Why One-Way Awards Can Make or Break a 50% to 90% Off Business or First Class Deal


This often overlooked tool optimizes your comfort and value via numerous options.

There are many ways to save 50% to 90% on premium air travel.

The thing is, it’s always based on “availability.” You need to understand that.

So, if you are firm on your dates, itinerary, and cabin class, you are drawing for an inside straight. The odds aren’t good.

So, what do you do?

You divide your round-trip itinerary into two one-way tickets. This actually increases your odds when it comes to using miles. (I can’t remember the last time I booked a round-trip.)

Simply put, one-way tickets increase our chances of getting a First or Business Class seat at a lower award-cost level. Not only that, approaches like our Leg Stretch Strategy often rely on using one-way tickets. Below are various one-way ticket scenarios, along with an explanation of how to exploit the one-way award for each.

When a Round-trip Saver Award Is not Available

Let’s say you’re flying Dallas-Frankfurt in Business Class, and you’ve found that American only has a “saver” Business Class award (57,500 miles) on the departure. If you stick with American all the way, you’ll have to buy an unrestricted AAnytime Level 1 (or Level 2, which is even higher) award for the return (110,000 miles), bringing the cost to 167,500 miles. If you were to look around, you might find that Lufthansa had a 52,500-mile saver award for the return non-stop. Grab the one-ways and save the 57,500 AA miles for another day.

When a Round-Trip Saver Award Is not Available in the Same Class of Service

Fly a different class of service on each leg, say First Class out and Business Class back. This can often net you First Class for less than Business, when First Class is available at the saver rate and Business Class is only available at the standard (unrestricted award) rate, a frequent occurrence.

When You Want the Best Routing and Best Premium Seats

Let’s say you will be traveling New York-London, but returning from Frankfurt, and you want to fly non-stop and get the best seat on each flight leg. That means First Class going out, given that you’ll be flying overnight, and Business Class coming back (good enough for a long day flight). The candidates are pretty easy to identify: British Airways to London and Singapore Airlines from Frankfurt. Each belongs to a different alliance (oneworld and Star, respectively), so you can’t book a round-trip award. One-way awards are tailor-made for this situation.

When a Partner Saver Round-Trip Award Is not Available on Your Preferred Carrier, but Is Via the Partner’s Own Program

Let’s say you found free unrestricted (standard) award travel New York-Zurich in Business Class on United (cost: 57,500 miles), but you can only get a standard award (cost: 150,000 miles) on United for the return. That comes to 207,500 miles.

However, in checking the SWISS website, a Star Alliance partner, you’ve found that it has a saver award for your return date, but it’s not available through United miles. This is when it pays to have a mileage bankroll with Starwood, as you can turn the points into the 52,500 SWISS miles (42,500 Starpoint transfer) you need for the one-way return award, and book the one-way award outbound with United. Total cost: 110,000 miles, 97,500 fewer than booking a round-trip award on United.

When You Only Need a One-Way Ticket

FCF’s innovative Leg Stretch Strategy kicks off in Europe or Asia (we’ve written recent special reports about it here, here, and here) and is so deliciously lucrative for the premium flyer that getting to its departure cities are easy with this approach: say “hello” to the one-way award ticket.

For Cruise Passengers

Cruise itineraries often require flying to one city and returning from another. It’s called an open-jaw itinerary and it’s perfect for one-way awards. For instance, you catch the cruise in Venice (fly Delta non-stop from New York) and disembark in Barcelona (an AA non-stop).

Locked-In Often Means Locked-Out!

Here’s the key point: The best deal on a one-way ticket is using miles, as one-way fares are high, sometimes as much as the round-trip fare. Having a credit card that transfers points to many different airline programs is key. More on that in The Lazy Upgrader’s Guide to Lucrative Credit Card Opportunities.

The best one-way deals to Europe (more to Asia come soon) are available to Starwood (SPG) points players, as you probably know by now, as opposed to travelers “loyal to airlines.” Here are the best deals we know of…

Airberlin: Starts at 40,000 miles one-way (until Aug. 31) to Germany (35,000 SPG points). Partner flights (AA and BA) are more (60,000 miles; 50,000 SPG).

Alaska: From any U.S. gateway, it costs 50,000 miles one-way on American to Europe (40,000 SPG points), and 60,000 miles on British Airways (50,000 SPG points). First Class is 62,500 miles one-way on AA; with SPG transfer 52,500 points.

Alitalia: 48,000 miles one-way to Italy (40,000 SPG points).

American: Both for American and partner flights are 57,500 miles one-way in Business Class, with SPG transfer only 47,500. Works for flights on such partners as British Airways and Iberia. First Class is 85,000 miles one-way; with SPG transfer 70,000 points.

Asiana: A Star Alliance partner award costs 40,000 miles one-way to Europe (35,000 SPG points) and is valid on Lufthansa, SWISS, and United, among other airlines. First Class is 50,000 miles one-way; with SPG transfer, 40,000 points.

British Airways: Both for its own and non-stop partner flights, such as on American and Iberia, mileage cost starts at 50,000 (goes up to 62,500), with a SPG transfer starts at 40,000. Cost varies by route. First Class starts at 68,000 miles one-way; with SPG transfer, 58,000 points.

Cathay Pacific: Cost varies by route but starts as low as 45,000 miles one-way (New York-London) on partners AA and BA (40,000 SPG points). First Class starts at 70,000 miles one-way; with SPG transfer 60,000 points.

Iberia: The best deal. Cost varies by route and season: 34,000 to 42,500 miles one-way in off-season (29,000 to 37,500 SPG points) and 50,000 to 62,500 in peak season (40,000 to 52,500 SPG points). Partner costs also vary by route, but start at 50,000 miles one-way on AA and BA (40,000 SPG points).

Lufthansa: Charges 52,500 miles for its own and partner one-way flights (42,500 SPG points). The award is valid on Star Alliance members (Austrian, SWISS, United, etc.). First Class is 85,000 miles one-way; with SPG transfer 70,000 points.

Virgin Atlantic: Flights to London start at 47,500 (up to 67,500) miles one-way, but with an SPG transfer they cost 40,000 to 57,500.

If you haven’t guessed already, I almost never book round-trip mileage awards because I’m usually going to multiple destinations, and I’m not returning from where I started, so there is seldom an ideal departure-return pairing on the same airline because with each different route you likely find better seats and/or schedules via different programs.

The Disadvantages of One-Way Awards

Most airlines that offer one-ways don’t allow the free en-route stopover that they do with some round-trip awards. Let’s say you’re traveling to Europe from the West Coast and you’d like to stop in New York. Such an itinerary would cost you two one-way awards.

Remember, a round-trip is just two one-way tickets.

Divide and conquer!

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