With the addition of more international flights from Logan Airport, today is a something of a golden age for Boston fliers who want to use miles to travel internationally.
Spending miles for a direct flight gets you to your destination without having to find a connecting flight in the United States, which can sometimes be challenging. And the carriers’ foreign partners generally offer more award seats than do the domestic airlines, making it easier to connect onward from abroad.
The major carriers have also improved their online award search capabilities, and they offer one-way redemptions that allow you to mix and match airlines based on availability.
So where can your miles take you? As an avid miles and points collector and someone who books several award flights a year, I’ve developed a good sense for the best opportunities out of Logan. The legacy carriers, American, United, and Delta, offer the greatest value for your miles, usually through their partner networks. JetBlue, the largest carrier at Logan, operates many direct flights to the Caribbean, but it offers no redemptions outside of the Americas (although it does have a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines).
The legacy carriers, on the other hand, offer award tickets at set prices (with one notable exception explained below) to destinations all over the world.
Here’s a look at best bets by airline, listed in order of passengers carried at Logan in 2014. All mileage prices quoted are “saver” awards with limited availability. The more plentiful “standard” awards tend to be a very poor value at prices that are often double the saver level.
Thanks to its recent merger with US Airways, American is the second-largest carrier at Logan. The value of its miles for direct flights from Boston is somewhat limited by its partnership with British Airways, whose redemptions across the Atlantic come with hefty fuel surcharges. Still, if you are willing to fork over the cash, availability is great for its four daily flights to London. American also offers one direct flight to Paris each day, but award inventory is limited.
The bright side for those with a big stash of American miles is service to Asia. Cathay Pacific and Japan Air Lines, both members of American’s OneWorld alliance, each offer a daily flight to Hong Kong and Tokyo, respectively. Availability is good for both flights, and Cathay offers top-rated business and first classes for those looking to get extra comfort and value from their miles. American does not levy fuel surcharges on either airline.
The downside is that these flights don’t show up in award booking searches at AA.com. The solution? Head over to British Airways’s BA.com and sign up for a free Executive Club account. You’ll then be able to search for availability on JAL and Cathay. Once you find the flight you want, you must call to book via American, where the availability generally matches what is listed on BA.com.
Highlight: 67,500 miles each way to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific’s luxurious first class, consistently ranked as one of the top airline products in the world.
UNITED MILEAGE PLUS
For those looking to get to Europe, United offers the strongest options, with three partner airlines offering direct flights, usually with good availability.
The largest of the partners is German carrier Lufthansa, with daily flights to Frankfurt, Munich, and Zurich (through its subsidiary, Swiss). United does not levy fuel surcharges on partner flights, so you’ll generally only pay taxes of less than $10 each way, as long as you book more than 21 days in advance. Lufthansa also offers a recently refurbished business-class product and decent last-minute inventory in first class.
Two other United partners also offer flights to Europe: Irish carrier Aer Lingus flies daily to Dublin and Shannon, and Turkish Airlines offers one daily flight to Istanbul.
The best part is that all of the partners mentioned here show up in United’s online award search, making it much easier to find and book tickets in one place.
The only downside for United miles collectors is that the airline charges more for partner redemptions in business and first class than it does for its own flights. So you’ll save some miles if you can find connections on United flights through hubs in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington Dulles.
Highlight: 30,000 miles each way for nonstop economy service to Dublin on Aer Lingus.
The fourth-largest carrier at Logan offers some great partner opportunities, with one big drawback. Delta is the only one of these three airlines that does not publish an award chart, which means that it can be difficult to predict how many miles an award will cost.
The upside is that Delta has some solid European partners in Boston. Alitalia operates a daily flight to Rome, while Air France offers one or two daily flights to Paris, depending on the season. Virgin Atlantic has one daily nonstop to London. Delta itself also offers direct flights to Amsterdam, London, and Paris, although prices and availability tend to be better on its foreign partners.
Delta also levies fuel surcharges on flights returning from Europe, which can be expensive, particularly for London departures.
Highlight: 62,500 miles each way for nonstop service to Rome in Alitalia’s lie-flat business class seat.
Michael Workman can be reached at email@example.com.