The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card was already regarded as one of the best fixed-value travel rewards credit cards when the issuer announced that it would be adding airline transfer partners to its rewards program. Building a cohesive list of transfer partners from scratch is a daunting challenge, but Capital One did a great job covering its bases with all three major airline alliances and a number of non-alliance airlines as well.
Today, we’ll take a look at your best options for redeeming Capital One miles for flights on Star Alliance airlines.
Earning Capital One Miles
Before you even think about transferring points to partners, the best way to quickly rack up a large amount of Capital One miles is by signing up for a new credit card. My recommendation would be either the Venture Rewards card or the Capital One Spark Miles for Business. New applicants can earn the following welcome bonuses:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business: Earn 50,000 miles once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
Both cards also earn 2x miles on all purchases, making them a great candidate for everyday spending that doesn’t otherwise earn a bonus on other cards. In addition, the Venture Rewards card earns 10x miles on hotel stays when you book through Hotels.com/venture and pay with your Venture card.
Creating a new transferable points currency is tricky, but figuring out how much those points are worth might be just as hard. Capital One retained the ability to redeem miles at a fixed rate of one cent each against the cost of travel purchases, so obviously the addition of airline transfer options makes each more worth more than that fixed 1 cent. TPG ultimately settled on a valuation of 1.4 cents each, thanks largely to some of the transfer partners mentioned here. If you’re curious to see how we arrived at that number, you can check out what some of the TPG team members had to say about these newly transferable miles.
Finally, bear in mind that Capital One doesn’t use a 1:1 transfer ratio like other major transferable point programs. Most of the programs below transfer at a rate of 2:1.5, so be sure to double check your calculation before initiating a transfer to make sure you don’t come up short.
Avianca LifeMiles grew from relative obscurity to quickly become an important element of many transferable points strategies, including Capital One. Other than customer service, LifeMiles does just about everything right. For starters, you’ll get one of the lowest possible rates on longhaul premium cabin Star Alliance awards, like this Lufthansa first class ticket from New York-JFK to Munich (MUC) for only 87,000 miles.
Since Capital One miles transfer to Avianca at a 2:1.5 rate, you’ll need to transfer 116,000 miles from Capital One to book this ticket.
The other huge win here is that you’ll only pay $5.60 in taxes and fees. Many Star Alliance loyalty programs (like Aeroplan, which we’ll talk about later) pass on massive fuel surcharges for Lufthansa awards. We’re talking about several hundred dollars, and that added cost can really eat away at the value of your redemption. While United also doesn’t impose these surcharges, it will tack on a close-in booking fee for award tickets booked within 21 days of departure. Since Lufthansa almost never releases first class award space until 15 days ahead of departure, any traveler without United elite status will pay an extra $75 fee for the privilege of using your MileagePlus miles.
You can also mix and match cash and miles to drop the cost of your ticket even further. If you plan on going this route, you’ll usually come out ahead by taking advantage of one of Avianca’s frequent mileage sales instead, but this might be a useful tool if you’re just short of the miles you need for a specific award.
There are a few other worthwhile longhaul sweet spots in the LifeMiles award chart. Flights to “North Asia,” which includes China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines (alongside the more common Japan and South Korea) only cost 75,000 miles each way in business class or 90,000 in first class. If you continue on to central or south Asia, you’ll pay a maximum of 78,000 miles each way in business class and 111,000 in first.
Avianca is also incredibly useful for domestic flights on United thanks to the way it subdivides the continental US into three different award regions. These roughly correspond to the east coast, central US and west coast, but as you’ll see there are a few odd groupings.
United States 1: Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington (D.C.), West Virginia
United States 2: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin
United States 3: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Flights within a single zone only cost 7,500 miles each way in economy, well below the 12,500 miles United charges for most domestic economy flights. You can use these savings to fly from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Miami (MIA), as both are located in the same zone.
Another great use would be for transcontinental premium cabin flights, especially the Los Angeles (LAX) to Newark (EWR) route, which features United’s newest 787-10 aircraft and the true Polaris seating. United charges 25,000 miles each way plus a 10,000-mile premium, but if you can find availability and book through Avianca, you’ll just pay the flat 25,000-mile cost.
Aeroplan used to be a perfect foil to United’s MileagePlus program, giving travelers the ability to pick between lower award costs (Aeroplan) or lower taxes (United). Aeroplan has lost some of its luster as LifeMiles have become even easier to earn and use, but there’s still a good amount of value to be had in this program.
