Best Ways to Use British Airways Avios: The Sweet Spots

There are several sweet spots for British Airways Avios. Almost all of them require booking with One World partner airlines but once you get the hang of booking with alliance partners, you’ll find the process quite easy and the rewards very valuable. These are some of the best ways to use British Airways Avios and if you haven’t read my Guide to Booking British Airways Avios, you might want to check it out first.  

1) North America to Europe

Avios can be one of the best ways to get to Europe. The real sweet spots are when you fly British Airways partners, because the fuel surcharges are so high going to Europe. The only caveat is that the sweet spots are reserved mostly for those departing from the East Coast. 

I’ll first take a look at economy redemptions:

A. Avios economy redemptions

Aer Lingus

  • 25,000 Avios – Boston to Dublin
  • 40,000 Avios – NYC/Chicago/Toronto to Dublin

Update: Aer Lingus now operates on a new award chart — read more here

Air Berlin

  • 40,000 Avios – NYC to Berlin
  • 40,000 Avios – NYC/Boston to Düsseldorf
  • 50,000 Avios – Chicago/Miami to Berlin
  • 50,000 Avios – Ft. Meyers/Miami to Düsseldorf

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000 to 75,000 
  • American Airlines: 45,000 to 60,000
  • ANA: 55,000 
  • Delta: 60,000 to 82,000*
  • Flying Blue: 50,000
  • Singapore Airlines: 34,000 (from IAH/East Coast to western Europe and with online 15% discount; heavy surcharges likely) 
  • United: 60,000 

As you can see, Avios, when departing from the East Coast, can be among the cheapest routes to  get to Europe.

*Use the figures for Delta as estimates, as I was unable to find the cheapest fare for some routes and there is no award chart available. 

B. Avios business class redemptions

Update: Check out my article on using Iberia Avios to book business class tickets to Europe for updated information on Avios sweet spots. 

The sweet spots begin to dissipate as you look at business class, however.

Aer Lingus

  • 75,000 Avios – Boston to Dublin
  • 120,000 Avios – NYC/Chicago/Toronto to Dublin

Air Berlin

  • 120,000 Avios – NYC to Berlin
  • 120,000 Avios – NYC/Boston to Düsseldorf
  • 150,000 Avios – Chicago/Miami to Berlin
  • 150,000 Avios – Ft. Meyers/Miami to Düsseldorf

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000
  • ANA: 88,000
  • Delta: 125,000
  • Korean Air: 80,000
  • United: 115,000 miles (140,000 miles if booked with alliance partner)

As you can see, the only true sweet spot would be going from Boston to Dublin for 75,000 Avios round trip. Outside of that, you’re spending far more miles than what just about every other program requires and you’re still restricted geographically.

2) North America to Hawaii

When flying from the West Coast to Hawaii, Avios offers one of the best redemptions. For this particular redemption, you’ll be flying with American Airlines or Alaskan Airlines, which gives you access to a number of departing locations all along the West Coast and Alaska.

A. Avios economy redemptions

  • 25,000 Avios – West Coast to Hawaii

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 45,000
  • American Airlines: 45,000
  • ANA: 40,000
  • Delta: 45,000
  • Korean Air: 25,000
  • United: 45,000
  • Singapore Airlines: 35,000 

Korean Air allows for a stopover so I’d have to give the edge to them for possibly the best Hawaii redemption. However, the good thing about going with Avios is that you book one-ways, they are easier to accumulate, and you don’t have to jump through the hoops that Korean Air requires you to jump through.

B. Avios business class redemptions

Getting from the West Coast to Hawaii in business class with Avios is still somewhat of a sweet spot compared to other major airlines, although you can do better by going with airlines like Korean Air, ANA, Singapore, etc.

  • 75,000 Avios – West Coast to Hawaii

Note: if you used Iberia Avios for this redemption you could get it as low as 62,500 Avios roundtrip (but you can’t book one ways on American with Iberia).

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 80,000
  • American Airlines: 80,000 
  • ANA: 68,000
  • Delta: 110,000
  • Korean Air: 45,000
  • United: 80,000
  • Singapore Airlines: 60,000

3) North America to South America

Avios can offer you some of the best redemption rates for getting to South America. You’ll usually be flying on LAN, TAM, or American Airlines.

A. Avios economy redemptions

Take a look at economy rates for getting to two popular South American destinations, Lima and Santiago Chile from Texas and New York. The distances between these destinations stays in Zones 5 and 6 for Avios so the rates are pretty reasonable but the sweet spot is getting to destinations in the southern part of South America, such as Santiago.

  • 40,000  Avios -DFW/JFK to LIM
  • 50,000  Avios – DFW/JFK to SCL

Compare these rates to other airlines:

Getting to Lima 

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 35,000
  • ANA: 55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 35,000
  • United: 40,000

Getting to SCL

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 60,000
  • ANA: 55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 50,000
  • Korean Air: 50,000
  • United: 60,000

If you’re wanting to get to Lima, the Avios redemption rate is competitive but you might want to consider other options to save up to 5,000 miles. However, if you’re heading straight to Santiago, Chile, Avios can get you there with one of the best rates at 50,000.

Note: As discussed later on, you should always consider booking long international trips (like those to South America) with multiple segments to maximize the value of your redemptions. More on that below.

B. Avios business class redemptions

For the most part, the business class redemptions to South American from North America are not great and a lot of them are very terrible but I’ve included them for your reference and the sake of completeness. Here’s a look at some of the redemptions and how they stack up against the competition.

  • 75,000 Avios – MIA to LIM
  • 120,000  Avios -DFW to LIM
  • 150,000  Avios – DFW to SCL

Compare these rates to other airlines:

Getting to Lima 

  • Aeroplan: 75,000
  • American Airlines: 60,000
  • ANA:  88,000
  • Delta: 150,000
  • Flying Blue: 87,500
  • Korean Air: 110,000
  • United: 70,000

Getting to SCL

  • Aeroplan: 110,000
  • American Airlines: 115,000
  • ANA: 88,000
  • Delta: 150,000
  • Flying Blue: 125,000
  • Korean Air: 110,000
  • United: 110,000

Based on these comparisons, I’d recommend going with another program if you want to fly business class to South America from North America.

4) North America to Mexico or the Caribbean

Using Avios to get to Mexico and various Caribbean destinations can be a great way to redeem. As you can tell from a couple of the examples I’ve posted, the deals can be great even if you are flying from the Northeast or Midwest.

A. Avios economy redemptions

Getting to Mexico

  • 15,000 Avios – DFW to CUN (Cancun)
  • 20,000 Avios – JFK/ORD to CUN

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 40,000
  • American Airlines: 30,000
  • ANA: 30,000
  • Delta: 35,000
  • Flying Blue: 25,000 miles
  • Korean Air: 25,000 miles
  • United: 35,000

Getting to the Caribbean (Jamaica)

  • 20,000 Avios – ORD to MBJ (Jamaica)
  • 25,000 Avios – LAX to MBJ

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 40,000
  • American Airlines: 25,000
  • ANA: 55,000
  • Delta: 35,000 
  • Flying Blue: 30,000
  • Korean Air: 35,000
  • United: 35,000

It kind of surprised me that Avios was one of the best ways to get to Mexico and the Caribbean, from places like New York and Chicago but the numbers don’t lie!

B. Avios business class redemptions

When flying from hubs in the southern part of the country, the redemptions for business class are an absolute steal to Mexico and the Caribbean, assuming you can find direct shots. Even when you’re departing from northern states, the redemption rates are still very competitive.

Getting to Mexico

  • 30,000 Avios – DFW to CUN (Cancun)
  • 60,000 Avios – JFK/ORD to CUN

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 50,000
  • ANA: 55,000 
  • Delta: 57,500 
  • Flying Blue: 62,500
  • Korean Air: 45,000
  • United: 60,000

Getting to the Caribbean (Jamaica)

  • 40,000 Avios – DFW to MBJ (Jamaica)
  • 60,000 Avios – ORD to MBJ

Compare these rates to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 50,000
  • ANA: 80,000
  • Delta: 57,500
  • Flying Blue: 60,000
  • Korean Air: 75,000
  • United: 60,000

5) Short haul economy flights in North America

The recent devaluation to short-haul flight redemptions with Avios was a pretty big hit to the program but there’s still some pretty good redemptions to be had. The devaluation basically did away with the first zone and made it so that the cheapest short-haul flight in economy would require 7,500 Avios, and business and first class were changed to Zone 2’s requirements as well.

