Sweet spot awards that I actually use [On Greg’s Mind]

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We frequently post about great deals using points & miles, and we refer to these as “sweet spot awards.”  Some of these are almost unbelievably great.  For example, the ability to book ANA First Class one-way between North America and Japan for 55K or 60K Virgin Atlantic points is an insane deal.  ANA usually charges over $20,000 round-trip for First Class JFK to Tokyo, but it’s possible to book the same flight for only 120,000 Virgin Atlantic points!  That’s insane!  But, it’s also insanely difficult to find the required saver level award space on that route.  So, while that award is fun to talk about, it’s very difficult to make it happen.  I’ve written about it often, but I’ve never booked it.  In this post, rather than write about theoretical sweet spot awards, I’ll dive into sweet spots that I’ve actually booked and expect to book again.

Flights

Short distance flights

This map attempts to show airports that are under 600 miles from Paris CDG (for Air France flights) and from Amsterdam AMS (for KLM flights). Flights to/from these cities cost as few as 4,000 Virgin Atlantic miles in economy or 8,000 in business class.

There are many cases where short non-stop flights are cheaper when booked with partner miles.  With domestic airlines having mostly moved to dynamic pricing, though, sometimes the best deal is to book directly with the airline you want to fly.  As a result, I don’t take advantage of these sweet spots often.  Still, whenever I plan to fly short-distance, I check the following programs to see if partner award pricing is better and available (it is possible to book with partner miles only when the carrier releases saver award space):

  • Check British Airways Avios when flying AA or Alaska. Priced from 7,500 Avios one-way.  I haven’t booked these in many years.
  • Check British Airways Avios when flying One World carriers outside of the U.S.  (Prices vary, but tend to be cheap).  I used BA’s great short-distance pricing to book London to Dublin a few years ago.  Even though low-cost carriers make flights like these really cheap, by using miles we were allowed free carry-on bags and probably other amenities that we would have had to pay extra for if we had booked with a low cost carrier.
  • Check Avianca LifeMiles when flying United. Priced from 6,500 miles one-way.  I recently used this sweet spot to book Newark to Detroit for 6,500 miles plus $15 in taxes.  I don’t remember United’s exact award price at that time, but I think they wanted something like 17,000 miles + $5.60 for the same flight.
  • Check Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and Air France Flying Blue when flying Delta. Priced from 7,500 miles one-way.  I haven’t booked Delta with Virgin Atlantic miles since they moved to a distance based award chart for most Delta flights.
  • Check Virgin Atlantic Flying Club when flying Air France or KLM. Priced from 4,000 miles one-way.  I booked two of these flights recently.  In both cases, I booked business class for only 8,000 miles one-way.  For details about this deal, see: Air France & KLM across Europe for less [Sweet-Spot Spotlight].  In this case I found it very easy to find award availability but hard to book because Virgin Atlantic’s website kept erroring out after I entered my credit card info.  I booked instead by sending direct messages to @VirginAtlantic on Twitter.

How to get the miles: Many credit cards offer great welcome bonuses.  Alternatively, transfer from one of these point programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air France KLM Flying Blue1 to 1 (~10 minutes to 1 day)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (1 to 3 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (~1 day)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)
British Airways Avios1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 via Qatar (1 to 2 days)60K to 25K (~10 hours)1 to 1 (Unknown)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (1 to 2 days)1 to 1 (Unknown)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)

Delta One business class to Europe

Virgin Atlantic miles can be used to book Delta One business class from the United States to Europe for only 50,000 points one way.  This is for all routes other than to/from the UK.  Unfortunately, flights to/from the UK include extremely high award fees.

It’s been a few years since I’ve booked one of these flights.  It seems to be more and more rare for Delta to release Delta One award space to partners.  And, even when they do, it’s very hard to find this award space.  If you try to search Virgin Atlantic’s website for a route that isn’t also served by Virgin Atlantic, Air France, or KLM, you’ll get a message saying that no reward flights are available unless the date you picked happens to be within 3 days of an available date.  Yes, Virgin Atlantic has a month-long calendar, but there’s no way to bring it up unless it first finds some award availability of some sort in the 3 days before or after the date you pick.  For example, I found availability for Detroit to Amsterdam (for 7 adults!) on December 28th, but only after first checking a week at a time by looking at December 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, 20th, and 24th.

