Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
& Kellie Jez
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In this industry of aviation, credit card points, travel, and airline miles, you’ll often be able to book a flight for 10 different prices using 10 different miles. At first glance, it may make the most sense to use whatever costs the least miles. Upon closer inspection, however, you might notice that those miles are incredibly hard to get!
Whether it’s a lack of transfer partners, unattractive mileage earning structures from revenue flights, or just a lack of awareness in the general public, some airline miles are unbelievably difficult to accrue a large balance of.
In this guide, we’ll be dissecting our top choices for the hardest miles to earn. We’ll first provide a broad overview of the frequent flyer program. Then we’ll talk about some of the ways you can earn these miles and explain why exactly you want to have these miles in your points wallet.
Alaska Airlines is an airline that most travelers are familiar with. This airline is the fifth largest airline in America and its focus is on connecting the Pacific Northwest with the rest of the U.S.
Alaska Airlines doesn’t operate a lie-flat business class product — in fact, it only has domestic recliner seats aboard its fleet of aircraft. What it does have is an unbelievably useful frequent flyer program: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
Although earning Alaska Airlines miles is a straightforward process, it still takes quite a while to earn them. This fact is primarily due to the lack of transfer partners that Alaska Airlines has. Alaska has demonstrated the value of its frequent flyer program time and time again, and if it adds more transfer partners, it will probably have to devalue the program.
Alaska Airlines has exactly 1 transfer partner: Marriott Bonvoy. If you need to accumulate Alaska miles quickly, you’re probably going to focus on earning Marriott Bonvoy points. Chase and American Express both offer co-branded Marriott cards:
Marriott Bonvoy transfers at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. This means that for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred to Alaska Airlines, you’ll earn your normal 20,000 Alaska miles plus a bonus of 5,000 miles, bringing up your total to 25,000 miles.
Additionally, you can earn Alaska Airlines miles directly by using the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card. However, the earnings categories aren’t attractive, so it’ll be difficult to rack up a giant balance of Alaska miles, unless you fly a lot on Alaska Airlines or a partner airline, such as Cathay Pacific.
The last-ditch effort way to get a bunch of Alaska Airlines miles quickly is to buy them. This can be an attractive option at times since Alaska is known to offer bonus miles of up to 50% with your purchase. This can make first class flights at a 80-90% discount possible, provided that you find award availability.
Alaska Airlines miles are incredible for a few reasons:
Although Alaska Airlines doesn’t belong to an airline alliance, it has taken the opportunity to build individual partnerships that it has more control over to offer a useful route network for travelers hoping to use their miles.
Hot Tip: We’ve put together the industry-standard guide on the best ways to redeem Alaska miles for max value, so don’t miss out on the tens of thousands of dollars you could be getting in first class travel.
As we just mentioned, you can book some incredibly first class and business class products using Alaska Airlines miles. Here are some great flights from the U.S. that you can book using Alaska miles:
As you can see, Alaska Airlines has an epic, star-studded panel of world-class airlines that you can redeem miles in business and even first class for. The mileage prices are extremely attractive, often the lowest you can get.
Korean Air SKYPASS is a frequent flyer program of fluctuating loyalty. Once a Chase transfer partner, this airline currency has become less accessible than ever. Booking Korean Air first class is possible only with Korean Air’s own miles.
Korean Air has a bunch of weird routing rules, such as no one-way awards on partner airline flights. Additionally, the process for booking awards for others is quite troublesome. To make matters worse, the SkyTeam airline’s mileage currency is difficult to earn.
Korean Air SKYPASS is transfer partners with only 1 transfer partner: Marriott Bonvoy. Points transfer at a 3:1 ratio. Transfer times can run anywhere from 7 days to 3 weeks. The good news is that you can request award holds of varying lengths, depending on which customer representative you talk to.
You can also earn Korean Air miles by opening any of Korean Air’s co-branded credit cards. In the U.S., the bank that issues Korean Air credit cards is U.S. Bank. Generally, this is not recommended, as the earning structures aren’t favorable.
Other than earning from credit cards, you can also credit airline flights to earn Korean Air miles, as long as your ticket is eligible to earn miles and the airline you’re flying on is a qualifying Korean Air partner.
