International business class award hidden gems

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The best use of airline miles, in my opinion, is for international business or first-class awards. These flights typically offer lie-flat seats, direct aisle access, premium food and drinks, airport lounge access, and much better service than in economy. Sometimes, though, those awards can be very hard to find at reasonable prices. Luckily there are a number of “hidden gems”. These are airlines or routes that often have good availability, but you might not have thought to look at them when searching for award flights. Nick and I covered this topic on our podcast (Where to find hidden award flights | Frequent Miler on the Air Ep246), but I thought it would be useful to have this in post form as well.

When reviewing the following sections, keep in mind that routes may be useful even if they don’t start or end exactly where you want. You can always separately book cheap positioning flights to complete the picture.

Singapore Airlines business class to Europe or Asia

a seat with a pillow and armrests
See Tim’s review of Singapore Airlines 777-300ER Business Class between JFK and Frankfurt, Germany

For some weird reason, Air Canada Aeroplan often has better access to Singapore Airlines’ saver award space than Singapore Airlines itself. I made use of this recently when I wanted to book a mid-summer flight to Europe and couldn’t find anything good until I looked specifically at JFK to Frankfurt. There I found Singapore business class bookable through Air Canada (I separately booked positioning flights to get to JFK and from Frankfurt to my final destination since Air Canada didn’t have access to these positioning flights). Out of curiosity I checked Singapore’s own website before booking through Air Canada and found that the flights could only be waitlisted through Singapore rather than booked immediately.

To find this hidden gem, search for awards on Air Canada’s website, or use one of several award search tools that support Air Canada Aeroplan searches.

Singapore Airlines offers these routes from North America:

  • Houston (IAH) to Manchester, UK (MAN)
  • New York (JFK) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
  • Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Singapore (SIN)
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN)
  • Seattle (SEA) to Singapore (SIN)

You can transfer points to Air Canada Aeroplan from the following points programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Wells Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)

JetBlue Mint to Europe or the Caribbean

a seat in a plane

JetBlue’s highly regarded Mint business class can be booked with Qatar Avios, and availability is often very good. Expect to pay around 78,000 Avios one-way between US and Europe.

To find award space, use Matrix.itasoftware.com, set routing code to JetBlue: C:B6, and filter to Mint class by setting extension code to: F BC=I. Details can be found here: How to find and book JetBlue Mint flights to the Caribbean using Qatar Avios (even though the linked post is about flying to the Caribbean, the technique works for finding flights to Europe too).

JetBlue flies to these European destinations from Boston and JFK:

  • Amsterdam
  • Dublin
  • London
  • Paris
  • Edinburgh (JFK only)

You can transfer points to Qatar Avios from the following points programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Wells Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Qatar Privilege Club Avios1 to 1 (Unknown)1 to 1 via BA (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 via BA (Unknown)1 to 1 via BA (~5 Minutes)1 to 1 via BA (Unknown)

Hawaiian Airlines to Asia or Oceana

a seat in a plane

Hawaiian Airlines offers flights to a number of destinations in Asia and Oceana, and award availability is often very good. Flights can be booked with Hawaiian Airlines’ own miles or with partner miles (including American Airlines and JetBlue).

Hawaiian Airlines flies from Honolulu to these international destinations:

  • Asia
    • Fukuoka (FUK)
    • Osaka (KIX)
    • Seoul (ICN)
    • Tokyo (HND, NRT)
  • Oceana
    • Auckland (AKL)
    • Pago Pago [American Samoa] (PPG)
    • Rarotonga Island [Cook Islands] (RAR)
    • Sydney (SYD)
    • Tahiti (PPT)

You can transfer points to Hawiian, AA, and JetBlue from the following points programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Wells Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
American AAdvantage1 to 1
(Ends June) (~ 1 Day)
Hawaiian Miles1 to 1 plus excise tax (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)
JetBlue250 to 200 plus excise tax (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)

Emirates to Europe

inside a plane with seats and a few other seats

Emirates sometimes has fantastic premium cabin award space for its own flights, but availability ebbs and flows. If your heart is set on flying first class, you can book business class and upgrade with points at the airport as long as any first-class seats remain unsold.

In addition to their many flights to/from Dubai, Emirates offers the following flights from North America:

  • Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH)
  • New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP)
  • Miami (MIA) to Bogotá (BOG).

These flights are best booked with Emirates miles. You can easily find awards with Seats.Aero’s Explore feature (see: Seats.aero — a wonderfully nerdy tool for finding Unicorn flight awards).

You can transfer points to Emirates from the following points programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Wells Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Emirates Skywards1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~5 Minutes)

EVA to Asia

EVA Air Hello Kitty airplane

EVA Air’s business class is highly touted for its excellent service and catering. Even better, they offer excellent award space for members of their own program.

EVA offers these routes from North America to Taipei (TPE):

  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York City (JFK)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Seattle (SEA) to Taipei (TPE)
  • Toronto (YYZ)
  • Vancouver (YVR)

To find award space, you can search directly on EVA’s website or with the tools Point.me or AwardLogic (details about those tools and others can be found here).

You can transfer points to EVA from the following points programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Wells Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands1 to 1 (~2 days)1000 to 750 (~1 day)
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16 Comments
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Andrew

Good tips! I forget about the Emirates fifth freedom flights as they don’t tend to get mentioned as much as Singapore’s JFK -> FRA route. Higher point redemption too which is probably why, but not a bad option if the alternative is 300,000 FB or United miles.

rich

Maybe I missed something but how is Bogota in Europe?
Would have been nice to list points required.

Ben

I consider gem based on price, more than availability. In the past I frequently snagged 5k miles cross Atlantic at a comfi business class for around 40k-55k.
This becomes very difficult to get great deals. I recently bought a business class ticket LIS-IST-KTM for 30k plus few Euro. But this is the outlier. Most long trip jump above 70k or more. Sometimes I’ll buy premium class because I don’t feel that business class justify it’s points price tag.

Mike

Citi to EVA is not Instant its like 3 days.

Scott

Great post @Greg the frequent miler . One thing is that the transfer time for EVA from Citi TY is listed as instant when it’s anything but. I’ve heard 2 biz days(taiwan time).

Christian

Did you check Alaska for Condor space JFK-FRA? I just looked and there’s about 5 available dates in the first half of July for 55K miles.

Andrew

It’s a shame the price jumped up for Condor with Alaska on the West Coast routes.

Christian

Big time. The east coast to Bali in first tripled so there were a number of gruesome devaluations in the new charts from plenty of places.

Phil h

I’ve gotten some business class flights all the way to my destination before, but looking at doing some positioning flight options this time around. How inconvenient is it to book a flight to London and then from London to a different country? Will I have to go through customs get my baggage and recheck everything in again? Will I have to “enter the country” to do all this?

WarmBread

Yes you will have to enter the country, go through customer and immigration before you can check for your next flight

Kyle

LHR is the most inconvenient airport in the world for connections.

Axel

As US passport holder you can use the e-gates for immigration which is super fast.
Depending what airline operates your separate connection flight, you might have to switch terminals which involves train ride plus a lot of walking.
So pay attention to the terminal and try booking to leave from same terminal.

Anita

LHR has the highest fees for premium awards.

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