America Airlines – 5 Incredible Airline Awards To Book Right Now
It seems safe to say that 2021 is not shaping up the way many folks planned. Travel began to rebound slightly over the summer and got a big boost over the holidays. However, coronavirus surges across the U.S. and internationally have caused many countries to reimpose travel restrictions. The Biden Administration has also placed new testing requirements on incoming international visitors, complicating would-be travelers’ plans yet again. That said, vaccine rollouts are underway across the globe, and depending on individuals’ comfort levels as well as any future government regulations, some people might be taking to the skies again soon. For the moment, however, airfares remain attractively low. The predictive airfare app Hopper recently projected a 20% slump in domestic airfares in the first quarter of 2021, and 12% in the second quarter compared to 2019. International airfares are expected to be 10-12% lower than before the pandemic. But Hopper suggests that won’t be the case beyond summer, and deals will begin to decline before the end of February.
Airlines have been cautious about adding flights back onto their route networks. Travel analytics firm Cirium estimates that around 30% of the global commercial airplane fleet remains in storage, and carriers are only flying around 50% of the seat capacity they had before Covid took hold. Once they do put a plane back into service on a new route it can take a while for it to reach capacity, hence the inexpensive tickets. Once demand does catch up to the seating supply, though, airfares will ricochet higher again. For that reason, now is a very interesting moment to book airline tickets. If you can handle a little uncertainty, that is. What’s more, aside from extraordinarily low paid airfares, there is also a glut of saver-level award tickets, even in premium cabins that are normally nearly impossible to book. So if you’ve been hanging onto a stash of points or miles, now might just be the time to cash them in. Before you do, there are a few caveats to consider.
Conditions And Caveats
With travel rules changing nearly every week, airlines are understandably skittish about committing to all but the most surefire routes, especially when it comes to international flying. If you do decide to book an award ticket, you might want to hold off on making other plans, such as hotel reservations or activities, in case the schedule changes. If a flight is currently operating and remains so for several months out, you should be good to go. If it has not yet launched, proceed with caution.
Also keep in mind that on-the-ground laws in your destination might change – another reason you may have to cancel. Whereas you might be able to enter a country now with just a negative Covid test, by the time you fly, the nation could have imposed a mandatory quarantine on visitors. Some countries that allow transit passengers could clamp down on itineraries with layovers. If you book a trip, be sure to keep up on the latest via the State Department website.
While many airlines have eliminated change and cancellation fees, both on paid and award tickets, the rules can vary depending on your booking dates and destination. Before you commit any miles to your trip, make sure you will be able to get them back in case you decide to cancel without incurring any exorbitant fees or charges.
Finally, the decision to travel right now, and for some time to come, will be deeply personal. Consider your circumstances, your health, and how your trip might impact those around you both at home and in your destination before hopping on a plane. If you do decide to travel, here are a few awards to keep an eye out for.
There are some stellar opportunities to use airline miles (or credit card points that convert into airline miles with partners, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards) to fly some of the best seats in the skies. The ones below are either widely or moderately available at the moment, though you might have to do a little searching and be flexible on dates and departure cities.
1. Emirates New First Class
Emirates has had some of the best first-class suites in the world for years now, but even aviation geeks were floored when the airline introduced all-new versions in 2017. There are just six of them in two rows of three enclosed suites each, and they can only be found aboard a handful of the airline’s Boeing 777-300ERs. Normally, Emirates does not deploy them on U.S. routes, but for the next two months, you will find them on one of the carrier’s two daily frequencies between Dubai and New York JFK. For reference, it’s flight EK202 departing at 11:00pm from New York, and flight EK201 departing Dubai at 8:30am on the return.
Your two best options will be to use either Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles at a rate of 150,000 in each directly (and taxes and fees between $20-$60, depending on which way you fly), or Emirates Skywards miles. You can book a one-way ticket for 136,250 miles and around $200 in taxes and fees.
However, Skywards also has Saver tickets that are cheaper, but must be booked round-trip, making them harder to pin down. If you do find one, it’ll cost you 217,500 miles plus $400 or so in taxes and fees. That’s still a lot of miles, but you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Miles, and Citi ThankYou Rewards to Emirates Skywards, so there are plenty of opportunities to top up your account.
Book soon, though, because Alaska Airlines will join Oneworld at the end of March, likely cutting off that redemption option. And Emirates plans to put an Airbus A380 with its (still fabulous, but not as nice) older first-class suites aboard back onto the New York route on March 28.
