lufthansa first class

Pick one frequent flyer program from each, and start earning…

Every traveler really needs at least three frequent flyer accounts, with one from each major airline alliance. You’ll want to pick a great SkyTeam option, Star Alliance option and a OneWorld option, so that you’ll always be banking your points from flights within an alliance, and points transfers from your credit card company to one consistent spot. Yes, in case you didn’t know, you can earn miles from one single airline, while flying on as many as 25 different ones, just by entering your frequent flyer number. Here are the most lucrative points programs from each airline alliance – so see which ones make sense for you, and get earning.

SkyTeam Frequent Flyer Programs

a seat with headphones on itAir France / KLM Flying Blue

Air France and KLM share the FlyingBlue loyalty program. The program is a great choice, even for U.S. domestic flyers, thanks to easy status earning, great points redemptions and lucrative upgrade choices. In an all around sense, it’s one of the most competitive options in the game.

Earning Elite Status: Travelers outside of Monaco or France can reach FlyingBlue the lucrative Gold status with relative ease, using the new “XP” system, which works similarly to Tier Points on British Airways or Cathay Pacific. Travelers will needs a total of 280 XP in a year, which is roughly 5 long haul business class round trips, or 20+ economy segments. Translation: with FlyingBlue Gold you’ll be able to use business class check in, “Sky Priority” airport fast track services and other perks every time you fly, even when flying economy.

Earning Redeemable Points: FlyingBlue is one of the easiest airline programs to earn points with. You can convert Amex, Chase, Citi or SPG Points into FlyingBlue points, and of course, you can earn points when flying on any SkyTeam airline, such as Delta, Korean or Vietnam.

Best Credit Card To Pair With: Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi Prestige.

Best Aspirational Points Redemption: 56,000 points for transatlantic business class between the U.S. and Europe on Delta, KLM, Air France and more. No surcharges from the U.S. on Delta, and occasionally banks run transfer bonuses, like the current opportunity to book this for 46,000 points.

Most Effective Points Redemption: Use FlyingBlue points to cover expensive short haul flights within Europe, US or Asia starting at just 10,000 points one way.

a seat and chair in an airplaneKorean Air SkyPass

Korean Air is a great choice from anywhere in the world. Yes, even if you live in Europe, Australia, the U.S. and beyond! The airline offers arguably the best rates in the entire SkyTeam alliance for using points towards comfortable flights all over the world.

Earning Elite Status: Unless you fly a lot on actual Korean Air flights, this is essentially a non starter. But for many travelers who wouldn’t reach status anyway, who cares. If status is important to you, Delta or FlyingBlue will likely be better options, but if miles are all you care about Korean is fantastic. You’d need at least 40,000 miles flown on actual Korean flights to score status.

Earning Redeemable Points: Korean’s SkyPass program is a great choice, with the ability to create points from Amex, Chase and SPG. There’s also a Korean Air Visa Card in the U.S. with a 30,000 point sign up bonus. And yes, you can earn Korean SkyPass miles for virtually all of your SkyTeam flights, even if you only fly short flights with another airline elsewhere in the world.

Best Credit Card To Pair With: Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Best Aspirational Points Redemption: Korean offers some fantastic opportunities to unlock aspirational travel, such as 40,000 points one way for business class between the U.S. and Europe, or 80,000 points one way between the U.S. and Korea in a private first class suite.

Most Effective Points Redemption: Korean unlocks some of the lowest points rates for travel to Hawaii. Though seats are hard to come by, Korean charges just 45,000 points for round trip first class from the U.S. to Hawaii, and just 25,000 points round trip for economy.

Star Alliance Frequent Flyer Programs

two glasses of wine on a tray by a windowAsiana Club

Asiana is a top notch Korean airline, but don’t let that put you off if you live further afield. Not only is it one of the easiest airlines with which to earn meaningful Star Alliance Gold status, it also offers many of the very best rates on Star Alliance and other airline partners. If you want to get a whole lot of value for your points, this one is tough to beat.

Earning Elite Status: Earning 40,000 elite qualifying miles on Asiana and its Star Alliance partners can secure Star Alliance Gold status for up to three years. Yes, three! This is easily one of the most lucrative routes to a fantastic suite of benefits, every time you fly.

Earning Redeemable Points: Asiana Club has largely restricted points earning to those who actually fly on airplanes. Other than flying on Star Alliance airlines, Qatar and Etihad, the easiest way to earn Asiana miles is through the SPG Amex credit card.

Best Credit Card To Pair With: SPG Amex.

Best Aspirational Points Redemption: Both Lufthansa and Etihad are partners with which you can redeem your Asiana Club miles. Just 50,000 points will score up to 12 hours in Lufthansa First Class, and a mere 40,000 points is enough for a one way in Etihad’s stunning first class apartment between Europe and the Middle East!

Most Effective Points Redemption: Using points for business class always feels great, and at Asiana’s rates, you’ll be glad you did. Business class between Europe and the Middle east is a mere 60,000 points round trip, and for Europe to the U.S. or Mexico it’s only 80,000 round trip.

ANA Mileage Club

You just can’t give enough credit to ANA Mileage Club. From the best rates in economy to the best rates in business, for flights all around the world – you really can’t beat it. If you need elite status, this is definitely not the right program for you, but if you want a great place to earn and cash in miles, you’ll be delighted.

Earning Elite Status: Unless you’re flying 50,000 miles or more per year, on actual ANA flights, elite status isn’t even worth discussing. For most travelers, the benefits of ANA Mileage Club are in redeeming points.