Even with that devaluation, it’s still a good deal to use Avios for flights 2,000 miles and under in the U.S. because you can save 5,000 to 10,000 miles.

Getting around the United States

  • 15,000 Avios for routes up to 1,150 miles (e.g., MIA – JFK)
  • 20,000 Avios 1,151 miles to 2,000 miles (e.g., SFO – IAH)
  • 25,000 Avios 2,001 miles to 3,000 miles (e.g., LAX – JFK)

Compare these rates for getting around the U.S. to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 15,000 (very short-haul flights) to 25,000
  • American Airlines: 25,000
  • ANA: 30,000
  • Delta: 25,000
  • Flying Blue: 25,000
  • Korean Air: 25,000
  • United: 25,000

6) Intra-continental flights in South America

Avios can also be used effeciently to book intra-continental flights in South America. I’ve recently used Avios to book some pretty otherwise expensive flights between Lima and Santiago. The particular flight I booked costed $2,000 for a one-way business class ticket. I used 20,000 Avios for a 10 cent per point redemption, a great value that you usually find on higher-end first class suites.

These kind of redemptions can be had in other continents, too. I’d always do some research on One World partners in Africa, Australia, and Asia in order to seek out valuable Avios redemptions.

7) Creative Routings 

The final “sweet spot” is something I first discovered via Travel Is Free but if you’ve studied Avios, you’ll likely be aware of it.

Basically, sometimes it’s cheaper to book multiple legs with Avios than it is do book a straight shot. An example from Travel Is Free shows that it requires 50,000 Avios to get from LAX to Sydney, Australia. However, if you broke this up so that you fly from LAX -> Hawaii -> Sydney, the total Avios required would be 37,500 Avios due to quirks in the award chart.

These quirks can be taken advantage of with different routes all over the world and it’s something to be aware of any time you’re looking to book a long flight. I recommend using this tool from the Wandering Aremean to see possible routing options (although note that it’s limited to a single connection). 

Final Word

These are some of my top sweet spots for Avios and I think they show that despite recent devaluations, Avios can still be extremely valuable and offer some of the best redemptions available.

Cover Photo by uwe_gompf_66 via Flickr.

What is Global Entry?

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. This means that you won’t have to wait in the usually long immigration line when entering the United States. In addition, many airports also have a Global Entry line for customs, so you don’t have to wait to have your baggage inspected.

How does it work?

At certain airports (I don’t think that list is updated),you go up to the Global Entry kiosks, scan your passport or U.S. permanent resident card, go through fingerprint verification, complete a short customs declaration, and then receive a receipt that directs you to baggage claim and the exit. Sometimes this process will only take you about 2 minutes and you can make it back to your home while others from your flight are still stuck in line.

What type of citizens are eligible?

U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of a few other countries are eligible for Global Entry membership. Global Entry is also available to:

  • Citizens of United Kingdom
  • Citizens of Germany
  • Citizens of the Netherlands
  • Citizens of Panama
  • Citizens of South Korea
  • Mexican nationals

How do you apply?

Applying is pretty simple. You fill out the application online (see my application guide here), schedule and attend an interview (read about my interview experience here) and then get approved. The entire process can take only a couple of weeks if you’re a bit lucky but it can also take up to a couple of months depending on where you live. The determining factor for your waiting time is how soon you can schedule your interview.

How much does it cost?

The application for Global Entry costs $100 and it is good for five years!

You can use credit cards like the Platinum Card from American Express or the Citi Prestige to cover this costs as they provide you with statement credit for Global Entry. If you are not approved for Global Entry, you do not get your money back.

Can I get approved with a criminal background?

For the most part you need a clean criminal background to get approved. This typically means even misdemeanors. There are some reports of other getting approved despite having minor charges on their record (usually from quite some time ago), but there are many more reports of other being denied for misdemeanors.

Here’s the list of disqualifying criteria listed by Global Entry:

  • Provide false or incomplete information on the application;
  • Have been convicted of any criminal offense or have pending criminal charges, including outstanding warrants;
  • Have been found in violation of any customs, immigration or agriculture regulations or laws in any country;
  • Are subjects of an investigation by any federal, state or local law enforcement agency;
  • Are inadmissible to the U.S. under immigration regulation, including applicants with approved waivers of inadmissibility or parole documentation; or if they
  • Cannot satisfy CBP of their low-risk status or meet other program requirements.

Does it include TSA Pre Check?

Yes. Upon being approved, you’ll be issued a Known Traveller Number, which you will use for TSA Pre Check. This is why I recommend most people to apply for Global Entry over TSA Pre-Check since it only costs $15 more but you obtain the additional benefit of flying through immigration and customs.


Should You Apply for The Hilton Surpass for 100K HHonors Points?

[Offers contained within this article may no longer be available]

American Express is once again offering its best offer for the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card. You can get 100,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. This sounds like a whole lot of points but if you’re familiar with the value of HHonors points, you may still question if it’s worth it to jump on this offer. Here are some things to consider. 

Annual fee 

The annual fee for the Hilton HHonorsTMSurpass® Card is $75 and is not waived the first year. This is a pretty reasonable annual fee and considering the value of the sign-up bonus, I think it’s worth it. If you ever didn’t want to pay the annual fee down the line you could always inquire about downgrading it to the no annual fee version later (although some people have had issues with getting the downgrade in the past). 

100,000 Hilton HHonors sign-up bonus

Many people value Hilton HHonors points at around .5 cent per point. In my experience, this valuation is more or less accurate, which means that you would value the sign-up bonus at around $500. However, I know of others who have found better redemptions closer to 1 cent per point, so this bonus could definitely be more valuable than $500. 

Below is a chart of the different hotel categories and their redemption rates. When I try  to book rooms in major cities like San Francisco or Chicago, I usually am required to spend close to 50,000 points for a nice Hilton property. However, you can definitely make the points stretch further if you are flexible with your planning and find some sweet spots at different locations.

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Hilton HHonors Reward Chart

For more on redemptions, check out the following article from one of my favorite blogs, Travel is Free, to get a sense of the locations of different Hilton hotels around the world and their corresponding categories. (Click the box on the left of the map to toggle which categories you’d like to view.)

After checking out that map also check out another Travel is Free article that gives the low-down on the best use of Hilton HHonors bonus points. That article lists a number of different Hilton hotels in different categories all around the world. It shows you that you can get great great value out of the lower categories and easily be able to spend a couple of weeks in Hilton hotels with the amount of points earned from these cards.

Also, if you take advantage of the 5th night free benefit (given to Hilton HHonors Silver, Gold, and Diamond Members), you can get more value out of your points. (More on that below.) 

Bonus categories 

The Hilton HHonorsTMSurpass® Card earns bonus points for purchases other than just purchases on Hilton properties. It earns the following rates: 

  • Earn 12 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 6 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card:
    • at U.S. restaurants
    • at U.S supermarkets
    • at U.S. gas stations
  • Earn 3 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.

These are great earning rates for Hilton HHonors points and compared to other Hilton cards offered by American Express and Citi, this is your best bet for earning Hilton HHonors points. 

Hilton Gold Status

The Hilton HHonorsTMSurpass® Card offers you HHonors Gold Status. Gold status is a pretty decent benefit — you can read more about the benefits of Gold Status here but the benefits most related to this card are the following:

  • 5th night free
  • Complimentary breakfasts
  • Potential for upgrades

The 5th night free benefit is a great way to maximize the value of your sign-up bonus. So long as you book 5 nights consecutively, you’re given that 5th night for free. Thus, you can often increase the value of your points by taking advantage of this benefit.