2. Qatar Airways Qsuites
With closing doors, lie-flat beds, 21.5-inch entertainment systems, and on-demand dining, Qatar Airways’ Qsuites are widely acknowledged to be among the best business-class seats in the world. They are also widely flown on the carrier’s routes to and from the United States. In fact, the airline has been among the most conservative at paring back its route network during the pandemic, and even recently added two new U.S. destinations – San Francisco and Seattle. Qatar Airways also continues to operate flights from its hub in Doha to points all over Europe, Africa, and Asia, making it an excellent option for onward connections.
Even better news for fliers: there is a ton of business class award availability on many of Qatar Airways’ U.S. flights, including those from the West Coast, as well as those from Doha to other international destinations through the end of 2021. Depending on where you have airline miles, the best choice might be to use American Airlines AAdvantage. The program charges 70,000 miles each way in business class from the U.S. to Doha, India and the Maldives.
Or you could spend 75,000 miles each way to get from the U.S. to African destinations including South Africa and Kenya.
3. All Nippon Airways New Business And First Class
Japanese carrier ANA debuted its gorgeous new first and business class suites in July 2019 and began installing them aboard some Boeing 777-300ERs. The airline didn’t get too far before the pandemic struck, but at least some of the planes with these eye-catching fixtures aboard are still flying to the U.S. It can be hard to discern which flights are actually operated using planes with the new seats aboard, but they tend to be regularly deployed aboard flight NH9 from New York JFK to Tokyo Narita and NH109 from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda; and then NH10 from Tokyo Narita back to JFK, and NH110 from Tokyo Haneda to New York JFK.
While United will charge you an exorbitant 88,000 miles each way in business class and does not seem to have access to first class inventory right now, ANA will only charge you 85,000 miles round-trip in business class from the U.S. to Japan, and 150,000 miles in first class, plus about $100 in taxes and fees. Don’t have ANA miles? Amex Membership Rewards points (on a 1:1 basis) and Marriott Bonvoy points (at 3:1) both convert to ANA miles.
While there are just a handful of dates with outright open award seats on these flights during the fall and winter, you can always waitlist for an award and cross your fingers that it opens up by then.
4. Cathay Pacific First And Business Class To Asia
With double-wide seats and top-notch service, Cathay Pacific first class has to be one of the most luxurious ways to fly. It’s also one of the hardest awards to book, given limited availability and high mileage prices. However, next fall and winter, there is plentiful award space in both business and first class from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, in particular, to Hong Kong and points beyond in Asia.
Cathay Pacific is a oneworld alliance partner with American Airlines, so you’ll need just 70,000 AAdvantage miles each way in business class to Hong Kong and Southeast Asian destinations including Singapore.
Though first class will only be available on the longer transpacific leg if you do connect to other cities, it might still be worthwhile booking it for 110,000 AAdvantage miles each way. Los Angeles seems to have the most availability for this option, with many dates open in November and December.
Don’t forget that you can also use Alaska Airlines miles to book Cathay Pacific awards at the even-better rate of 55,000 miles each way in business class and 70,000 in first class between North America and Asia. The downside is that it does not have access to as many awards as American Airlines AAdvantage, and you must call into Alaska to book it with an agent.
5. Fiji Airways Business Class
Fiji Airways introduced a new business class when it took delivery of its first Airbus A350s last year. These stylish pods are arranged in the popular reverse-herringbone style, and are regularly deployed on the airline’s flagship route from Nadi to Los Angeles.
While a beach vacation might not be high on your to-do list for the moment, if you feel like getting away before the end of the year, this might just be your opportunity to do so with a trip to Fiji, or even beyond to Australia. The airline is partners with both American and Alaska, so you can use either carrier’s miles to book awards. What’s more, there is plentiful availability in the late summer, fall, and before the holidays.
American Airlines will charge you 80,000 miles each way to get to Fiji or continue on to Australia.
Alaska Airlines charges just 55,000 miles each way, with comparable taxes and fees that ring up at under $200 round-trip.
You might not be planning to fly for some time to come. But if you think you might be willing to step aboard a plane before the end of the year, and you have been stockpiling your airline miles and credit card points, now might just be the perfect time to make some provisional reservations and stake out spots in some of the world’s best first and business class cabins. At the moment, many airlines will allow you to change or cancel award bookings for free, so you won’t have to worry about hundreds of dollars in fees if you do decide to opt out of traveling. Wait much longer, though, and these award seats are bound to disappear.