How to get the miles: Sign up for the Virgin Atlantic credit card or transfer points from one of these programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (1 to 2 days)1 to 1 (Unknown)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)

Star Alliance business class to Europe without fuel surcharges

Lufthansa Business Class.  It’s not exactly state of the art business class, but at least it offers lie-flat seats.

Lufthansa, Swiss Air Lines, and Brussels Airlines (and probably others) offer lots of saver business class awards between the US and Europe.  That’s great, but if you book with a mileage program that passes along fuel surcharges, the trip won’t be anything close to free.  Luckily a few types of easy to get Star Alliance miles don’t pass along fuel surcharges: Air Canada Aeroplan, Avianca LifeMiles, and United MileagePlus.  Of these, LifeMiles is the hardest to work with, but usually offers the best award pricing.  They usually charge only 63K miles one-way for business classThey’ll charge even less if your route includes a segment or two in economy.  And, they charge less on some magical routes for no known reason (see: Trying to crack the LifeMiles secret code to Europe).

Right before the pandemic, I booked 5 people in business class to Europe and back.  I booked the outbound flights with 70K United miles each because LifeMiles couldn’t see the flights we wanted.  And for the return I booked with LifeMiles for 62,550 miles per person.  Ultimately, of course, I had to cancel the flights due to the pandemic.  The refund from United came right away.  With LifeMiles, I had to wait about 6 months.  Lesson learned: don’t book with LifeMiles unless you’re very sure you’ll take the flight.  This is more true than before now that United no longer charges change fees anytime, and doesn’t charge cancel/redeposit fees when cancelling more than 30 days from departure.  See: Airline Change Fee Quick Reference Chart.

How to get the miles: Chase offers United and Air Canada credit cards. Alternatively, you can transfer points from transferable points programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (4 to 5 days)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (~1 day)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)
United MileagePlus1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 27.5K (2 to 5 days)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)

Qatar Q-Suites to Africa or the Maldives

Qatar’s Q-Suites business class is considered one of the best business class products in the world.  Incredibly, you can book Q-Suites from North America to Doha for as few as 70,000 miles one-way.  Originally that was only possible with American Airlines miles, but now you can use British Airways Avios or Qatar Avios as well.  When going far beyond Doha, such as all the way to South Africa, American Airlines miles is the way to go.  AA charges only 75,000 miles one-way!

Fortunately, Qatar releases a decent amount of award space to partners.  To be clear, if you need to fly on a specific date and time, you’re unlikely to find anything.  But if you’re flexible, I’ve found in the past that it’s not hard to find awards.  See this post: How to find Qatar Q-Suites award space.

I haven’t yet flown Q-Suites, but I’ve booked it a number of times and had to cancel each time.  That brings up another advantage to booking with AA miles if you have them: AA no longer charges award change or cancellation fees.

How to get the miles: AA miles and Avios are available from many different credit cards.  AA cards are available from Citi and Barclays.  Avios cards are available from Chase.  Plus, you can transfer to Avios from many different transferable points programs (and to AA from some):

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
American AAdvantage60K to 25K (~2 days)1 to 1 (1 Day)
British Airways Avios1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 via Qatar (1 to 2 days)60K to 25K (~10 hours)1 to 1 (Unknown)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)

 

Hotels & Vacation Rentals

Hyatt luxury hotels

Hyatt’s Alila Ventana Big Sur. Cash prices usually start at over $2,000 per night. Peak point prices are 45,000 per night for a standard room.

Hyatt owns a number of luxury brands such as Alila, Andaz, Miraval, Park Hyatt, Thompson, and the Unbound Collection.  In most cases (Miraval is an exception), standard award prices top out at 45,000 points per night.  So, when booking a luxury hotel that otherwise sells for $900 per night, you’ll easily get 2 cents per point value even before accounting for savings due to taxes and resort fees on paid rates.