Also, once you have Gold Status, you can always look into status matches with different hotels and try to gain status with other hotel chains or you can inquire about status challenges to earn Hilton Diamond Status

Priority PassTM Select

The Surpass offers you a Priority Pass membership that grants you access to over 700 airport lounges around the world. However, this is the membership that is valued at $99, which means that all lounge visits are subject to a fee of U.S. $27 per person per visit. If you really are attracted to lounge access, you should consider other cards like the Platinum Card from American Express or the Citi Prestige to take advantage of that benefit. 

Final Word 

This offer is a good deal if you plan on having stays at Hilton properties in the near future, especially if you can stretch the value of your points by getting the 5th night free. Personally, I’d look into applying for an additional Hilton card, perhaps one from Citi, so that I could potentially come out with 150,000+ Hilton HHonors points and quickly accumulate a pretty decent stash of their points. However, even if you only go with the Surpass and come out with 100,000 Hilton HHonors points, I still think it’s a deal worth jumping on for a lot of travelers.  

Best Places to View and Photograph the Dallas Skyline

I recently completed a two-week stay in Dallas and had the chance to get out on multiple occasions and explore some of the best places to view the downtown Dallas skyline. After doing a little bit of research and some experimenting of my own, here are some of the best places I found to view and photograph the downtown Dallas skyline.

(Keep in mind I’m not a local so there are likely tons of other spots you could find. Check out the links at the bottom of the article for more photo spots.

Interested in finding out the top travel credit cards for this month? Click here to check them out!  

My favorite spot: bridge at N Edgefield Ave

Dallas Skyline
My favorite view to photograph of the Dallas skyline.

My favorite place to photograph the skyline is from the N Edgefield Ave bridge. This is a perfect spot to photograph for a few reasons. There’s parking right next to the bridge and there’s a wide sidewalk on the bridge so you have plenty of room to set up your tripod and you don’t have to worry about traffic (which is pretty minimal in any event).

See the Google Image screenshot below to see the type of room you’ll have to roam.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 7.58.16 AM

The view is spectacular for photographing light trails of the highway traffic in the foreground and skyline in the background. You can play around with a lot of different perspectives but I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of them. Luckily, it looks like some of the street lights are out (and have been out for a long time), so you shouldn’t have to worry about them ruining your photos.

An easy way to find this bridge is to enter “First Quality Fabricating Inc” into your GPS. Their address is:

1529 N Edgefield Ave, Dallas, TX 75208

Once you arrive to it, you’ll see N Edgefield Ave bridge right next to the shop. If you arrive in the evening, there should be plenty of open parking spots there that you can park at. I didn’t see any “no parking” signs anywhere nearby and I’d be shocked if you were to ever encounter an issue parking there.

Views from the Trinity River Spillway

There are several different points along the Trinity River Spillway to choose from. I first tried two popular spots:

While the views aren’t necessarily bad, they just weren’t quite what I was looking for. For example, below is a shot from the official overlook point at Trinity Overlook Park that is for the most part obscured by what I think is a jail. It probably doesn’t look bad at night but it’s just not the best spot to take in the entire skyline in my opinion.

Trinity Overlook Park Dallas
View from Trinity Overlook Park

However, if you walk south along the Trinity River Spillway, you will come across seemingly infinite perspectives to capture the skyline.

The map below shows paths leading south from Trinity Overlook Park. It likely depends on the season, but the condition of those paths can vary. Right now, the path called “Perimeter Road” on the top of the hill (that you’d want to take photographs from) is a path made up of two thin tire trails with waist-high weeds on either side. If there’s been rain, it will probably be muddy.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 8.13.09 AM

Here’s a photo I got along the way as I travelled south in the red oval above:

Trinity Overlook Park South Dallas
View from south of Trinity Overlook Park

You can follow that path in the red oval above all the way to the I-30 bridge/Tom Landry Freeway. At that point, you’ll encounter a construction zone that I believe you can pass through. There are just two issues with crossing through this way. First, the area looked very muddy when I was there so unless you have shoes you’re willing to get really dirty you may not want to cross. The second issue is that parking at the Trinity Overlook is limited to one hour and they claim violators will be towed. I have no idea if that’s enforced or not (probably not at night), but that’s something that I didn’t want to take a chance on.

The solution is to do this.

Park at Trinity Overlook Park. Then walk along the path towards the I-30 bridge/Tom Landry Freeway and get some shots that you’d like. Then head back to your car and drive over to another area (with no limit on parking) and then explore the other side of the Trinity River Spillway.

Check out the Google Map below to see where this “other area” is.

The red oval located on E Greenbriar Lane is a great place to park on the street. You don’t need a permit or anything. From there, it’s a very short walk to where “Perimeter Road” meets N Zang Blvd. There’s a small trail (located at the red arrow below) that you’ll see and you’ll need to hop over a small barrier to get on the trail. That trail will then give you some great views of the Dallas skyline as you move north along the Spillway.

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Here are a couple of photos I got along the way at this location:

The first photo is from my first day of scouting and shows that a clear-sky sunset looks like as it reflects off of the buildings downtown. I caught the below image at the sunset’s strongest reflection point of the evening.

Trinity River Spillway-3

This next photo was taken probably about an hour before sunset on a different day.

Dallas Skyline_-2

There are plenty of ways to play around with the foreground along the way on the trail. This photo below was taken as I approached the construction zone of the I-30 bridge/Tom Landry Freeway. Notice how the position of Reunion Tower has changed being on the far left to being back in the middle of the skyline.

Dallas Skyline_-3

One thing I liked about this area of the Spillway was that it was longer and presented more options for different compositions, such as the “lake” you see below. I’m pretty sure the “lakes” are the temporal product of rainwater and output from the sewage plant, but nobody has to know that when they view your photos!

Dallas Skyline_-4

After a few hours, a giant thundercloud began to develop behind the skyline. This cloud would later produce a furry of thunder and lightning and knock the power out for a lot of people.

Dallas Skyline_-5

There are only two issues when photographing along these trails that I encountered: the power lines and the weeds.

The two issues go together because you’ll need to venture into the weeds on the hillside to get below the power lines (a few of the photos above had power lines removed in processing).

Thus, my suggestion is to wear pants and shoes that you wouldn’t mind to get a little dirty. While it’s not 100% necessary, you’ll find it much easier to shoot the skyline if you’re willing to get down in the weeds a little bit, below the power lines.

Reunion Tower

This spot is pretty much a given. I was tempted to not go up in Reunion Tower because I wasn’t sure how impressed I would be with the views and I was kind of let down to find out I’d have to pay like $250 just to bring a tripod up there. However, I’m really happy that I decided to make the trip even without a tripod.

As soon as the sunset begins, you’re given some beautiful shots of downtown Dallas. Sometimes the Sun’s reflection is a little too bright and will over-expose your shots but you’ll just have to try to work around it.

Dallas Skyline_
Just before sunset from Reunion Tower

Dallas Skyline
Sunset from Reunion Tower

The views only get better as the sky darkens and blue hour produces a stunning backdrop to capture the city lights of the skyline. The bright oranges and pinks from the sunset will likely still be shimmering off the glass towers for some time after sunset, allowing for a lot of different lighting options that continue to change.

Dallas Skyline_-4
The sunset still reflecting well into blue hour.

The spherical network of frames on which the lights of Reunion Tower are placed, give you ample opportunities to put unique touches on your shots. Play around with different compositions and you’ll be sure to come out with a shot of the city that hasn’t been done a million times.

Dallas Skyline
There are plenty of foreground options to play around with at Reunion Tower

I’d try to go on a Friday or Saturday during the summer, however. The reason is that the tower closes at 9pm during the week, so you won’t be able to photograph the buildings with a truly dark sky because blue hour will likely be in effect. Still, I went on a weekday and I came away very happy with the views I had so it’s not like you can really go wrong.

Dallas Skyline_-7
The sunset still reflecting well after sunset

Dallas Skyline_-9

Keep in mind that I’m not a local so I don’t know all the best parking garages and pull-out spots all over the city to take in the skyline. However, below are a few links you can check out to find out more places to view and photograph the Dallas skyline.


