Airlines

When is it okay to redeem miles for Economy Class tickets?

Conventional wisdom holds that you should never redeem miles for Economy Class, but is this a hard and fast rule?

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that one does not redeem miles for Economy Class. It’s something I emphasize in every article, reiterate at every workshop, and segue into every dinner conversation (“What do you think about the PMD ban?” “Oh, I think it’s poorly thought through, like redeeming your miles for Economy Class”)

My reasoning is simple: most people could pay for an Economy Class ticket if they really had to. But how many would be willing or able to spend money on First or Business Class?

In other words, you could trade your miles for something you’d normally have anyway, or you could trade them for an otherwise unattainable experience. That’s why I’ve always viewed redeeming miles for Economy Class as the aviation equivalent of giving up your birthright for a bowl of stew.

Now all that said, it’s probably necessary to add some nuance to this view because there are situations where Economy Class redemptions can make sense. I’m going to lay out some general principles first, before diving into specific examples.

During peak periods or for last minute travel

If you’re trying to book a ticket for last minute travel, or during peak periods like Christmas/Chinese New Year, you’ll be amazed how much budget or Economy Class tickets can cost.

On the other hand, award redemptions (at least for frequent flyer programs in this part of the world) always cost the same, regardless of how far ahead you book or when you’re looking to travel. Therefore, there may be periods where you get a higher than usual cents per mile figure even if you redeem your miles for Economy Class.

On routes where fuel surcharges are minimal/non-existent

Economy Class redemptions rarely make sense on routes where fuel surcharges and taxes are significant, because the amount of cash you’ll pay on a redemption can approximate the cost of a revenue ticket.

Suppose I want to redeem my KrisFlyer miles for an Economy Class ticket to London on Turkish Airlines. I’d pay not only 76,000 miles, but S$779 of cash– the main culprits being Turkish Airlines’ insane fuel surcharge (S$495.80) and the UK’s long haul Air Passenger Duty (S$136.50).

Paying S$779 of cash on a “free” ticket is hard to stomach, especially when revenue Economy Class fares start from S$872. My 76,000 miles are basically saving me about S$90- a raw deal if I ever saw one!

It’s an extreme example, of course, but it simply illustrates how high fuel surcharges and taxes can negate the advantage of redeeming Economy Class awards (because you’re still on the hook for them anyway).

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In contrast, on routes where fuel surcharges are modest or non-existent, Economy Class redemptions can lead to bigger cash savings.

When your travel plans aren’t finalized

Although it may be tempting to buy the cheapest Economy Class tickets, these tend to be non-refundable and aren’t an option if you haven’t firmed up your plans.

To avoid paying expensive refundable fares, it may be worth booking an Economy Class award that at least allows cancellations for a small fee.

When Economy Class awards go on sale

Frequent flyer programs may run Economy Class award sales from time to time. This could be a regular feature, like KrisFlyer’s monthly Spontaneous Escapes, or ad-hoc , like British Airway’s ongoing 50% off Avios awards sale. Not every discounted Economy Class award represents a great deal, but they’re worth taking note of nonetheless. 

So with those general principles in mind, here’s some Economy Class sweet spots you might consider.

KrisFlyer

KrisFlyer’s main advantage when it comes to Economy Class redemptions is that it does’t impose fuel surcharges on Singapore Airlines/SilkAir awards. It doesn’t mean that all Economy Class redemptions on KrisFlyer are great value, but certainly makes them more feasible than on other frequent flyer programs.

To  South Africa and Turkey on Singapore Airlines

Singapore to the Middle East and Africa is a well-known sweet spot on the KrisFlyer chart, allowing you to fly almost 28 hours for a mere 50,000 miles.

DestinationRound Trip Economy
Istanbul50,000 miles + S$84
Johannesburg50,000 miles + S$94
Cape Town50,000 miles + S$94

All three routes are operated by the A350-900, and while Economy Class is Economy Class, at least you’ll get a more modern seat and IFE system. It gets even better on the odd occasion where these destinations go on 30% off during Spontaneous Escapes.

Within India on Vistara

India has no shortage of budget flights, but if you want something a bit nicer without breaking the bank, consider Vistara. A joint-venture of SIA and Tata Sons, this boutique airline offers much superior service and equipment to the dreaded Air India.

It also helps that their intra-India awards start at just 7.5K KrisFlyer miles with minimal taxes, less than the 12.5K on Air India. Plus, you’ll also save on therapy costs.

Within North America on Alaska Airlines

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For flights within North America (i.e. Canada, Mexico, and the USA), consider redeeming KrisFlyer miles for Alaska Airlines. Redemption rates range between 7.5-12K miles for a one-way Economy Class award, there are no fuel surcharges, and airport taxes are minimal.

This is even better than the 12.5-17.5K miles you’d have to pay if you redeemed United Airlines awards via the Star Alliance partner chart.

British Airways Executive Club

British Airways Executive Club is a transfer partner of Citibank and AMEX, and despite the recent Avios devaluation, remains the go-to program for short-haul, direct flights in Economy Class.