One of my favorite Hyatt resorts is the Alila Ventana Big Sur (pictured above).  Ventana’s rooms normally start at over $2,000 per night, but they can alternatively be booked for 35,000 to 45,000 points per night.  This is the type of place I’d never even consider booking if it wasn’t for the great value available through Hyatt points!

Other luxury Hyatt hotels I’ve stayed at and loved include:

Worth a mention is the Grand Hyatt Kauai.  I haven’t yet stayed there, but Nick has and he loved it.  See: Grand Hyatt Kauai: a great guest of honor stay and great redemption.

How to get Hyatt points: Sign up for the World of Hyatt consumer card or business card.  Or, transfer from a transferable points program:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Hyatt1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~1 Minute)

Vacasa Vacation Rentals

Vacasa Vacation rentals can be booked for 15,000 Wyndham points per night per bedroom.  Some units are huge and offer multiple beds, bathrooms, and loft areas despite being advertised as having only one bedroom!

A great way to book vacation rental properties with points is by using Wyndham points to book Vacasa Vacation Rentals.  Vacasa charges only 15,000 Wyndham points per night per bedroom.  If you have a Wyndham Earner credit card, you get 10% off, so you’ll pay only 13,500 Wyndham points per night.  And, amazingly, some huge properties are available, like the one shown above, despite listing as having just one bedroom.  Full details about this opportunity can be found here: Wyndham Vacasa: Great Value is Real!

While I haven’t yet booked one of these, I’m sure I will do so at some point soon.  Nick previously wrote about his experience at a Vacasa rental booked with Wyndham points: The Greenbrier Pigeon Forge Vacasa rental via Wyndham Rewards. Bottom line review.

Note that since we originally wrote about Vacasa, it is no longer possible to book via email.  Instead, you need to call to book.  Details here.

How to get Wyndham points: Sign up for a Wyndham Earner card, or transfer points from a transferable points program:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Wyndham1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)

Preferred Hotels & Resorts

View from walkway behind the Dolphin Bay Resort, Pismo Beach, California

Preferred Hotels & Resorts frequently make it into lists of the best hotels in the world.  And, thanks to a partnership with Choice, it’s possible to use Choice points to book many of these hotels.  I recently stayed at two of these using Choice points and had wonderful stays:

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to book these.  Worse, some readers have written in with horror stories where the hotels either didn’t have their reservation when they showed up, or the hotels believed that they hadn’t been paid by Choice.  Neither of those issues happened to me, but I definitely suffered through the booking process.  See these posts for more:

How to get Choice points: Preferred Hotels are great deals only because Citi ThankYou points transfer 1 to 2 to Choice if you have either the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card.  By doubling your points with the transfer, even a 55,000 point per night stay can be a bargain.

Other

Major League Baseball

Capital One offers Cardholder Exclusive Tickets to most Major League Baseball games for only 5,000 Capital One Miles per ticket.  These seats are in great locations, but they sell out quickly because Capital One only offers 4 per game.  Even though I’m not much of a baseball fan, I went ahead and spent some Capital One Miles for an upcoming Detroit Tigers game.  It’s a rare opportunity to use points for great value towards something other than travel.  See: Baseball fans: Capital One has great seats for 5,000 miles each.

How to get Capital One Miles: Capital One offers a number of credit cards that earn “Miles”.  Details here.

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[…] Practical Sweet Spots:  Sweet spots area great because you get immense value out of your points.  It takes less points for certain award flights with sweet spots.  Some are more useful than others though.  Here are some that are considered to be more useful. […]

efjx

looks like dolphin bay isn’t part of the choice preferred program anymore.

Sam

Anything on Singapore or JAL with AS points is a good value. AS also has more award space than others for some reason.

Andrew

I found two ANA F from JFK to Haneda for early October and booked with Virgin. They were only dates with 2 award spots available when checking. It’s looking like they will be open so I’m super excited. On the return we had to do ORD with one person in F and the other in J. Definitely a hassle with positioning, but I still think it’s worth it.

