Booking premium domestic products (on the cheap)

Back in March I observed that Delta's premium transcontinental BusinessElite service was bookable using Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan miles at the standard domestic First Class rate. That fluke has since been fixed, but it got me thinking about the best ways to book those premium transcontinental seats using partner miles. Here's what I found:

American Airlines

American Airlines operates a 3-cabin First Class product on transcontinental flights between JFK and LAX and between JFK and SFO. Booking these 3-cabin First Class seats through AAdvantage costs 32,500 miles each way at the SAAver level.

The popular workaround of using British Airways Avios on oneworld awards is actually counter-productive in this case, since for premium cabin redemptions British Airways charges 2 (Business) or 3 (First) times the cost of an economy award. Since LAX and SFO are in the 2000–3000 mile band, a First Class redemption will cost 37,500 Avios from JFK each way.

Instead, book your First Class ticket using US Airways Dividend Miles. You'll pay just 50,000 Dividend Miles, since US Airways doesn't have a spot on its domestic award chart for 3-cabin Business Class.

While researching this I naturally started wondering what would happen if you tried to price out a First Class award on a date when seats were available in Business but not First, since they don't have a separate price point for domestic Business. This is what I found:

Clever girl!

Delta Airlines

Delta operates their premium BusinessElite product between JFK and LAX, SEA, and SFO, and prices those seats out at 65,000 Skymiles roundtrip.

Many people would prefer to burn Skymiles instead of other, more valuable mileage currencies, but you can still book BusinessElite tickets with 65,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles roundtrip, which you might consider doing in order to put together an itinerary that mixes and matches American's First Class and Delta's BusinessElite products, perhaps if you're some kind of travel blogger intent on reviewing these products (or if you just happen to be Mileage Plan rich).

If you're booking an award ticket for yourself or a (very) immediate family member, and are willing to persevere through their Byzantine booking procedure, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Korean Airlines and book a roundtrip BusinessElite flight for 45,000 SkyPass miles.

United Airlines

United operates their "Premium Service" BusinessFirst product between JFK and LAX and JFK and SFO. Unfortunately my cursory glance showed essentially no award availability on the product. If you are able to find award space at the Saver level, it costs just 25,000 United miles each way, since it is a two-cabin product.

Star Alliance has a number of member airlines with interesting mileage programs, so you may find lucrative redemption options in your own favorite non-US program. Here are some that occurred off the top of my head:

  • Aegean Airlines. If you happened to have run up a balance of Aegean miles while qualifying for Star Alliance Gold status, you can redeem 21,000 of them for a one-way Business Class ticket within North America;
  • Lifemiles. As you may have noticed, Lifemiles are currently having a moment. If you've accumulated a stash of them, you can redeem 60,000 for a roundtrip Business Class flight within North America. Those miles may be cheaper than you think;
  • Lufthansa Miles & More. As is pointed out ad nauseam whenever a new affiliate link is released, Lufthansa allows you to redeem 35,000 miles for roundtrip domestic First Class (or in this case, BusinessFirst) awards within the US.

Do take a look at United BusinessFirst award availability, in case you think I'm exaggerating. You should probably not plan on redeeming any reasonable number of miles for that product, unless they open up vastly more award space in the future.