How to Get Hilton Diamond Status with A One Night Stay

Right now, it’s very easy to obtain Hilton HHonors Diamond status. In fact, if you follow two easy steps you could have Hilton HHonors Diamond status within a couple of weeks.

The first step

The first step is is to apply for the IHG® Rewards Club Select credit card. This card comes with a low annual fee of $49 (waived the first year) and offers some great benefits like a free anniversary night. The benefit that we’re concerned with right is the IHG Platinum status that you’re given with this card. Just for being approved for this card you’ll be given Platinum status, which is the first step of this process.

The second step

Once you have IHG Platinum status, it’s time for the second step. all you have left to do is book and pay for one night at any IHG property. With proof of one stay, you can then apply for the status match with Hilton HHonors. As soon as you’ve completed your stay (as in, the very next day), you’re ready to apply for the status match.
To apply, you’ll need to click here to apply for a status match. You’ll upload evidence of your status with IHG (we used a screenshot of our rewards card) and then show proof of your stay (make sure to redact any personal information like credit numbers, address, or anything other bit of personal information that might be visible).
Then you submit your application and you should hear back from Hilton fairly quickly. We heard back in less that 24 hours and received verification that Brad was Diamond. However, sometimes I think Hilton get’s hit with a lot of apps at once so give them some time to respond. If you don’t hear anything back after a week, I’d inquire with them via telephone or chat. They appear to be pretty responsive so don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear anything at first.
What’s really great about this match is that they are granting many people like Brad Diamond status until March 2018. You might not get lucky as some reports on FT suggest that they are only getting status granted until March 2017 but either way, it’s still a quick and easy way to earn this benefit.
If you’re not familiar with the benefits of being a Hilton Diamond member be sure to check out my article here. In addition to those benefits, one of the other bonuses of obtaining Diamond is that you might have luck with getting matched at other hotel programs, such as Hyatt.
I’m gearing up for hotel status match requests and will report on my success or failures in the near-future.

Guide to Applying for Global Entry

Global Entry is life-saver when you’re coming back into the U.S. after international trips and you stumble upon a ridiculously long customs line. Global entry not only offers you way for you to zip through customs when coming back into the United States, but it also provides you with TSA Pre-Check so you can zip through TSA security when departing on both domestic and international flights. Here’s a guide on what you need to know to apply for Global Entry.

Set up a GOES account

The first thing you need to do is to sign-up for a GOES account. Here’s the website for GOES (which stands for Global Online Enrollment System). You’ll use a GOES account to process your application for Global Entry and it can be used for other related programs, such as NEXUS.

Setting up a GOES account is very easy and should only take you a minute or two to complete. 

The first thing it will ask you is if you have ever applied for Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, U.S. / Mexico FAST, U.S. / Canada FAST. Make sure you don’t forget to include this information if you have applied before because it can really screw up your application and perhaps prolong the application process.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 1.10.12 PM

On the next couple of screens you’ll input all of your necessary contact information and set up your password and security questions. It’s all straight-forward and shouldn’t be a problem. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 2.01.25 PM


Once your GOES log-in account is created, you will log back in and then be taken to the screen below. You will then click “Apply for a Trusted Traveler Program.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 2.04.03 PM

You’ll be asked if you’ve ever applied for any of the programs and assuming you hit no, you’ll begin the application. They will ask you a couple of quick questions like how you heard about the program, your citizenship, and then they will provide you with options for your application based on what you submitted. Be sure to select Global Entry assuming that pops up for you. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 2.08.41 PMThe next screen will provide you with all of the enrollment centers in your state. You should take note of the enrollment centers near you for your future reference so that you can more easily schedule your interview when it is time and perhaps call in to inquire about their walk-in policies. If you live by a major city, you shouldn’t have to go far for an interview but if you live outside of most major cities, you may have to travel a couple of hours to get to the nearest available enrollment center. 

On that same screen, scroll all the way down to the bottom to confirm your intent to enroll in Global Entry.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 2.11.37 PM

Begin the official Global Entry Application

Once you hit that button, you will officially begin the Global entry application. You can see all the different steps you’ll have to fill out below:

Steps to the Global Entry application

You should breeze through the first options but be sure you put down the correct information for your “Citizenship Information.”  This is how you will prove that you’re a U.S. citizen. 

For most people, I recommend choosing to use a passport because it’s the same document that will be required for your “admissibility documents.” Keep in mind that whatever documents you include in your application, you’ll have to bring to your interview.  

I recommend choosing to use a passport for your “Citizenship Information.”

Next you’ll have to provide your “admissibility documents.” There’s only one selection that appears and it’s for your passport so enter in that information to advance to the next screen.

Next, you’ll put in some pretty straight-forward information like your primary residence, diver’s license, and current address, all easy stuff. 

Employment and address history

Then, comes the most potentially time-consuming portion of the application.

If you’re like me and have lived in tons of different places in recent history and had quite a few jobs/internships, you’re going to have a lot to fill in. If you haven’t rounded up all this information before, it would be a good idea to make a list of all of the places you have lived and worked for the past 5 years.

Travel history

Next, you have to put all countries you’ve travelled to in the past 5 years other than the United States, Canada, and Mexico

I actually forgot to mention a country when I filled out this portion of my application but was able to update the information at my interview. So if you happen to slip up and forget about a country, just try to bring it up at your interview. I doubt it will be an issue unless you tell them something like you “accidentally” forgot about your monthly runs to Iraq and Syria. 

Additional Information

Finally, a very important section comes up: criminal history. Make sure you answer this question honestly and hopefully your answer to these questions will be no.

It’s been stated by officials of United States Customs and Border Protection that “any type of criminal conviction would disqualify someone” for Global Entry. Some people have had luck with being approved with expunged misdemeanors from their days as a minor but those seem to be in the minority. The reality is that in the majority of cases, if you have had any type of misdemeanor and definitely a felony in the past 10 years (and maybe even longer) you will probably be denied. 

If you are denied for such a reason, you can write an official appeal letter but the general consensus with an appeal is that you have a slim to none chance of getting a decision overturned. 

And remember, there’s no refund for the $100 application fee if you are denied. 

After one more question you’ll be at the end of the application and just need to perform the “final review.” Take a close look at your answers to make sure everything is accurate and then you’re ready to submit your application.

Pay the $100 fee

When you submit your application you will be prompted to pay your $100 fee.

There are many credit cards that provide you with a $100 statement credit that can be used toward Global Entry, such as the Platinum Card from American Express, the Ritz-Carlton Card, and the Citi Prestige, just to name a few. With cards like the Platinum Card, you simply pay for the application with your card and await the statement credit with no further action necessary. 

Going to “review”

After you pay the fee, your application needs to be “reviewed.” It varies with how long it might take for your application to be reviewed. Most of the time it seems to take one week, but it could be just a couple of days or maybe even a couple of weeks. Just be on the look out for an email from GOES during this time and/or log-in to your GOES account to check your account status. 

Conditional approval letter

If you pass this review, you’ll receive an email to log-in to your GOES account for an update on your application. You’ll then see that you’ve been conditionally approved!

The letter from Global Entry will state:

We are pleased to inform you that your U. S. Customs and Border Protection, Global Entry membership application has been processed and you are now invited to visit an enrollment center to complete the enrollment process.

In order to finalize your Global Entry enrollment, you must schedule your Global Entry Interview within 30 days of the date of this letter. You do not have to complete the interview within 30 days….

It will also tell you to bring the following original documents with you to the enrollment center:

  • A valid passport. If you travel using more than one passport, please bring them to the interview so that the information can be added to your file. 
  • A permanent resident card (if applicable);
  • Documents providing evidence of residency. Examples are: driver’s license (if the address is current), mortgage statement, rental payment statement, utility bill, etc.

Personally, I just brought a driver’s license (because my address was current) and passport to make it easy but bring whatever qualifies and makes you comfortable.

Although it doesn’t tell you in the conditional approval letter, you need to bring a copy of the conditional approval letter itself to the interview with you! 