Kirk

The easiest one I’ve used and will use again shortly is Star Alliance to Asia through ANA. Unlike a lot of flights to Europe, United releases a good amount of saver business class tickets, and ANA charges only 95k roundtrip. You can add stopover and do open jaw, but it is also just easy to pay for my mom to come to the US on biz roundtrip.

Andrew

I thought it was 88k. Did they chance it recently to 95k?

Kirk

I’m not sure how long it’s been this price, but it’s 95k to Asia now. It’s 88k to Europe, however. Maybe that’s what you’re thinking about?

Zac

Another example of why FM is the best site! Such concise, valuable insight.

Peter

Just flew with my wife on AA DFW to FRA in J yesterday via 50k Etihad Miles. We’re flying back to JFK on the new Singapore Suites for 86k SQ miles.

Nick @ PFD

Good idea for an article! A sweet spot I’d add: non-stop flights from American hubs to smaller airports using either AA miles or Avios. I snagged seven tickets from Charlotte to Rapid City, SD during high season using the last of my Avios. 30K Avios roundtrip; the flights are currently going to $700, though they were cheaper when I booked. The downside is you have to be patient and opportunistic since AA doesn’t like to release low-level availability on trips like this.

Raylan

@greg – really wish you had / have a review of the Park Hyatt Zurich. Eyeing that property next year and would have really liked to see your thoughts; I find your reviews very accurate and overlap a lot with my thoughts on the same properties you’ve reviewed, so your review carries a lot of weight in my book.

Raylan

Oh and an add-on to this. I think EK’s fifth freedom flights from the New York area to MXP and ATH are another good and bookable sweet spot.

Raylan

Thank you sincerely for this. I genuinely appreciate the personal touch of replying with such detailed info!

LarryInNYC

Very much appreciate this article, which is super helpful about where, exactly, to look for a realistic (even if sometimes small, or flexibility-requiring) chance of a redemption.

It is, however, hard to avoid noticing that the list is actually very short: D1 to Europe (rare), Star Alliance to Europe (not cheap in points, but no fuel surcharges), Hyatt, and Vacasa / Choice, which are both pretty niche.

avi

@greg i ran into the same error issue last night when trying to process the credit card with virgin atlantic booking the same route. the agent i spoke with on the phone said new accounts less then 24 hours are blocked from booking awards. Curious if your account was brand new? thanks.

Jerry

Domestic sweet spots on partners it seems are also impacted by dynamic pricing but in a different way. I often find no award availability when cash prices are high booking Virgin or AF on Delta domestic metal and for BA or Qantas awards on AA metal. On the latter if an award is available, it’s and early am or late night flight with a stop and the cash prices for those are cheap.

Buzz

Saver award space has pretty much dried up due to the high fuel costs. I was booking United flights with Turkish miles frequently but no more.

slaven

1) is it 6500 avianca miles when flying United from ORD-LGA (731 miles)?
2) why not use 7500 avios miles for 1 way on AA? seems good deal esp for close-in flights when prices are $150+

Al C

Interesting article but not sure about the accuracy of that title.

Al C

“awards that I actually use” vs “it’s been a few years…more and more rare for Delta to release Delta One award space to partners”, “I haven’t yet flown Q suites”, “I haven’t booked one of these (Vacasa)”.

Shaun

One of my favorites ( and most used) is Iberia business class. ORD-MAD prices out at 34k during off-peak…which is a big chunk of the year. ORD-MAD-XXX prices out for most places in Europe at 50k or under. Considering Amex usually runs at least 1 transfer bonus these rates are usually lower. With the current 1400:1000 bonus you are looking at 24.5k to 35k to fly to Europe with acceptable fuel charges. While not in the same class as QSuites, I find Iberia J seat great for sleeping. F&B is usually decent and lounge access in AA departure locations are flagship Lounges and Madrid’s lounge is pretty good as well.

It’s not a flashy redemption…but one that is consistently available and one of my favorite uses of points.

Raylan

FWIW, I think IB space dries up quickly, especially during higher demand times. I was looking 9+ months out on flexible-ish dates (+/- a week) with no luck. This, to me, is a “plan far ahead” redemption, especially if you’re shooting – as I was – for the period in June when IB’s calendar is still off-peak.