Before we even take a look at the Aeroplan award chart, it’s important to know which partner airlines will incur fuel surcharges when booked using Aeroplan miles. You can read this guide for an estimate of the taxes you’ll have to pay on a given award, but for some partners like Lufthansa, the taxes can quickly get prohibitively expensive. That same Lufthansa first class award that only costs $5.60 with Avianca costs a whopping ~$770 USD if you book with Aeroplan instead.
So where does Aeroplan shine? Primarily when it comes to longhaul business class. One-way awards to India and Africa only cost 75,000 miles in business class, a 3,000-mile savings compared to Avianca. Since Capital One miles transfer to Aeroplan at the same 2:1.5 rate, this adds up to 4,000 Capital One miles saved. Business class to Europe is also significantly cheaper, costing 55,000 – 57,500 Aeroplan miles (depending on your destination) vs. 63,000 LifeMiles.
You’ll pay similar award rates for flights to Asia and domestic travel on United whether you book with Aeroplan or Avianca, but you might want to look at Aeroplan even if it costs you a few thousand extra miles. I’m not going to say Aeroplan has industry leading customer service or anything revolutionary going on, but Avianca is so severely lacking in that department that if you think there’s even a slim chance you’ll need to cancel or change your ticket, you can consider booking with Aeroplan to be a form of “travel insurance” against a trying situation.
Despite a recent devaluation to its award chart, Singapore KrisFlyer remains an attractive redemption option for one main reason: If you want to fly in a premium cabin on Singapore metal — like business class on the world’s longest flight or Singapore’s jaw-dropping A380 suites product — you need to book through KrisFlyer. Singapore generally does not release any premium cabin award space to partners, locking you into its program. Between a recent devaluation and the fact that Capital One miles only transfer at a 2:1 rate, these are going to be expensive redemptions, but if you have your heart set on the carrier’s premium classes, this is your only bet.
The easiest way for most people to experience Singapore’s reknowned Suites Class was on the carrier’s fifth freedom flight from New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA). Unfortunately that price was just bumped up by 10,000 miles, with Suites awards now costing 86,000 miles each way.
Business class on the 18+ hour odyssey from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN) also went up in price, albeit a bit more modestly (from 92,000 miles to 99,000 miles each way).
Thankfully Singapore’s Star Alliance partner award chart wasn’t touched in the devaluation, and it still contains a few sweet spots. One of the best is for United-operated flights to Hawaii, which only cost 35,000 miles round-trip for an economy award from anywhere in the US. You can also enjoy a slight savings on round-trip economy flights to Europe, paying only 55,000 miles versus the industry standard 60,000. Just be careful as, like Aeroplan, Singapore passes on fuel surcharges on some partner flights.
Bear in mind too that KrisFlyer miles are among the easiest to earn, since the carrier partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards (in addition to Capital One). All three of those transfers are at a 1:1 ratio, so you may be better off transferring points from those currencies to your Singapore account if you’re able to find award availability on your desired travel dates.
Fixed Value Redemptions
In the midst of all this excitement about new transfer partners, don’t forget what made the Venture Rewards card so appealing in the first place. The 2x earning rate on every purchase combined with the ability to redeem points for a fixed rate of one cent each towards the cost of travel make it easy to get a decent redemption value with little work. Since you’re paying for the flight with cash and then redeeming Capital One miles to “erase” the purchase from your statement, these tickets are treated like standard revenue flights. This means that you’ll earn miles, and they’ll count towards qualifying for elite status.
Note that these fixed-value redemptions don’t work as well for expensive premium cabin tickets, but if you’re planning to travel in economy, make sure you compare your options before you jump to transfer your points. We’ve seen a plethora of recent fare sales, so you might come out ahead using the purchase eraser redemption option instead.
Capital One miles offer you an incredible amount of flexibility. For starters, you can pick between transferring your points or redeeming them directly towards the cost of a cash ticket, but you also have some choice when it comes to Star Alliance award tickets. Once you’d decided on a routing and found your award space, the issuer partners with three different Star Alliance programs, so you can choose the program that’ll minimize your cost as much as possible. Just make sure to keep an eye on those fuel surcharges, and remember that Capital One miles transfer to Singapore at a lower rate (2:1 vs. 2:1.5).
Featured photo by WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images