Once you schedule your interview, you should get an email reminding you to bring this document, but go ahead and print it out as soon as you can and try to remember to bring it. (I’ve heard of some agents getting really irritated when applicants forget to bring the letter to the interview.)

Another thing, the Global Entry membership number in your conditional approval letter will be your official Known Traveler Number in the future if you get approved, so it’s also a good idea to go ahead and take down the information. (This will be the number you insert into all of your frequent flyer accounts online so that you’ll be granted TSA Pre-Check.)

The interview process

So once you’re conditionally approved you can finally schedule your interview. Remember, you must schedule the interview within 30 days — not actually attend it within 30 days.

July 9, 2017 update: You can take care of your interview returning to the US at select airport locations. 

The availability for interviews varies across the country. I got in within about a week but others have been forced to wait months.

If you are facing a long wait time but you want to get in earlier just try to log-in continuously to schedule an interview since cancellations happen all the time. You could also do some research to see if any of the facilities near you allow walk-ins. Many will probably state that their official policy is no walk-ins but (although I don’t encourage it) you can always take a chance and just show up if you really want to. People did this at IAH and were able to get in even on a busy day.

During my interview they asked me very basic questions and the entire process only took a few minutes. They asked me questions like: 

  • “What’s your occupation?”
  • “Do you travel for business or pleasure?”
  • “Do you travel with a family?”

After just a few questions, they took my photograph and fingerprints and I was done. 

Some facilities will require you to watch a short video on Global Entry but that was not the case for me. If you want to read more about my Global Entry interview experience in Houston click here


Some applicants will be be approved right at the conclusion of their interview but others will have to wait to receive an email regarding their approval. My email came about 5 minutes after my interview but it could take longer for others. 

Once you’re approved you are free to use your Known Traveler Number for all itineraries and it’s good for five years! If you’ve already made a booking you may have to call in to certain airlines to get it added to your itinerary (looking at you Southwest Airlines).   

A few weeks after you’re approved, you should receive your ID card in the mail. It’s an official government ID so it can be used for a lot of things in place of your diver’s license but you don’t need it to use Global Entry in the airports. As far as I know, the only time it would be requires is at certain land crossings at the border of the U.S. and Mexico or Canada. 


Guide to Booking British Airways Avios

British Airways has a frequent flyer program called the Executive Club that offers some solid redemptions across the board, both with its own metal and with partner airlines. There are a lot of different and unique features to the Executive Club and quite frankly the system is a bit complicated at times. However, I’m going to provide some of the basics about this program to help you get a good grasp of its rules and policies.



Avios is the award currency for British Airways, Iberia and a few other partners. This article will focus on earning British Airways Avios via the Executive Club program and will provide an introduction overview of the program.

Oneworld Alliance

British Airways is part of the Oneworld Alliance. If you’re unfamiliar with airline alliances, they allow you to use miles of one airline’s program to book flights on a partner airline’s program. For example, this means that you can use British Airways Avios to book flights on Oneworld partners like American Airlines, Air Berlin, etc. 



Other codeshare services and partners include:

  •  Aer Lingus, airBaltic, Bangkok Airways, Flybe, Loganair, Meridiana fly, Vueling Airlines and WestJet

How to get British Airways Avios?

One reason why I love British Airways Avios so much is that you can rack them up in a lot of different ways and it’s really easy to get your Avios account into the triple digits with just two cards.

Here are the different transfer partners and ways to accumulate Avios: 

  • American Express Membership Rewards (10:8) (transfer bonuses offered)
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
  • Chase British Airways Visa
  • Starwood Preferred Guests (1:1)

British Airways Distance-Based Award Chart

The big difference between British Airways and other frequent flyer programs is that British Airways operates on a distance-based award chart. This means that the mileage is determined based on the distance between your point of departure and your destination, as opposed to being determined by the regions you are traveling to and from.

In addition to the zones, British Airways redemptions also depend on whether or not you book them as “Off-Peak” or “Peak.” This applies to Iberia as well but not to the other Oneworld partners — if you want to book an award with any partner other than Iberia, it will cost you the peak award price.

Take a look at the chart I created below to how it works. All rates are based on one-way award flights. 

British Airways Distance-Based Award Chart
British Airways Distance-Based Award Chart

You need to follow a couple of steps to figure out the milage requirements for your trip. 

First, you find out how many miles your flight is (I use Great Circle Mapper) and then you find which zone that flight falls into based on the distance of the trip. For example, a 2,500 mile flight would fall into “Zone 3.” You then look at the British Airways calendar for off-peak or peak days to see which rate you would redeem for. 

Alternatively, you can use the British Airways flight calculator. The flight calculator doesn’t always show you all available routes with all partners, however, and sometimes a message pops up that it’s “not available in your region.” Thus, often, I’m left with the only option of entering in a specific route into the British Airways search engine, which means that searching for exact mileage requirements can be time-consuming. 

Recent North America devaluation

Devaluations hit British Airways last year and they changed the redemption rate for short-haul flights in North America. This made a lot of frequent flyers upset, because one of the best ways to redeem Avios (or miles of any kind) was to book domestic American Airlines flights in North America with Avios. The devaluation basically did away with the first zone and made it so that the cheapest short-haul flight in economy would require 7,500 miles, and business and first class were changed to Zone 2’s requirements as well.

So if you’re planning on booking North American short-haul flights with British Airways Avios, then go by what you see in the requirements for Zone 2 and not Zone 1.   

Reward Flight Saver

On certain flights British Airways offers “Reward Flight Saver” (“RFS”) awards which are awards where you pay Avios plus a low flat fee instead of the taxes, fees and carrier charges. They are offered on short-haul flights of 2,000 miles or fewer but you must fly on British Airways on both legs in order for the fare to qualify.

They are currently only offered for British Airways flights in Europe and Comair flights in South Africa. I recently booked one in South Africa without even realizing I had found one, but it was a nice way to save a few bucks on fees.

Avios & Money

Avios and Money allows you to redeem flights by using your points topped off with cash. It’s an option available with most flights, including partner airlines. You’ll simply find your award flight and then when it’s time to purchase it, you’ll select the option to pay with points plus cash. You should see something similar to the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.45.10 PM

This is usually a good option if you’re in a situation where you’re just short on Avios and the math works out where it’s cheaper or the same to redeem with Avios and Money than it is to purchase Avios outright, which will be rare for small quantities of Avios.

For example, when you purchase a small number of Avios (1,000), you may have to pay as much as 5 cents per Avios (unless you happen to catch a promo). With the example above, you ‘d be paying 1.5 cents per point for the Avios with the first Avios and Money option. Thus, it would be wayyy cheaper to go with the Avios and Money option.

You’ll always have to do the math when booking these to see if: 1) there’s a better deal to just purchase the Avios (not likely) and 2) the rate at which your purchasing Avios is a good deal for you.

It should be noted that you can’t make modifications to awards booked with Avios and Money. 

Part Payment

Another way to redeem Avios is often to use their part pay. This is similar to Avios and Money, except you’re paying primarily cash and topping off with British Airways Avios in exchange for a savings. Savings typically range from £10 to £200 per person, though they can be higher depending on the fare. However, Part Payment is only available on British Airways and American Airlines direct flights to and from the UK and North America.

This option allows you to earn elite qualifying miles since it is a paid fare and it’s a good way to get rid of Avios you have just sitting around collecting dust. However, I’m not sure I’d want to take advantage of this. 

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Part Payment offers differ depending on the route

If you used 7,500 Avios for Part Payment, you’d get an equivalent of a £50 ($72) discount, which comes out to .96 cents per point. That’s not terrible to some people, but instead of eating up 7,500 Avios to save $72, you could use those 7,500 Avios toward one leg of a more expensive short-haul flight.

Upgrading Using Avios

When you book an award with British Airways, you have the option to Upgrade Using Avios. This means you purchase a fare with cash and then upgrade the class using Avios. The catch to this is that only certain class fares in economy can be upgraded, meaning that you have to purchase the more expensive fares in order to upgrade. 

Sometimes it is worth it to book an upgrade while other times it’s much more costly — it usually depends on the class you’re trying to upgrade from. Check out this article to find out more about when it makes sense to Upgrade Using Avios.