Also, one of the only feasible ways to book first class on any SkyTeam airline, such as Saudia, is to use Korean Air miles. You can also book flights on China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, and Japan Airlines using Korean Air miles, even in first class! You’ll have to book round-trip, though, as Korean Air doesn’t permit one-way flights on partners.
If you’re redeeming Korean Air miles, the most attractive option for you is probably going to be flying on Korean Air first class. The best part about booking Korean Air first class, besides the great product itself, is that there’s so much award availability. If you’re booking in advance, it’s not unusual to see 2-6 first class seats! This makes family travel that much easier to plan.
Other valuable redemptions include:
In addition to being part of the SkyTeam alliance, the value of Korean Air extends to its non-alliance partners.
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, also known as JAL Mileage Bank, is an incredibly difficult mileage currency to get your hands on. The value of JAL miles is difficult to definitively ascertain, as they’ve got lots of different partners that can dictate the bang you get for your buck.
However, 1 true thing is that Japan Airlines miles are difficult to earn. Japan Airlines has also devalued its miles many times over the years. When you think about how there’s still value despite numerous devaluations, you can begin to understand why Japan Airlines makes it so difficult to earn miles.
Japan Airlines is a transfer partner of Marriott Bonvoy. You can transfer Marriott points at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. That means that you’ll receive a total of 25,000 miles for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred to JAL Mileage Bank.
Additionally, there’s a co-branded JAL USA CARD that has poor earning categories. Nonetheless, it’s still an option.
Besides earning via Marriott Bonvoy and JAL co-branded credit cards, you can credit paid flights to Japan Airlines. Because Japan Airlines is a Oneworld partner, you can earn Japan Airlines miles with paid American Airlines flights that you might take frequently in the U.S.
Redeeming Japan Airlines miles isn’t the gold mine that it used to be. Still, you can use JAL miles for travel on many airlines outside Oneworld:
Japan Airlines uses a distance-based award chart, which means that the price of your award ticket will depend on the distance you’re looking to fly. As a reminder, the round-trip cost is actually cheaper than 2 one-way tickets, so you’ll save miles when booking round-trip.
When you put all of this information together, you can find some great redemptions worth redeeming your miles for:
Lufthansa is the flag carrier of Germany. As the largest airline in the European powerhouse country, Lufthansa’s parent company Lufthansa Group also owns Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, and Swiss International Air Lines.
Simply put, Lufthansa is an essential part of connecting Europe to the rest of the world. All of these airlines share a frequent flyer program: Lufthansa Miles & More.
Earning Lufthansa miles is very difficult. Ever since Lufthansa axed its partnership with former sole transfer partner Marriott Bonvoy, it’s been nearly impossible for normal people to earn Lufthansa miles.
At the moment, the 3 major ways to earn Lufthansa miles are:
Lufthansa miles are extremely useful for 2 reasons:
By now, it’s fairly common to know that Lufthansa first class is the only feasible first class product bookable directly to Europe. Lufthansa releases first class award availability to partners up to 15 days before departure, which is an extremely tight window for most.
With no guarantees of award availability, Lufthansa first class is something we normally have to hope for; if you’ve submitted your vacation time already, it can be extremely nerve-wracking waiting for a flight to open up.
If you’re in a lifestyle, profession, job, career, or business where you have lots of spending power, you might want to put your spending towards earning Lufthansa miles to access first class award space further in-advance.
Besides this specific use case, Lufthansa miles can be leveraged to access additional award availability on subsidiary airlines such as Austrian Airlines or SWISS. The difference between partner availability (on United MileagePlus, for example) and Miles & More availability is huge.
If you’ve got your eyes set on trying out Austrian Airlines business class, for example, having Miles & More miles will dramatically increase your chances of snagging one of these seats without wanting to pull your hair out searching for award availability. Here are some great example routes you can take:
Hot Tip: Check out our guide on the best ways to redeem Lufthansa miles to get more travel inspiration!
Turkish Airlines has one of the least user-friendly award programs out there: Miles&Smiles. However, using Turkish Airlines miles can be absolutely worth it in the right circumstances.
Booking Turkish Airlines awards can be incredibly troublesome, requiring e-mail communications or even in-person visits to Turkish Airlines offices to book your award ticket.
Additionally, Turkish Airlines miles are somewhat difficult to earn.
Turkish Airlines is transfer partners with Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One Miles, and Marriott Bonvoy. Citi and Capital One transfer to Turkish Airlines at a 1:1 ratio, and transfers take around 1-2 business days to process. Also, Citi has offered a 25% transfer bonus to Turkish Airlines in the past, so be sure to look out for those when possible.