Earning Redeemable Points: ANA is a transfer partner of Amex in the U.S., as well as SPG around the world. By entering your ANA Mileage Club number on all Star Alliance flights, you’ll earn points around the world, on top airlines like Lufthansa, Swiss, Thai, EVA, Singapore and more.

Best Credit Card To Pair With: Any U.S. Amex card earning Membership Rewards points, or an SPG Amex elsewhere.

Best Aspirational Points Redemption: By far the coolest thing you can do with ANA Mileage Club points is fly around the world in business class. You can make extended, multi day or week stops in up to five cities around the world, with layovers in even more. The total cost? A mere 125,000 points.

Most Effective Points Redemption: Luxury is great and all, but sometimes maximizing points is about using as few as possible. Economy flights between the U.S. and Japan start at just 35,000 points round trip, and short flights within Japan run 5,000 points. ANA is also a great route for business class between Japan and Australia, requiring just 65,000 points one way.

OneWorld Frequent Flyer Programs

an airplane with a bed and a deskJAL Mileage Bank

Even if you’ve never been to Japan, and don’t have plans to go (you should, by the way) – JAL offers one of the greatest frequent flyer programs in terms of points redemptions. Compared to other airlines you’ll find far less red tape, with flights requiring fewer miles. That’s a great combo, especially when you consider all the partners you can redeem flights on!

Earning Elite Status: If your travels don’t frequently include Japan, on JAL flights, this is a bit of a lost cause. If elite status is important, there are easier OneWorld programs to earn status, so we’d suggest going with one of those, like American Airlines or British Airways.

Earning Redeemable Points: JAL has wisely limited the ways to earn points from non flying activities, which keeps points rates low. You can however earn Mileage Bank points from the SPG Amex, Barclay’s Arrival Premier and the JAL U.S. Credit Card. JAL has excellent earning rates when you credit any flights on OneWorld airlines to their program. Basically, if you’re flying on a OneWorld airline, you’ll do best to enter your JAL frequent flyer number.

Best Credit Card To Pair With: Barclays Arrival Premier (U.S.) or SPG Amex (Worldwide).

Best Aspirational Points Redemption: 100,000 JAL points can unlock a nearly around the world trip in Emirates First Class, which is astonishingly cool. Other great options include 63,000 points for round trip business class on Air France between the U.S. and Europe, or U.S. to Australia in business class for 100,000 points.

Most Effective Points Redemption: The best ways to use JAL Mileage Bank points involve distance rather than places, which gives awesome flexibility to where you want to go. You can use distance based options to stop in different cities along the way and see more destinations, rather than just go from place to place. Domestic tickets within Japan are just 6,000 points one way, and flights within the U.S, Europe and beyond start at just 7,500 points one way.

a woman standing in a cabinCathay Pacific AsiaMiles

AsiaMiles has just gone through a devaluation, which actually makes it a great choice to bank your points. Much like JAL, AsiaMiles offers brilliant options which make points easy to use, at great rates. You can use AsiaMiles on Cathay, Qatar, Qantas and other top notch airlines and they’re pretty easy to collect.

Earning Elite Status: Gold is the lowest status worth achieving on Cathay Pacific and it’s a hard road to get there. In addition to at least one Cathay Pacific flight, you’ll need at least 12 long haul business class segments in a year, or a heck of a lot of economy flying to get there. There are easier ways to reach OneWorld status, but if you don’t need status, stick with AsiaMiles.

Earning Redeemable Points: AsiaMiles is a credit card transfer partner of Amex, SPG and Citi, giving three solid options. You’ll also earn AsiaMiles when you enter your AsiaMiles frequent flyer number for flights on virtually any OneWorld airline, including American, British Airways and Qantas.

Best Credit Card To Pair With: Citi Prestige or Amex Platinum.

Best Aspirational Points Redemption: By flying on more than one airline, in one points itinerary you’re able to unlock amazing rates. You can fly around the world in business class for 165,000 points, stopping over in up to five cities, and if you’ve got lots of points, you can go first class for 260,000.

Most Effective Points Redemption: AsiaMiles best niche use is business class. Using points to or from Asia to the world in business class will offer fantastic rates like 110,000 points for up to 10,000 miles of actual distance, with multiple stops if you wish.

What’s your favorite points program, and why?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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    1. same question, can you provide some insight into fuel surcharges for these partners as most are non conventional to most US based readers. thanks again!!

  1. going forward, SPG is no longer an option as a transfer option even when factoring the bonus 5k.

    1. Going forward, nothing about the SPG option changes, except the name. 5K transfer bonus stays in tact, as does the ratio. Literally nothing changes except the name and the multiple.

  2. Mileage expiration policy is important. Many of the Asian airlines have a 3 year hard expiration, Flying Blue has a 2 year expiration that can only be reset by a miles earning flight. BA & companies have a 3 year expiration that is re-set by any activity.

    I haven’t flown Star Alliance, if I did Asiana would definitely be my favorite. Not only does it have the benefits you mentioned, but it expiration policy is 10 years! If you don’t use the miles by then, you probably won’t miss them.

    If Korean or JAL for Sky Team or One World had transferred from Marriott packages at the 120k miles of other programs I would have chosen them, as it is I’ve collected Avios and Alaska miles.

  3. Great job Ott! I bet this took A LOT of time to research & compile. As many mentioned above, the surcharges are a huge factor in selecting where to redeem so it would be good to include those but other than that, keep up the great work.

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