One of the big knocks against British Airways is the massive fees and surcharges that you have to pay when you fly with them. These can be especially bad when you go through London or on long-haul flights. The good news is that when you book Oneworld and other partner awards you can often avoid these hefty surcharges. 

Stopover and open jaw rules 

Since British Airways operates on a distance-based chart, you are free to book stopovers as you like because the stopovers will just be factored into the overall distance of the trip. Utilizing stopovers on British Airways is a great way to maximize the value of Avios on long-haul flights and I discuss more of that in my sweet spots article. British Airways also allows one-way awards so you can always open jaw however you would like.


British Airways has different policies for cancelling bookings depending on where you were schedule to depart from. To make changes you will have to pay $55 for date/time changes and or to have Avios redeposited into your account, plus a $25 service fee if you cancel over the phone. The $55 fee is not bad compared to many other major airlines. 

Put reservations on hold 

British Airways does not allow you to put reservations on hold.

Household accounts and Family and Friends List

British Airways is pretty flexible when it comes to booking award flights for other people. There are two ways to book Avios flight for others.

A) Household accounts

British Airways allows you to create what is called “household accounts” where you can share Avios among one another. They allow you to add up to six individuals, even kids, who live in the same household. To create a household account, you only one “head of household” to be an Avios member. When any Avios are spent, British Airways will deduct a proportional amount from each Member’s balance in the Household Account.

Here are a couple of additional rules to remember:

  • Members of a Household Account cannot redeem their Avios for anyone outside of the Household Account
  • Changes to the registered Household Account address can only be made once every six months
  • Executive Club Members must be 18 years or older before they can spend their Avios

B) Family and Friends List

In addition to creating a household account, you can create a family and friends list. This allows Household Account members to redeem for up to five nominated individuals who do not live at the same address. In other words, you can use your Avios on your friends. The major difference between the household account and this is that the points are not pooled together.

There’s also the Travel Companion List but that is just a streamlined way of storing travel information for other who will travel with you when you are purchasing tickets and it doesn’t affect award booking.

Final Word

That’s it for the introduction to British Airways Avios. Now check out my article on the sweet spots for redeeming Avios

Photo by BriYYZ via Flickr


New Flying Blue Promo Awards to Europe for Summer 2016

Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program for Air France and KLM (and others), offers promo awards at the beginning of each month for special redemptions that usually range from 20% to 50% off certain flights. Most of these flights are typically for economy or economy plus but sometimes Flying Blue will even offer business class fares.

flying blue LOGO

Starting next month, on May 1st, 2016, Flying Blue members will have the chance to get from Boston to Europe in business class for 93,750 miles roundtrip or 46,875 miles one way. This is a great rate for business class to Europe and it even approaches the insane business class redemptions of ANA that go for 88,000 miles to Europe.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 7.08.37 AM

You’ll have to book from May 1st to May 31st and travel between July 1st and August 31st to take advantage of the offer.

Don’t forget that for Flying Blue, several countries in northern Africa and even Israel fall into the “Europe” category. These countries are:

  • Algeria, Israel, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Getting to the Middle East (to Israel) in business class for 93,750 miles is an absolute bargain when compared to the mileage requirements of other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 165,000
  • American Airlines: 140,000
  • ANA Partner: 104,000 (high surcharges likely)
  • Delta: 170,000
  • United: 160,000

There are a few drawbacks to using these promo awards.

First, you’re not allowed to modify or cancel your bookings.

Second, because you’d be flying with Air France or KLM, you’d be paying somewhat hefty fuel surcharges. If you’re heading to Israel, I think the savings are still pretty outstanding considering your other options and if you’re headed to the continent of Europe, they are still good, just not as outstanding as they would be with lower fuel surcharges.

The final drawback is a little unclear. I can’t recall where I came across the information, but I recall reading that stopovers are not allowed on Flying Blue promo awards. A little bit of research shows that some have been able to call in and add stopovers to these bookings, but I’m pretty sure I read that they are not allowed.

The official Flying Blue website only provides the following with respect to the booking conditions of promo awards:

General conditions on Promo Awards

  • Reservations must be made exclusively on or (except for bookings for children, infants and minors, who are not authorised to book an award on the website).
  • In the event that a technical problem occurs when reserving the promotional fare or if the reservation cannot be finalised, the Flying Blue member must log on to the site and repeat the procedure.
  • This award ticket may be used on connecting flights within Europe and on connecting flights from Europe to long-haul flights.
  • These promotional Promo Awards may not be modified, cancelled or refunded.
  • Promo Awards are available for one-way tickets and round trips.
  • Flex Awards are not included in the Promo Awards offer.
  • Promo Awards are subject to availability

Since stopovers for Flying Blue need to be called in to be booked, there might be some issues in booking a stopover for the promo award. In any event, there’s no harm in giving it a try.

Cover photo by BriYYZ via Flickr.

The Best Ways to Use Miles and Points to Get to Europe

There are a number of ways to use miles and points to get to Europe for very cheap. Some of the best redemptions depend on your specific route and destination but others are great deals regardless of where you’re departing from and landing. Here’s a list of 8 of the best ways to use points and miles to get to Europe! 

Update: See my article on the best way to use miles and points to get to Paris for a more in-depth look at getting to Europe. 

1) Flying Blue

  • 25,000 miles (depends on the promo)
  • 50,000 miles – Standard redemption to Europe Flying Blue

Photo by Can Pac Swire via Flickr

Flying Blue offers amazing promo deals that sometimes offer as much as 50% off to Europe! These deals pop up at the beginning of each month so you’ll need to keep a close on them to take advantage of them. Even if you don’t catch one of the promo deals, the standard rate of 50,000 miles roundtrip to Europe is not bad, especially if you can minimize the fees by booking with a SkyTeam alliance partner like Delta. Flying Blue also allows you one stopover and one open jaw so you have increased value. 

How to get miles for Flying Blue

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Citi Thankyou Points

2) British Airways Avios

British Airways Avios operates on a distance-based chart, so to take advantage of these best redemption rates you need to be departing from the East Coast of the United States and landing somewhere in Western Europe. However, even if you’re coming from the West Coast, some of the redemptions can still be pretty decent. And remember, with British Airways you can stopover and/or open jaw pretty much anywhere but you’ll have to factor in the increased distance added to your redemption.

London Heathrow U.K. - British Airways Flag carrier

Photo by Daniel Mennerich

There are several ways to take advantage of the British Airways Avios distance-based system when getting to Europe. I’ll show you how to utilize these Avios with three different One World airlines, including British Airways.

a) Aer Lingus

  • 25,000 Avios – Boston to Dublin
  • 40,000 Avios – NYC/Chicago/Toronto to Dublin
  • 50,000 Avios – LA/San Francisco to Dublin

One popular way to get to Europe with British Airways is to book flights with the Irish airlines Aer Lingus. The Boston to Dublin route is highly valuable because it contains a total of 2,987 miles, which puts it just under the 3,000 mile range of the next bracket for British Airways. That’s how you can do a round trip for only 25,000 Avios and the route is only about 6 hours so it’s very doable in economy. Check here for a list of all Aer Lingus direct flights from North America.

You’ll need to search United’s website to find availability for Aer Lingus and then call in to British Airways to proceed with the booking.

b) British Airways

  • 34,000 Avios – NYC to Dublin

Off-peak flights from the East Coast to Europe can be as low as 34,000 Avios. However, I don’t generally recommend to fly with British Airways to Europe because you will get hit with heavy fuel surcharges. Take a look at the fees for the route below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 1.16.42 PM

While the off-peak redemption requires fewer miles than the Aer Lingus redemption, it also requires much more in fees than the same route would require booked with Aer Lingus.

c) Air Berlin

  • 40,000 Avios – NYC to Berlin
  • 40,000 Avios – NYC/Boston to Düsseldorf
  • 50,000 Avios – Chicago/Miami to Berlin
  • 50,000 Avios – Ft. Meyers/Miami to Düsseldorf

Air Berlin is a solid choice to get to Europe from the East Coast with minimal fees. Just take a look at the redemption below… the fees pale in comparison to what you would have to pay if you booked a British Airways flight on its own metal. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 1.12.17 PM

How to get British Airways Avios

  • American Express Membership Rewards (10:8)
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Chase British Airways Credit Card

3) Iberia Airlines Plus

  • 34,000 Avios – NYC/Chicago to Madrid
  • 42,500 – Miami to Madrid Iberia Airlines

Photo by Bernal Saborio via Flickr.