On the other hand, Marriott Bonvoy transfers at the usual 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred to Turkish Airlines. Transfers take around 3 business days to complete.
Because of the better transfer ratio from Citi, you’re definitely going to want to lean on that when possible. The cards that earn ThankYou Points are:
You can also earn Turkish Airlines miles by taking advantage of its position in the Star Alliance and crediting paid airfare from airlines like United.
Hot Tip: Check out our guide on the best ways to earn Turkish Airlines miles!
Turkish Airlines miles are incredibly useful and there are so many great ways to redeem Turkish Airlines miles. If you’re patient enough to follow Turkish Airlines’ award booking process, you can get some great redemptions. Here are some examples:
The redemption prices are extremely attractive, especially when you consider that flights to Hawaii usually cost around 25,000 miles one-way. Furthermore, U.S. to Europe flights in business class usually cost around 60,000-75,000 miles one-way, which demonstrates just how good the award pricing is.
Asiana Airlines is another example of a top airline that has an elusive mileage currency. Its frequent flyer program is known as Asiana Club which has an attractive mid-tier elite status equivalent to Star Alliance Gold. If you have Asiana Club Gold status, you’ll enjoy Star Alliance Gold status, which grants you access to business class lounges on same-day departure flights, regardless of cabin class.
Asiana Club also has some amazingly attractive premium cabin prices, which demonstrates a huge opportunity to get lots of value. However, Asiana miles are difficult to earn, which balances out the awesome award prices.
Earning Asiana Airlines miles is made difficult by 2 facts:
Asiana Airlines is transfer partners only with 1 currency: Marriott Bonvoy. Although there are many different ways to earn Marriott points, it’ll be difficult to build an appreciable pile of points due to the 3:1 transfer ratio. Even so, you’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred to Asiana Club. Transfers take around 4 business days to execute, so keep that in mind.
Another way to earn Asiana miles is to open the co-branded Asiana Airlines credit cards from Bank of America:
If you open these credit cards, you can potentially get a bonus that will add a nice chunk of miles to your Asiana Airlines balance.
You can also credit paid airfare to Asiana Airlines, thanks to its Star Alliance partners. Unfortunately, crediting paid airplane tickets, especially discount economy tickets, will earn you very few miles, such as 30% or 25%, so it’ll take quite a long while to accrue miles this way.
The value proposition for using Asiana miles is immense — so much so that we put together our own guide on the best ways to use Asiana miles for maximum value. When you’re using Asiana miles, there are 2 main partners typically booked:
If you’re flying from the U.S., you can book Lufthansa first class for a jaw-dropping 50,000 miles one-way and business class for a shocking 40,000 miles one-way. When you compare this to other partners’ award prices, you’re going to see a massive discount anywhere from 40-60% over other frequent flyer programs!
However, Lufthansa charges huge fuel surcharges, up to $900 one-way in first class when originating in the U.S.
Another great airline partner is Etihad Airways, which has fantastic airline products like the Etihad First Class Apartments. To fly from the U.S. to the Middle East will cost 80,000 miles in first class and 60,000 miles in business class. When you consider that first class costs 115,000 American Airlines miles one-way, you’ll start to realize the massive discounts you can be getting.
Let’s not leave out the other airlines that you can book with Asiana miles, such as Air China, ANA, SWISS, and more. All of these airlines belong to the Star Alliance, and the same mileage prices apply to all partners. If you book Asiana Airlines, you’ll need to consider seasonality, peak, and off-peak pricing. Here are some great example routes you can take:
EVA Air, which is the Star Alliance airline based in Taiwan, offers a unique frequent flyer program named Infinity MileageLands. Although the airline has a bunch of quirks, it can be useful to keep in mind.
Citi isn’t terribly surprising as Taiwanese people have a general inclination towards Citibank as an incredibly Asian-friendly bank. Citi is a 1:1 transfer partner, and transfers take around 2 business days to process.
On the other hand, Capital One transfers at a 2:1.5 ratio, which isn’t quite as good as 1:1. It takes around 36 business hours for transfers to execute.
Hot Tip: If you’re interested in Capital One Miles, get some inspiration from our guide on the best ways to redeem Capital One miles for maximum value.
