I thought it would be interesting to explore distance based award travel, the driving reason for me was to start digging around for sweet-spots on the different airlines so that we could find the most effective way to get the seat we want on a plane. Due to the airline alliances that are available there are many different ways to book an award seat for say, an American Airlines flight from Point A to Point B. So the goal here in this series will be to explore them and see which ones we should look at closer when booking award travel.
This is a very lucrative area for squeezing the most out of your airline points, and opens up opportunities that you might not have thought of before. For example, if you were to using the Japan Airlines mileage program to fly on their partner Emirates from JFK to Milan, with a distance of 7990 miles Round Trip you could fly Business Class for 63,000 miles. You can get JAL points by transferring from the Starwood’s SPG AMEX with a bonus of 5K for every 20K transferred, so you would earn at a 1:1.25 ratio. With First Class on Emirates for that run available for 100K JAL points you could transfer 80K SPG and get 100K JAL for that trip.
Which Airlines Offer Distance Based Award Travel?
From my research, I found that OneWorld has the most airlines that offer a Distance based program, there are 5 airlines that offer Distance based awards: British Airways, Cathay Pacific, LAN, JAL and Qantas pretty impressive considering there are only 12 member airlines. ANA was the only member of the much larger Star Alliance Program to offer distance based travel, and I couldn’t find a single operator in SkyTeam.
Distance Based Awards By Airline
ANA – calculates on total journey length
British Airways – calculated on One Way Only
Cathay Pacific – Hybrid Approach – offers a one way only or a total trip calculation
LAN – calculates on one way only
JAL – calculates on total journey length
Qantas – calculates on one way only
Not All Distance Based Travel is created equally
Within the programs I noticed a distinct split that impacts the value dramatically. This was whether or not the airline decided to operate ‘per one way leg’ or per total trip when it comes to travel. For example JAL works on a total trip, whereas LAN works on a One Way only, lets look at JFK-Cancun to understand that distinction:
Using LANs approach to this itinerary you would have to cross reference the chart for each leg of the journey, their chart (found below) states that for travel within the range of 1555 miles would be in their Zone 8 (Between 1243-3106 Miles) and would cost 27000 in Economy. Roundtrip would cost 54,000 LANpass points.
JAL however would look at the itinerary overall, and would instead decide that they would look at the number 3109 Miles and cross reference their chart for this, they would call this a Zone 3 award (between 2001 and 4000 miles) and charge 21000 JAL Mileage Bank points for this in total.
Since the two currencies are a little different in terms of earning, look at the distinction like this, if JAL thought of that JFK-Cancun route the same way that LAN did you would be forced to pay 2x Zone 2 awards at 20,000 each for 40,000 JAL points… quite the difference!
Some Airlines Offer Both One way and round trip calculations at different prices!
Cathay Pacific actually has two distance based award types, one of them operating like LAN does, pricing each leg, and one of them operating like JAL does and pricing total journey length. So this is one that cherry picking the best option for your travel needs becomes very important, what we are left with then become three models, but really we could use just two for comparison purposes since Cathay One Ways can be compared with British Airways, LAN and Qantas, and their Total Itinerary pricing can be compared with the two Japanese Carriers ANA and JAL.
Because they price in total journey length I look at the two programs from ANA and JAL and Cathays total mileage program as most like the Round The World distance based awards that American Airlines offers in their Explorer Award, where as the other four: British Airways, LAN, Qantas and Cathay’s One Way calculations are a very different type of award. As such when I go on in this series to explore the values within each one I will delineate along these lines in order to compare like for like programs.
Also, things are complicated somewhat in that LAN, whilst forcing you to price per one way leg will only allow round-trip booking, whereas the others in that category allow one way booking too.
More posts in this series
- Exploring Distance Based Award Programs – Part 1 An Introduction to the airlines
- A look at Distance Based Award Travel Part 2 – Breaking down the study
- Distance Based Award Travel Part 3 Short Haul (up to 2000 Miles) One Way Options Compared
- Distance Based Award Travel Part 4 Short Haul (up to 2000 Miles Each Way) Round Trip Options Compared
- Medium Haul 2,001-6,000 Mile One Way Awards Compared
- Medium Haul 2,001-6,000 Mile Round Trip Awards Compared
- Long Haul Over 6,000 Mile One Way Awards Compared
- Long Haul Over 6,000 Mile Round Trip Awards Compared
- Long Haul Over 10,000 Mile Round Trip Awards Compared