We’ll explain why direct in just a bit, but first, here’s their distance-based award chart:

EconomyPremium EconomyBusinessFirst
Off-PeakPeakOff-PeakPeakOff-PeakPeakOff-PeakPeak
Zone 1 (1-650)4K6K5.75K9K7.75K12.5K15.5K24K
Zone 2 (651-1,151)6.5K9K9.5K12.5K12.75K16.5K25.5K33K
Zone 3 (1,152-2,000)8.5K11K12.75K16.5K17K22K34K44K
Zone 4 (2,001-3,000)10K13K20K27.5K31.25K38.75K42.5K51.5K
Zone 5 (3,001-4,000)13K20.75K26K41.25K50K62K68K82.5K
Zone 6 (4,001-5,500)16.25K25.75K32.5K51.5K62.5K77.25K85K103K
Zone 7 (5,501-6,500)19.5K31K39K62K75K92.75K102K123.75K
Zone 8 (6,501-7,000)22.75K36.25K45.5K72.25K87.5K108.25K119K144.25K
Zone 9 (7,001+)32.5K51.5K65K103K125K154.5K170K206K
Off-peak awards only apply to flights during certain periods on British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus. All other partner carriers will follow peak pricing regardless of time of year

Just by eyeballing the prices for short-haul Economy Class awards, you can already see why this program can have tremendous value- awards start at just 4K miles! But there’s one important caveat- Avios prices awards by segment, so if you’re flying X->Y->Z, the distance from X->Y will be measured and priced, before being added to the price of Y->Z.

Let’s say you’re flying from SIN-PNH via KUL on Malaysia Airlines, for example. The total distance flown is 826 miles, which you might think costs 9K Avios. However, because of how Avios prices, you’ll pay for SIN-KUL (184 miles= 6K Avios) + KUL-PNH (642 miles= 6K Avios) =12K Avios total.

The upshot is that the sweet spots for Avios only apply for direct flights, because once you have a layover, much of the value disappears.

Regional awards from Singapore on Malaysia Airlines, Cathay, and Qantas

Since you’re limited to direct flights only, there aren’t that many options out of Singapore. Where options exist, however, they’re on fairly popular routes like Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Perth.

DestinationRound Trip Economy
Kuala Lumpur12,000 miles + S$70
Bangkok18,000 miles + S$130
Hong Kong22,000 miles + S$136
Perth26,000 miles + S$180

It’s important to emphasize that some of these awards may not make sense all the time, especially to Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. If you can get deep discount budget flights, it’s not worth spending the miles. However, if you’re booking last minute and prices have gone crazy, then this may be a viable option.

Intra-Europe on BA, Aer Lingus, Iberia, S7, and Finnair

One-way prices shown
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Awards for intra-Europe Economy travel start from 4-6K miles, depending on the carrier and when you fly. This is much lower than KrisFlyer’s 12.5K miles minimum for Economy Class travel within Europe. You’ll obviously want to be aware of budget flight options and fuel surcharges, but there are many scenarios where you can get great value redemptions here.

Domestic Australia/trans-Tasman on Qantas

One-way prices shown

If you’re flying within Australia through KrisFlyer, you’d have to pay 11-20K miles for Economy awards on Virgin Australia. However, Avios awards on Qantas can be almost 50% less at 6-13K miles. You won’t have to deal with fuel surcharges on domestic Qantas redemptions.

Domestic Japan on JAL

One-way prices shown

Avios awards for domestic Japan flights will cost 6-9K miles, a bargain compared to KrisFlyer’s flat 12.5K for ANA domestic Japan flights. You won’t have any pesky fuel surcharges to deal with, and taxes are almost non-existent. I paid S$7 of cash for an Osaka-Itami to Tokyo-Haneda award.

Etihad Guest

Etihad Guest is a transfer partner of Citibank and Standard Chartered. Even though it’s not part of any alliance, it’s got a veritable harem of redemption partners, which opens up some interesting options.

Flying around Eastern Europe on Air Serbia

I know we covered intra-Europe awards with Avios, but for those venturing around Eastern Europe in particular, Air Serbia could be the right choice for you. This is especially the case if oneworld does not operate direct flights between your origin and destination.