As a rule of thumb, EVA Air doesn’t offer the best value for redemptions. However, there are a few niche redemptions where EVA Air is the cheapest (or close to the cheapest) in mileage price.
We detailed our best ways to redeem EVA Air miles in a separate guide, but we’ll discuss it broadly. For example, you can book:
In any case, the value of EVA Air miles is there — you just need to look into different origin destinations such as North Asia or the South Pacific to get maximum value. Here are some routings you can contemplate:
Garuda Indonesia has a reputation for being a fantastic airline. Although its business class product is decent, its first class product is revered in the world of luxury travel and it is high up on our list of the top international first class airlines.
The Indonesian flag carrier airline is a member of SkyTeam. Unfortunately, this airline makes it extremely difficult to earn its frequent flyer miles, GarudaMiles.
Garuda does not have any transfer partners. You’ll have to earn GarudaMiles the old-fashioned way: butt-in-seat flying. Not all hope is lost, however. If you’ve got strong ties to Indonesia but aren’t located in Indonesia anymore, you can utilize the SkyTeam airlines (like Air France, Delta, and Xiamen) to credit your paid airfare to GarudaMiles.
Otherwise, you can earn miles by:
Now that we’ve talked about how absurdly difficult it is to earn GarudaMiles, let’s talk about the 1 reason you’ll want to redeem GarudaMiles: Garuda Indonesia first class.
A long time ago, Garuda Indonesia offered an obscene 90% off award tickets, which would have dropped a one-way ticket between Europe and Indonesia down to 19,000 miles for a 10-13 hour first class flight.
On the off chance that the “mileage deal of the decade” will return, it might be worth having a balance of GarudaMiles to snag a ticket at literally inconceivable prices. Here are the routes on which Garuda Indonesia offers first class (hint: there aren’t many):
Our last choice is perhaps the most peculiar one of all. There’s certainly nobody analyzing this award program, simply because it’s one of the most obscure loyalty programs in the world. SkyTeam partner Middle East Airlines is the flag carrier of Lebanon and is headquartered in Beirut (BEY). Its frequent flyer program is called Cedar Miles.
Hot Tip: Thinking about flying to Lebanon? Check out our guide on the best ways to fly to Lebanon with points and miles.
Middle East Airlines Cedar Miles are incredibly difficult to earn. There aren’t any U.S. transfer partners, which means that you can’t use points like Chase Ultimate Rewards to earn Cedar Miles.
Cedar Miles is an extremely interesting program. When you book partner flights, you can only book round-trip tickets. There are some sweet spots, which you’re definitely going to want to consider.
MEA isn’t great in terms of its business class product. It is mostly a regional carrier with lackluster premium products, so the most value will come from airline partners.
Here are some great nonstop example redemptions you can make with SkyTeam partners using MEA Cedar Miles:
Understanding the best points and miles is a bit of a misnomer. While there are great rules of thumb to follow, such as sticking primarily to earning transferable points, there are definitely use cases for collecting other miles in order to effectively book a dream vacation.
Additionally, the correlation between the difficulty of earning a specific type of mileage currency and the utility of earning miles isn’t always strong. In fact, some of the easiest airline miles to earn, such as ANA Mileage Club and Virgin Atlantic, have amazing redemptions and are incredibly easy to earn.
It’s also great to consider the most difficult-to-earn miles and how they are useful. This can spark an interesting dining table discussion if people ever ask you about miles.
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The information regarding the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Miles & More® World Elite Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
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The best mileage program will inevitably vary depending on where you want to fly, what cabin class you want to fly in, and more. Check out our guide on travel points and miles valuations to help you figure out how much points and miles are worth.
You’ll want to also figure out where you want to travel to. The best mileage program for flights to Hawaii is going to be different from the best mileage program for flights to Europe.
To get the most air miles, you’ll want to make the best of your normal spending and earn as many points as possible. This can be done by putting all of your charges on a credit card when possible and earning transferable points whenever you can. Once you’ve optimized your everyday spending, you can look to crediting your paid airfare strategically to earn the most points that are useful to you.
Miles is the currency that most airlines use. Just like the U.S. Dollar is the currency in the U.S., you can use miles for free flights and upgrades in the world of commercial aviation. We use miles to get free airfare in first class, which can often cost $20,000+ if you paid for it with cash.
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UP's Bonus Valuation
This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.