miles regardless if the actual fare costs $25 or $25,000.

Typically, the fixed redemption Award Chart is better for Customers since most flights these days cost way more than the value of the miles.

For Southwest’s “Wanna Get Away” Fares, the formula to determine the amount of RR Points needed is the Base Fare (not including Excise Tax) X 60 Points Per $1 = Rapid Rewards Points Needed

So my base fare (not including the mandatory Excise Tax) was $170 X 60 Points Per $1 = 10,200 Rapid Rewards Points Needed.

I of course don’t fly Southwest so I didn’t have 10,200 RR Points laying around. I only had 520 Points from some free promos I had taken advantage of.

Normally this would be a HUGE issue and I would have just had to shell out the $250 for a One Way but because I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred I was in luck.

Southwest of course is a Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partner, so I simply logged into Ultimate Rewards and transferred over 10,000 Ultimate Rewards Points to Southwest Rapid Rewards Points at a 1:1 ratio.

The best part of this is that even if had I been able to find any Saver Award availability on United, AA, or Delta, it would have cost me at a minimum 12,500 miles.

So although I did have to shell out 10,000 Ultimate Rewards Points, I figure I still came out ahead because I was planning on spending 12,500 miles anyways!

The Point Of This Story

When I write about the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase INK Bold, and SPG AMEX, I consistently talk about the HUGE benefit of flexibility in these programs.

This is because they earn “Points” which can be transferred to Airline Frequent Flyer Accounts or Hotel Points typically at a 1:1 Ratio.

For those that are new, please do not confuse the above 3 Cards & their “Point” systems with any point earning Cards from Capital One, Citi, Bank of America, etc because they are not the same thing.

Cards from those issuers allow you to earn points but those points CANNOT be transferred to any Airlines at a 1:1 ratio and typically have a fixed value. Therefore they are not very valuable programs and you should avoid using or signing up for any of those Cards.

The best part about earning “Points” via Ultimate Rewards, SPG, or AMEX Membership Points, is that you can keep your Points in your central account until you need to transfer them.

No one really talks about this because it isn’t very sexy.

However this flexibility is HUGELY UNDER RATED.

While Chase’s Ultimate Rewards came to the rescue today with Southwest Points, Ultimate Rewards really has only 2 main Airline Transfer Partners, United and British Airways (which you can use for free flights on AA in the US).

However Starwood Preferred Guest is really where the flexibility is at, as they allows you to transfer to over 31 different Airline Partners.

Via Starwood’s SPG program, for domestic flights you can transfer your Starpoints at a 1 : 1.25 ratio to American Airlines, Delta, US Airways, British Airways (to use for AA domestic flights), and at a 2 : 1.25 ratio for United! 

Unfortunately Southwest apparently did not make the cut with SPG.

Similarly for International Flights such as to Europe, with SPG you have the ability to transfer to a minimum of 12 Airline Partners.

These 12 Airline Partners include AA, US Airways, United, Delta, British Airways, Air France, KLM, Iberia, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Air Berlin, or Air Canada. 

That list of 12 Airline Partners does not even include any Asian (Singapore, etc) or Middle Eastern (Etihad, Qatar, Emirates, etc) Carriers that fly from the U.S with connections in Europe.

The great thing about having all 12 of those Airline Partners as transfer options is that it covers every single Airline Alliance (Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam).

Therefore if you are flying to Europe, you should be able to find at least 1 Airline of those 12 Transfer Partners that has availability.

Last week, I just booked myself an Award Ticket to Europe (more on that booking process later this week), and I can attest to what a pain in the butt it can be having only 1 Airline Currency (United Miles in my case) at your disposal.

In my case, since there was no availability for my dates, I had to painstakingly piece together each leg separately and ended up with a flight to Europe that has 4 connections going each way.

So 8 plane changes total for an Award Flight that could easily have been just 2 or 3 connections total if I simply had more Airline Partner transfer options!

The worst part is that I don’t even earn any miles for all those stops : (

Recap

Basically, the point of this post is to remind people to not over look the benefits of the flexibility Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, AMEX’s Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest programs bring to the table.

As you saw with my last minute Southwest hail mary, transfer flexibility can really get you out of a bind!

If you think about it, just by having 1 Chase Card that participates in Ultimate Rewards and also an SPG AMEX, you have the ability to transfer at a 1:1 ratio into almost any Airline Frequent Flyer program in the world.

That is pretty cool!