OriginDestination One-Way Economy One-Way Business 
BelgradePodgorica5,0007,125
BelgradeSarajevo5,0007,125
BelgradeBanja Luka5,0007,125
BelgradeTivat5,0007,125
BelgradeDubrovnik5,0007,125
BelgradeBudapest5,0007,125
BelgradeSkopje5,0007,125
BelgradeSofia5,0007,125
BelgradeSplit5,0007,125
BelgradeBucharest5,0007,125
BelgradeVienna5,0007,125
BelgradeLjubljana5,0007,125
BelgradePula5,0007,125
BelgradeThessaloniki5,0007,125
BelgradeVarna5,0007,125
BelgradeRome5,0007,125
BelgradePrague5,0007,125
BelgradeTirana5,0007,125
BelgradeZagreb5,0007,125
BelgradeWarsaw5,0907,253
BelgradeAthens5,1207,296
BelgradeIstanbul 5,1807,382
BelgradeMilan5,4107,709
BelgradeStuttgart5,8908,393
BelgradeZurich5,9108,422
BelgradeBerlin6,070 8,650
BelgradeFrankfurt6,5509,334
BelgradeMalta6,9109,847
BelgradeDusseldorf7,67010,930
BelgradeCopenhagen8,19011,671
BelgradeBrussels 8,43012,013
BelgradeAmsterdam8,75012,469
BelgradeParis CDG 8,79012,526
BelgradeLarnaca9,85014,036
BelgradeStockholm10,12014,421
BelgradeLondon Heathrow10,41014,834
BelgradeMoscow10,67015,205
BelgradeBeirut 11,08015,789
BelgradeTel Aviv11,78016,787
BelgradeAbu Dhabi21,59445,918
BelgradeNew York 44,97064,082

Within South America on GOL

If your travels ever take you to Brazil, GOL awards can be excellent value. It’s a no-frills carrier, but if you’re just concerned with getting from Point A to B, then 3K miles awards from Sao Paulo to Rio are definitely the way to go.

DistanceOne-Way EconomyOne-Way Comfort Economy
0-50030006000
500-1000600012000
1001-1500900017000
1501-20001200023000
2001-30001700034000
3001-40002300045000
4001-50002800056000

Asia Miles

Asia Miles is a transfer partner of AMEX, BOC, Citibank, DBS, HSBC, Maybank and UOB. The recent devaluation was hard on Business and First Class travelers, but those who liked flying at the back of the plane were in for a treat, because all Economy redemptions either stayed the same price or decreased in cost.

To North Asia on Cathay Pacific

Assuming you’re willing to take a one-stop option, you can get some very good value Economy awards from Singapore to North Asia.

DestinationRound Trip Economy
Taipei20,000 miles + S$195
Shanghai20,000 miles + S$190
Okinawa20,000 miles + S$240

Okinawa is just about at the tip of Cathay’s 2,750 miles distance band, and a round-trip journey to Japan for 20K miles is hard to beat. You could even cheat on the theme and do it in Business Class for 50K miles, allowing you to enjoy the Cathay Pacific lounges in Singapore and Hong Kong, and a flat-bed seat from Singapore to Hong Kong.

Conclusion

As much as I firmly believe that everyone should be saving up their miles for a First or Business Class trip, I’ll begrudgingly acknowledge that “never redeem miles for Economy” is more a guideline than a commandment. In certain situations, routes and frequent flyer programs, Economy Class awards can still be a good option.

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What other Economy Class sweet spots do you know of? Feel free to chip in!


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christ
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christ

you can add to the list regional domestic US awards on UA for 6.5K avianca lifemiles — i just redeemed four awards when cash rates were over $250 for a 1.5-hour flight

Kelvin
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Kelvin

You can add “domestic” route within Indonesia. For example: KNO-SIN-LOP,DPS,SUB,CGK, etc is only 15,000 KF roundtrip

Derek
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Derek

Another reason for using points on econ is if you need to purchase a one way ticket. Much better value than buying. Though I know this is not a common need for most travellers

No miles for me
Guest
No miles for me

Yep that’s what I do. One way J redemption and return Y redemption. The J redemption is overnight (I hate flying overnight in Y) and the Y redemption is a day flight. If I had to pay cash for the one way return Y flight then it’d cost way too much. Done this 5 times this year.

If I had enough points then I’d do J/F both ways.

freedom
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freedom

Or Koh Samui on SilkAir

M
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M

Maybe there’s something I’m missing out on the calculations; but I actually find it worth redeeming KF miles for SQ economy tickets on long haul flights to the US. Here’s my perspective on this. take the case of a SIN-JFK, economy saver revenue ticket would cost average around 1800 SGD. Saver awards are 80,000 miles + 185 SGD in taxes and fees so on average, the value of a mile i’m getting out of this is 1600 SGD / 80,000 miles = 2 cents / mile assuming worst case that i earned miles at the rate of 1.2 mpd, that’s… Read more »

freedom
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freedom

Because you choose JFK as an example. If you choose other cities in US, say, LAX or SFO, you can purchase PE for less than S$1.5K and earn 17k miles in the meantime.

Now tell me redeeming economy for long haul works.

M
Guest
M

Maybe there’s something I’m missing out on the calculations; but I actually find it worth redeeming KF miles for SQ economy tickets on long haul flights to the US. Here’s my perspective on this. take the case of a SIN-JFK, economy saver revenue ticket would cost average around 1800 SGD. Saver awards are 80,000 miles + 185 SGD in taxes and fees so on average, the value of a mile i’m getting out of this is 1600 SGD / 80,000 miles = 2 cents / mile assuming worst case that i earned miles at the rate of 1.2 mpd, that’s… Read more »

Wil
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Wil

When travelling in a family of 4, unless u have a lots of points and biz award space is a lot, redeeming economy class is the only choice.

freedom
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freedom

Why not just buy economy? Most time, it should be cheaper.