Americans are fortunate to have lots of credit cards with generous rewards, and we have not one but several large domestic airlines with their own international routes. So why even consider joining a foreign loyalty program operated by carriers like ANA or Lufthansa when you just want to get from San Francisco to New York?
In fact, the foreign nature of these international programs is exactly why you should be interested. They don’t operate the way you’re used to, which can create valuable opportunities. In most cases you’re not giving up choice — you can still book the same airlines using miles from a different partner — but you do get to use a different loyalty currency with its own rules and award chart. You might save miles or get better availability.
While you can earn miles with the Lufthansa Premier Miles & More Word MasterCard, you can also transfer more miles in from an outside program like Starwood Preferred Guest (20,000 Starpoints = 25,000 Miles & More miles).
Using Miles & More for Domestic U.S. Flights
Often the best use of foreign award programs is to book domestic flights. Fuel surcharges are part of most international fares. And while most U.S. carriers do not apply these to international awards, many foreign carriers are all too happy to. Domestic flights within the U.S. don’t have any fuel surcharges, so you don’t have to worry about this if you use Miles & More to book a flight on partners like United and US Airways within the United States.
Here’s what the domestic U.S. award chart looks like:
- Economy Class: 25,000 miles round-trip
- Business Class: 35,000 miles round-trip
- First Class: 50,000 miles round-trip
One-way awards are permitted for 50% of the round-trip price, rounded down. You could save 1,000 miles by booking two one-ways in some cases.
Furthermore, you can take advantage of certain differences in how U.S. and foreign carriers operate. If you’ve ever traveled to Europe, you probably noticed that intra-Europe flights only have economy class and business class. Well, United Airlines may call its domestic premium cabin “first class”, but it codes award space as business class. That means you can book it as a business class award and use fewer miles.
Round-trip from SFO to JFK on United’s p.s. service with lie flat seats is 50,000 miles booking through United MileagePlus but only 35,000 miles with Lufthansa Miles & More. Even Hawaii is cheaper! First class using United’s miles is 80,000 miles round-trip on a two-cabin plane under the new award chart. But with Miles & More, you pay only 70,000 miles round-trip.
Using Miles & More for International Flights
Some savings are available if you use Miles & More for domestic flights, and that’s certainly a good idea if you only plan to apply for the sign-up bonus. But if you can accumulate more miles I think this card may be your ticket to a real first class experience.
You see, Lufthansa is widely regarded as one of the best airlines for travel in premium cabins. Lufthansa even provides a separate bed and dedicated first class terminal on some flights. These awards are very difficult to book if you are using miles with a partner like United Airlines because there are only 8 seats per plane, and Lufthansa opens award space just two weeks before departure. But if you have a Miles & More account, Lufthansa’s own customers have greater availability many weeks in advance.
The caveat is that you will have to pay a fuel surcharge for your Miles & More award ticket, while United does not collect these. These fuel surcharges can be several hundred dollars, and when added to the mandatory taxes (even United charges those) you might pay as much as $1,000 for your round-trip first class award.
Now the good news (maybe?). I used to say that Miles & More also charges more miles for a first class award ticket than United did. That’s no longer the case after United announced its Black Friday devaluation.
Here are example award prices from the U.S. to Europe:
- Economy Class: 60,000 miles round-trip (still 60,000 if booked through United)
- Business Class: 105,000 miles round-trip (140,000 if booked through United)
- First Class: 170,000 miles round-trip (220,000 miles if booked through United)
So Miles & More will charge you fewer miles for business and first class awards than if you used United miles AND you get more availability. The catch is those pesky fuel surcharges, but you’re getting a better in-flight experience. For some people, paying a fuel surcharge is the only way to fly Lufthansa first class because they need to plan their flights in advance and can’t wait to the last minute to book. Taxes and fuel surcharge totaling $1,000 are still better than paying $20,000 retail.
Bonus: U.S. residents can fly from the U.S. to Europe in economy class for 50,000 miles round-trip. This is yet another discount vs. United.
This special offer is available for a limited time, and the usual sign-up bonus is just 20,000 miles. If you sign up for The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More Word MasterCard® now,
you could get 55,000 miles including those you spend to meet the sign-up bonus requirement. Update: The bonus is back down to 20,000 miles. Barclays also often offers generous bonuses on its cards throughout the year. Megan was offered 15,000 additional miles if she would spend $750 a month for three months.