Iberia Airlines Plus is part of the same Avios system as British Airways and implements a distance-based system as well. However, it has its own unique redemption policies that do differ and has an advantage over British Airways in that you can avoid higher taxes and fees.

One sweet redemption is getting from Chicago or New York to Madrid for only 34,000 Avios and “only” about $180-$200 in fees (which compared to British Airways is actually not bad). You can lower the fees by booking flights on American Airlines, but keep in mind that the milage requirement will go up since Iberia charges more miles for certain partners and you can’t book one-way awards on American Airlines with Iberia

How to get Iberia Avios

  • American Express Membership Rewards (10:8)
  • Transfer 1:1 from British Airways Avios

4) Singapore Airlines

  • 34,000 miles – East Coast (JFK and Houston) to Europe II

Photo by Pieter van Marion via Fickr.

Singapore Airlines is another great way get to Europe but you’re restricted geographically just like British Airways. If you depart from the East Coast/Houston to “Europe II,” you can get rates as low as 34,000 roundtrip if you capture the online 15% booking discount. The following locations fall into the Europe II category:

  • Barcelona
  • Frankfurt
  • London
  • Manchester
  • Milan
  • Moscow
  • Munich
  • Paris
  • Zurich

However, you need to note that Singapore Airlines will charge you significant fees. For example, I came across the following fees when trying out some bookings:

  • NYC to Frankfurt – $464
  • Houston to Moscow – $393

You can get around these hefty fees by booking Star Alliance partner United with Singapore Airlines. As shown on their Star Alliance partner award chart, flights from North America to Europe can be booked as low as 55,000 miles, but partner airlines are not given the 15% discount and the redemption rates are higher, so the deal is not to sweet (though still decent). 

One thing to remember: Singapore Airlines allows one stopover and one open jaw on round trip saver awards to everywhere except Europe and the U.S.

How to get Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi Thankyou Points

5) American Airlines

  • 45,000 to Europe American Airlines

Photo by ERIC SALARD via Flickr.

American Airlines MileSAAver awards allow for redemptions to Europe as low as 45,000 round trip. Try to avoid booking British Airways flights on the American Airlines website to cut down on fees charged. If you stick with American Airlines you can keep your fees as low as about $50 but if you route with British Airways through London, your fees can easily amount to $650 plus.

American Airlines does not allow for stopovers at international destinations although open jaws are permitted. The lack of stopovers is a bummer but if you only have your sights set on one destination in Europe this becomes less of a concern and the roundtrip for 45,000 becomes much sweeter.

How to get American Airlines Aadvantage miles

  • Citi Platinum Select/Executive
  • Citigold Checking bonuses
  • Starwood Preferred Guests

6) Korean Air

  • 50,000 miles to Europe

korean air plane

Photo by My16SidedOffice via Flickr.

Korean offers decent redemptions to Europe. When booking with a SkyTeam partner you are allowed one stopover during the entire journey that can be in the zone of departure or arrival and one “surface segment” (open jaw) at the destination that is not considered a stopover. This allows for great flexibility when booking. Korean Air will often require surcharges when getting to Europe but if you can find availability on airlines like Delta that shouldn’t be a major problem.

How to get Korean Air SKYPASS miles

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards 
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

7) ANA

  • 55,000 miles to Europe

ANA is a great option to get to Europe because you can avoid high fees by booking with Star Alliance partners like United and they allow for flexibility with generous stopover and open jaw policies. With ANA, you’re allowed to open jaw twice and stopover once. The rules for the open jaw are a little confusing because they define some continents as “countries” and alternate the terms “zones” and “areas” without clear definitions of exactly what they are referring to.

However, in terms of going to Europe, you can pretty much open jaw anywhere in the continent and stopover there one time as well. To find out more about these booking policies, read more about booking ANA award flights here.

How to get ANA miles

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guests

8) United

  • 60,000 miles to Europe

United’s Saver Awards allow you to get to Europe in economy for 60,000 miles (the same mileage requirement applies to Star Alliance redemptions). While this redemption is among the highest of the airlines on the list, you have to remember that with United you don’t have to worry about fuel surcharges and so your tickets to Europe will cost next-to-nothing. You’re also allowed an open jaw on a roundtrip ticket and two open jaws, allowing for superb flexibility and maximization of miles.

How to get United Mileage Plus miles

  • Starwood Preferred Guests (bad 2:1 ratio)
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Chase United Mileage Plus Credit Card

Guide to Korean Air SKYPASS Award Miles

Korean Air SKYPASS is a quality frequent flyer program with some great sweet spots serving different places around the globe. The program requires a bit of extra effort to proceed with booking alliance partner awards, but that little bit of extra work definitely pays off in the end. Here’s a guide to booking awards with Korean Air SKYPASS miles on SkyTeam alliance partners with a look at some of the best redemptions available. 

What is SKYPASS?


SKYPASS is Korean Air’s frequent flier program. Korean Air is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance so you can use SKYPASS to book award flights on SkyTeam Alliance partners in addition to several non-alliance partners. 

SkyTeam Alliance Partners

The SkyTeam Alliance

Non-SkyTeam Alliance Partners

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Hawaiian

How to get SKYPASS miles?

There are three ways to get SKYPASS miles with major credit cards: 

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
  • Starwood Preferred Guests (1:1)
  • SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

Ultimate Rewards

For Ultimate Rewards, you can go with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® and earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening up your account or you can go with the Chase Ink Plus® and earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 within the first three months of opening up your account. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000

Starwood Preferred Guests

You can also go with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which offers 25,000 to 35,000 points for its sign-up bonus. Keep in mind that when SPG points are transferred to programs like SKYPASS, you receive a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 miles you transfer. 

SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

Finally, you can look into the SKYPASS Visa Signature Cards issued by US Bank. They have both a personal and a business version where you can earn up to 30,000 SKYPASS miles relatively easy with only a $2,000 minimum spend. [offer expired]


The annual fees for both cards aren’t waived but are reasonable coming under $100. If you’re looking for a way to jump start your earnings or cap-off your SKYPASS miles these cards are definitely decent options. Just be aware that US Bank can issue you the lesser “Classic” card if they don’t deem you credit-worthy and that card comes with a very low bonus of only 5,000 miles, so consider that when applying.

Booking policies

The only real drawback to Korean Air is that booking partner awards requires a bit more effort than some other airlines, as they have some unique policies and hurdles you’ll have to clear in order to finalize your booking.

Redeeming Korean Air SKYPASS miles for family members

Korean Air allows its members to make bookings for immediate family members (up to 5) through its “family plan” but you’ve got to jump through a few hoops first and through the registration process. Family members that qualify for this include: Grandparents, parents, spouse, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, parents-in law, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

You’ll have to send in the application online (emailing to is the preferred method), or via fax/snail mail and if you’re a non-resident of Korea, you’ll have to include a copy of some form of identity verification, such as family registers, resident registration, birth certificates,marriage certificates, etc.

Expect about 48 to 72 hours to process the application but make sure that you have a hand-written signature on the form and not a digital version because they won’t accept that!

Tip: If you don’t want to bother with this process (or don’t have the necessary documentation), you can always consider transferring points from individual Ultimate Rewards/SPG accounts into separate SKYPASS accounts and just complete separate bookings. 

Booking award flights

Update: you can now search and book partner awards online! 

Booking award flights with partner airlines on Korean Air SKYPASS is a bit of a painful process. Here’s why: 

  • First, to book an award flight with a partner airline you must call in to book.
  • Second, the Korean Air website will normally not show you partner availability so you should search on other websites, such as Delta’s to find the availability. 
  • Third, to make matters even worse, when you finally do find the availability you are looking for you will be required to send in the application for booking award tickets along with a copy of the passport of each passenger. 