-Parag

Understanding Airline Alliances & Partners

Reader Question

Your Name: Vladimir S.
Subject: Combine US Airways Points with United Points
Message:

Hi Parag,

I love your website and I am glad that you constantly update it.  I am a long time reader and I can gladly say it has helped me out a lot since I travel for work 90% of the time.

In regards to my question, I was wondering if I could combine my US Airways points (I have about 10,000) with my United miles, since they use the same partner.

Thank you,

Vlad

Answer

While on the surface this question is fairly easy to answer, Vlad’s question touches on a semi confusing part of Frequent Flyer Programs that I suspect many Beginners may not fully understand.

First though to answer Vlad’s question, you cannot combine or transfer US Airway miles into or with United miles or really any other Airline.

The same thing is true with almost all other Frequent Flyer programs including Delta, American, Southwest, etc.

Basically, there is no easy way to move miles between different programs for free.

While there are sites like Points.com which allow you to move miles, because they charge a fee, it is often cheaper just to buy a ticket outright than to transfer the miles via Points.com.

This is really why Credit Cards are the best way to go about earning miles, because in one application you can have enough miles in your account to take a free trip, instead of trying to combine miles from different accounts.

That being said, I suspect the reason that Vlad asked the question in the first place is because he saw that US Airways and United are Star Alliance Partners and thought because they are “Partners” that you can move miles between the 2 Frequent Flyer Programs.

What Exactly Is An Airline Alliance / Partner?

An Airline Alliance is essentially a partnership of Airlines that allows Customers to fly, earn, and redeem miles with all the different Partner airlines.

The reason Airline Alliances primarily exist is so that 1 Airline does not have to fly everywhere in the world.

For example, if a passenger wants to fly from the United States to Stuttgart, Germany, it doesn’t make sense financially for US Airways to operate a direct flight from the United States to Stuttgart, since there isn’t enough passenger demand for that route to be profitable.

Instead, US Airways (or United) will fly you Frankfurt or any of the big German cities where US Airways already flies, and then their Star Alliance Partner, Lufthansa, will take over and fly you from Frankfurt to Stuttgart on one of their smaller regional planes.

Same thing if someone from Germany wants to visit say Peoria, Illinois.

Lufthansa will fly them to Chicago and then their Star Alliance Partner, United Airlines, will fly a smaller regional jet down to Peoria.

Worldwide Alliances

In terms of Passengers and Airline Partners, Star Alliance is the largest, however there are 2 other major Airlines Alliance called SkyTeam and OneWorld.

Below are all 3 of the major Airline Alliances and a few of their major Airline Partners. If you are interested in seeing a full list of each Airline Alliance’s Partners, please click on their respective links.

Star Alliance

  • United
  • US Airways
  • Lufthansa
  • SWISS
  • Air Canada
  • Singapore
  • Turkish
  • Thai

OneWorld Alliance

  • American Airline
  • British Airways
  • Qantas
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Iberia
  • LAN

SkyTeam

  • Delta
  • Air France
  • KLM

Benefits To Customers

For Customers, the beauty of these Airline Alliances are that when you book a ticket, you can book a single ticket straight from United States to Stuttgart, Germany, and the Airline Alliance will take care of the logistics.

You don’t have to book 1 ticket to Frankfurt on United and then book an entirely different ticket on Lufthansa to get to Stuttgart.

In terms of Frequent Flyer Miles, Airline Alliances greatly benefit Customers because you can earn and redeem miles in your preferred Frequent Flyer Program even if you aren’t flying on that particular airline.

So for example, if you were flying to Stuttgart, Germany and your main Frequent Flyer program is US Airways, even though the Frankfurt – Stuttgart leg of the flight is operated by Lufthansa, you can still credit those miles to US Airways or any of the Star Alliance Airline Partners.

Similarly when you redeem your miles, you can redeem your miles on the various Alliance Partners, as long as they are part of the same Airline Alliance.

As you can see above, you can redeem your United miles for a flight on Lufthansa, because they are part of the same Star Alliance with Lufthansa.

You could not redeem your United miles on American Airlines, Delta, or British Airways, etc, because those Airlines are all part of a completely separate Airline Alliance.

To sum it up in layman’s terms:

You cannot transfer miles between various Airline Frequent Flyer Programs, however if the Airline is a Partner in an Alliance, then you can fly, earn, and redeem miles with those Partner Airlines.

Hopefully that answers Vlad’s question and gives some insight to other Beginners on how Airline Alliances and Partnerships work.

If you have any other questions about anything travel related, as always, you can email me at FrequentFlyerUniversity@gmail.com

-Parag