August 17, 2022

I think people spend too much time focused on the past, at least when using selective memory. It’s like when people talk about “the good old days of flying,” when service was good, people dressed up to fly, etc.

What they selectively forget is that flying is a fraction of the price it used to be, and that in many ways getting on a plane isn’t that different than getting on a bus. The way I see it, it’s a net positive that flying has become so accessible. Similarly, while some elements of flying are less luxurious than in the past, that’s not the case across the board — there weren’t showers on planes 30 years ago.

The same concept is probably true when redeeming miles. My goal with this post isn’t to say that “the good old days” of award redemptions are behind us (there are still many amazing award sweet spots), but rather to look at some of the award redemption possibilities from past years that I miss.

I’ll share these roughly in chronological order of when they were pulled, and I’m curious how many OMAAT readers remember these deals. For those who have been around miles & points for a long time, I hope you’ll share any deals that come to mind as well. Here we go…

Aeroplan first class awards from the US to Asia for 120,000 miles

Air Canada’s Aeroplan frequent flyer program used to offer the best premium cabin redemption rates of any program out there, in my opinion. For 120,000 miles you could fly roundtrip from the US to Asia with no fuel surcharges. Best of all, you could have two stopovers in addition to your destination, and you could route via Europe.

San Francisco to Munich to Zurich to Bangkok to Hong Kong to Seoul to Frankfurt to Seattle for 120,000 miles in first class with no carrier imposed surcharges? Yes please.

In 2011 Aeroplan devalued its award chart, and shortly thereafter Aeroplan also added carrier imposed surcharges on most partners. The Aeroplan program has been completely reinvented since then, and still has some great award redemption opportunities.

Lufthansa opening 4-8 first class award seats in advance

Lufthansa used to be one of the most generous airlines in the world when it came to releasing first class award space, even in advance. That’s because Lufthansa used to have Boeing 747-400s with 16 first class seats, so it was perfectly normal to see four to eight first class award seats in advance. It was actually one of the easiest first class products to book with miles.

Then in 2011 Lufthansa shrank the size of its first class cabin, and the 747-400 went from having 16 first class seats to having eight first class seats. That caused a huge reduction in the amount of first class award space, and then shortly after that Lufthansa implemented a policy where the airline would only release first class awards to partner frequent flyer programs at most 15 days before departure.

Lufthansa first class Airbus A330 (back in the day)

Earning British Midland Diamond Club miles for award flights

British Midland (bmi) is my favorite airline that I almost never flew. The airline had one of the best frequent flyer programs in history, though unfortunately British Midland was eventually taken over by British Airways.

Not only did bmi make it super easy to qualify for Star Alliance Gold status, but the airline was known to credit miles for award flights. As if that’s not cool enough, Diamond Club had among the most lucrative mileage earning rates of any program — under some circumstances, Lufthansa first class tickets would earn 600%+ miles. You could basically earn back as many miles as you redeemed.

Unfortunately the British Midland Diamond Club program was discontinued in 2012. I can’t imagine why. 😉

Oneworld Explorer awards with wild rules

American AAdvantage used to offer oneworld Explorer awards, which were distance based rather than zone based, and allowed unlimited stopovers. American ended up discontinuing them in 2014 (with no notice), though at that point they weren’t even as useful as they were originally.

Back in the day — a couple of years before they were discontinued — the Explorer award cost was based on where you chose to have stopovers, rather than the cumulative distance you flew. Traveling continuously from Tampa to Chicago to Hong Kong to Sydney to Los Angeles to Miami without any stopovers? Well you’re just going from Tampa to Miami — you’ll be charged based on your ~200 mile flight from Tampa to Miami. Yes, that’s actually how this was enforced.

Obviously that was too good to last.

Being able to book SWISS first class with partner airline miles

SWISS used to be one of the airlines that made first class so readily available to anyone redeeming miles. I remember that back in the day when SWISS’ A330s had eight first class seats, I’d often see flights with six to eight first class award seats. Being able to redeem US Airways miles for those flights was a heck of a deal.

Unfortunately as of 2014, SWISS went from one extreme to the other. SWISS went from making first class awards wide open for members of partner programs, to restricting them exclusively to Miles & More Senator members and above, meaning that first class awards are off limits for most of us.

There have been some limited opportunities to redeem partner miles for SWISS first class since then, but that was generally when there were glitches.

SWISS first class Boeing 777

Star Alliance first class from the US to Asia via Europe for 70,000 United miles

In 2014, United MileagePlus devalued its award chart. While this wasn’t quite as good of a value as some of the above redemptions, using 70,000 miles for something like Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Bangkok in first class was tough to beat.

Thai Airways first class Boeing 747

US Airways business class awards from the US to North Asia for 90,000 miles

I sure do miss US Airways Dividend Miles, and specifically, the ability to redeem just 90,000 miles for roundtrip business class from the United States to North Asia. The best part was that you could route through Europe. The even better part was that Dividend Miles agents were geographically challenged, so you could get away with even more than that. Is Madrid in Spain or Argentina? Frankfurt is really in Kentucky, right? 😉

I have so many amazing memories of Dividend Miles redemptions, like New York to Warsaw to Zurich to Beijing to Addis Ababa to Frankfurt to Washington. I don’t think there’s an award I’ve ever booked more of than this one. Given that US Airways used to sell miles for 1.1 cents each, you could basically book these for $1,000 each. Not a bad deal.

This award redemption was discontinued in 2014.

Ethiopian Airlines business class Boeing 787

Domestic US awards via Europe on Lufthansa

Back in the day, LifeMiles’ website would let you book domestic first class awards within the United States on Lufthansa. But wait a second, Lufthansa doesn’t operate flights within the US. That’s correct, so you could do something like Los Angeles to Frankfurt to San Francisco for 25,000 miles in first class, the same price you’d pay for flying United first class from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

There are still many great uses of Avianca LifeMiles, but nothing like this.

Lufthansa first class Boeing 747-400 (back in the day)

25,000 British Airways Avios for transatlantic business class on Aer Lingus

Sometimes distance based award charts work in our favor, and other times they don’t. With British Airways’ old award chart, the program charged just 12,500 miles for economy or 25,000 miles for business class on flights of up to 3,000 miles one-way. As luck would have it, Boston to Dublin covered a distance of ~2,990 miles.

Flying across the Atlantic for the price of a domestic ticket was a steal. Unfortunately British Airways devalued its award chart in 2015, and at this point that award will cost you 13,000-20,000 Avios in economy or 50,000-60,000 Avios in business class.

Aer Lingus Airbus A330

Cathay Pacific first class for 67,500 American miles (with two seats in advance)

Up until 2016, American charged just 67,500 miles for first class between the United States and Asia in Cathay Pacific first class.

But what I’m really looking back longingly on is when Cathay Pacific used to make two first class award seats available in advance. Now that was awesome. Unfortunately for the past several years Cathy Pacific generally only releases one first class award seat in advance, making it more challenging to book this as a couple.

In terms of redemption rates, Alaska Mileage Plan continues to offer great value when redeeming on Cathay Pacific.

Cathay Pacific first class Boeing 777

Bottom line

There’s no denying that over the years airline award redemption rates have been devalued, and many sweet spots have been discontinued. At the same time, miles are easier to earn than ever before, and there are still some amazing sweet spot opportunities out there.

Nonetheless I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the best award values over the years. There are many more I can think of, but the above are some of my favorites, and sure bring back some fond memories.

Anyone have exprience with any of the above, or have any other great deals from back in the day to share?

See also  The 8 Best Airline Award Ticket Sweet Spots