Although this process is a little lengthy and a little weird, I really think the bit of extra effort it requires is still worth it given the great redemption rates of Korean Air.

Put reservations on hold 

One thing that is great about SKYPASS is that you can put your reservations on hold. I’ve read reports of some being told that the limit for held reservations is 14 days, 30 days, and even longer. When I inquired with SKYPASS (two times), I was told that you can keep a reservation on hold up until 3 days before the departure. This means that, at least in theory, you could have a reservation on hold for months and months at a time.

I wouldn’t count on such long holds being allowed 100% of the time and you’ll always have to contend with fluctuating taxes, but in any event, you shouldn’t have to worry about putting reservations on hold for just a couple of weeks at a time. 


SKYPASS has different zone charts for bookings on Korean Air, Star Alliance Partners, and non-alliance partners. Since I’m just focusing on booking SkyTeam Alliance flights with Korean Air right now, below are the award charts for bookings made on Star Alliance Partners. 

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Certain routes have their own rates which are a little cheaper. You can take a closer look on their website to see what routes offer these discounted rates.  

Stopover and open jaw rules 

Korean Air offers flexible rules for stopovers and open jaws. 

  • One stopover is permitted during the entire journey (this can be in the zone of departure or arrival).
  • Up to two transfers are permitted between city of departure and destination for each direction (for a total of three segments each way). 
  • One “surface segment” (open jaw) is permitted at the destination, and is not considered a stopover. 

These rules allow you to maximize the value of your bookings by essentially offering you ways to stop over in certain destinations free of charge.

You can only book roundtrips

  • SkyTeam Bonus is valid only for round-trip and same amount of mileage will be redeemed for one-way trip. 

So basically, it’s a waste to book one-way awards.


There are no fees to cancel or modify your bookings.

Update: Korean Air now will charge roughly $27 for cancelled bookings.

I asked what the latest date possible would be to cancel a booking and was told that “it depends” on the reasoning. It sounded as if one could cancel a booking last minute without penalty but I’m sure that YMMV on that.

Once you cancel your booking, your miles should be redeposited back into your account within 48 to 72 hours and the taxes and fees will be refunded no later than 4 to 6 weeks. 


You can get around surcharges by booking your award flights with the right partners. Most of the partners like that fly to and from North and South America (Delta, AeroMexico, etc.) will have surcharges of next-to-nothing. However, when flying to and from Europe or Asia you might have to deal with more surcharges. (I’ll try to write up more on surcharges later.)

Sweet spots

In an effort to keep this article at a reasonable length, I’m only going to focus on SkyTeam Alliance partner sweet spots from North America to various destinations around the world with SKYPASS and I will follow up with additional sweet spots on a later article.

Here are the summaries for the sweet spots: 

  • North America to Hawaii
    • 25,000 miles in economy
    • 45,000 miles in business class
  • North America to Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico
    • 25,000 miles in economy
    • 45,000 miles in business class
  • North America to Europe
    • 50,000 miles in economy
    • 80,000 miles in business class
  • North America to South America 
    • 50,000 miles in economy
    • 110,000 miles in business class

It’s all about the sweet spots!

1) North America to Hawaii

  • 25,000 miles in economy
  • 45,000 miles in business class

Korean Air offers possibly the best way to get to Hawaii with miles and points. One of the only other programs that allows for such low redemption to Hawaii is British Airways, but you’re limited to departing off the West Coast. With SKYPASS miles, you can depart from anywhere in the United States and always break up your flight with a stopover.

For example, you could depart from the middle of the United States, stop over in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then be on your way to Hawaii and come back all for only 25,000 miles. That means with just hitting the sign-up bonus on card like the Sapphire Preferred® you and a partner could have airfare covered roundtrip to Hawaii. (Read about Loophole Travel’s recent redemption to Hawaii for more on this sweet redemption.)   

Compare SKYPASS to other programs:

  • Aeroplan: 45,000
  • American Airlines: 45,000
  • British Airways Avios: 25,000 Avios (from the West Coast)
  • ANA Partner: 40,000
  • Delta: 45,000
  • United: 45,000
  • Singapore Airlines: 35,000 

The business class redemption to Hawaii for 45,000 miles is pretty exceptional as well. In fact, that’s the same amount of miles required by United, American Airlines, Delta, and Aeroplan just to get to Hawaii in North America in economy roundtrip, as you can see above. 

2) North America to Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon 

  • 25,000 miles in economy
  • 45,000 miles in business class

Getting to Mexico and a few other destinations like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with Korean Air SKYPASS is also a bargain. Since they are also a part of North America, the mileage requirements are the same for Hawaii. 

Compare SKYPASS to other requirements for getting to Mexico:

  • Aeroplan: 40,000
  • American Airlines: 30,000
  • ANA Partner: 30,000
  • Delta: 35,000
  • Flying Blue: 25,000 miles
  • United: 35,000

3) North America to Europe 

  • 50,000 miles in economy
  • 80,000 miles in business class

Korean Air SKYPASS has some of the cheapest redemptions from North America to Europe in economy at 50,000 round trip.

Compare these rates to the following airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000 to 75,000 
  • American Airlines: 45,000 to 60,000
  • ANA Partner: 55,000 
  • British Airways: 34,000 (Departing Northeast to northwest Europe; surcharges likely)
  • Delta: 60,000 to 82,000 
  • Singapore Airlines: 34,000 (from IAH/East Coast to western Europe and with online 15% discount; heavy surcharges likely) 
  • United: 60,000 

While British Airways and Singapore Airlines offer lower redemption rates, keep in mind that those rates are restricted geographically and will usually incur much higher taxes and fuel surcharges than booking a partner airline like Delta with Korean Air. With Korean Air, you can depart from anywhere in the U.S. and arrive anywhere in Europe for the flat rate of 50,000. That’s what makes it such a great sweet spot.  

The sweet spot gets even sweeter for business class, as Korean Air even beats out ANA’s ridiculously low rates for business class to Europe and only requires 80,000 miles! That’s only 20,000 more miles than many other airlines require for economy to Europe.

Compare this SKYPASS redemption to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000
  • ANA Partner: 88,000
  • Delta: 125,000
  • United: 115,000 miles (140,000 miles if booked with alliance partner)

4) North America to South America 

  • 50,000 miles in economy
  • 110,000 miles in business class

The redemptions are among the best for getting to southern South America. For example, take a look at the mileage requirements for getting from North America to Santiago, Chile. Only 50,000 miles are required!    

Compare SKYPASS to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 60,000
  • ANA Partner: 55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 50,000
  • United: 60,000

Just note that for some airlines that divide South America into two regions (usually “North” and “South”), you might be better off booking with another award program. For example, take a look at the rates for going from North America to a destination (Lima, Peru) typically included in the northern portion of South America:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 35,000
  • ANA Partner:  55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 35,000
  • United: 40,000

The 50,000 SKYPASS redemption from North America to a place like Lima, Peru isn’t that bad but it’s definitely not the best redemption you can find. Thus, if you’re headed to northern South America, you might not want to go with Korean Air and save yourself a good 10-15,000 points. 

The business class redemptions aren’t bad for getting to “lower” South America, though. For example, it will only require 110,000 miles to get to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in business class with SKYPASS. 

Compare this to other requirements for getting from North America to Rio De Janeiro:

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000 miles
  • ANA Partner: 88,000 miles 
  • Delta: 150,000 miles
  • United: 110,000 miles

While it’s not the lowest redemption (I don’t think many, if any, airlines can compete with ANA on this redemption), it’s still among the best for the major airlines. 

Final Word

Korean Air SKYPASS is a great way to redeem miles for SkyTeam partner airlines. There are some rich sweet spots that are among the best out there and while you might have to jump through a few extra hoops to take advantage of some of these, it can definitely be worth it when you’re saving tens of thousands of points. 

Cover photo by My16SidedOffice via Flickr.

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