I’m in the middle of planning some credit card applications and was wondering which Barclay’s cards to go after. I considered the US Airways card, since it’s bound to go away once the merger goes through. I’ve kind of ignored the Barclays Miles & More card, even though I have a Lufthansa Miles & More Account that dates back almost two decades to when I was in kindergarten (fun fact: I misspelled my name on the card’s signature panel).
For one thing, Lufthansa is in the same Star Alliance as United, so most awards that I can redeem with Lufthansa miles can likely be redeemed far more easily with United miles (United has a great website and doesn’t charge fuel surcharges).
But a couple of things caught my eye when browsing the Lufthansa mileage chart. It’s a unique mileage chart, and there are certainly a lot of possibilities with it. I’ll explain below where I think Lufthansa miles beat United miles.
The Barclays Miles & More MasterCard
The Premier Miles & More World MasterCard® from Barclays offers
50,000 miles after $5,000 of spend in 90 days. You get 20,000 miles on first purchase and the remaining 30,000 miles after spending $5,000. The offer expires on June 30th. UPDATE: The offer is now back down to 20,000 miles after your first purchase or balance transfer. After you spend the $5,000, you’ll have 55,000 miles in Miles & More, the frequent flyer program for Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, LOT, and more. The card comes with a $79 annual fee that is not waived.
Some of the redemptions laid out below will cost under 55,000 miles. Some will cost over 55,000 miles. The Barclay Lufthansa card earns 1 mile/$ on most spending. But instead of continuing to spend on this card after reaching the $5,000 threshold, it might make more sense to shift toward your SPG American Express. Every 20,000 Starpoints transfer to 25,000 Miles & More miles, which is a small bump from spending $20,000 with Barclays. Furthermore, the transfer ratio for Starwood to United Airlines is much worse, making Miles&More one of the better options for Star Alliance awards when redeeming Starpoints.
Better Access to Lufthansa and SWISS First Class Awards
Lufthansa First Class is one of the more sought after premium awards, especially if you can adjust your itinerary to take advantage of the airline’s awesome First Class Terminal at Frankfurt. A full bar, cigar lounge, comfy massage chairs, rubber duckies, and a ride in a Mercedes across the tarmac all the way to your plane sound great to me (even though I’ll only take advantage of about half those things).
Lufthansa First can be redeemed with United Airlines miles, but only within 15 days of departure and only if Lufthansa decides to release award space to their Star Alliance partners. Of course, not everyone can be flexible with their schedules to plan a trip within 2 weeks.
In addition, SWISS First is pretty much impossible to redeem for nowadays. I flew SWISS in First from Zurich to Hong Kong last year before they cut off partner awards and really enjoyed that flight. Their food is amazing!
Fortunately, Miles & More members have better access to Lufthansa First and SWISS First awards. If you’re someone who would rather book a Lufthansa First or SWISS First award months out and have it set in stone, this is a program to consider.
A one-way First Class redemption from Europe to the USA costs 85,000 miles and just under $300 in surcharges. It costs more in surcharges when flying from the USA to Europe. Lufthansa has amazing ground service at their hubs, so I’d be more willing to fly from Europe to the US with these miles, so that I can enjoy those services before a long-haul flight (and fuel surcharges are less going that way!). Use another airline’s award miles to complete the second half of your round trip.
You may need more miles to reach this award level. Instead of spending on the Barclay card, spend money on an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card. For every 20,000 SPG points you transfer to Miles & More, you’ll get 25,000 miles. Therefore, you would need $25,000 in spending rather than $30,000 to get to that mileage level.
Compare this with United, which charges 67,500 United miles for a one-way First Class redemption from Europe to the USA. Mile for mile, you would have to pay 17,500 more Lufthansa miles than you would United miles. In addition, you would have to pay about $200 more in fees flying westward (keep in mind that if you’re not a United Premier member, you would have to pay change fees or late-ticketing fees because Lufthansa First can only be redeemed within 15 days of departure). It all comes down to if you value Lufthansa/SWISS First Class redemptions made for far in the future at 17,500 additional miles + about $200 more in fees.
Better Access to Singapore Airlines Business Class Awards
Singapore Airlines has amazing service, and everyone I know who has flown them has raved about the experience. Scott flew Singapore Airlines First Class to Asia last year thanks to a hiccup with Singapore’s reservation system. I’ve flown Singapore Business on intra-Asia flights between Singapore and India, since Singapore tends to open up availability on shorter flights.
However, long-haul business class and first class awards on Singapore Airlines are tough to get with partner miles. The easiest way to redeem for Singapore Airlines premium classes is with Singapore Krisflyer miles, which can be transferred from American Express Membership Rewards.
However, Miles & More members still have better access to Singapore long-haul business than some other Star Alliance partners like United Airlines, so this is a reasonable alternative if you don’t have many Membership Rewards points. Star Alliance reminds me of Animal Farm – all Star Alliance partners are equal, but some Star Alliance partners are more equal than others.
Singapore’s North American routes include:
- Los Angeles to Singapore via Tokyo-Narita (A380)
- San Francisco to Singapore via Seoul-Incheon (777-300ER)
- San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong (777-300ER, though sometimes A380 in winter)
- Houston to Singapore via Moscow (777-300ER)
- New York-JFK to Singapore via Frankfurt (A380, though sometimes 777-300ER in winter)
- Los Angeles to Singapore nonstop (ends October 2013)
- Newark to Singapore nonstop (ends November 2013)
For USA to Asia, it costs 135,000 Miles & More miles round-trip. Even better, the Germans apparently can’t be bothered to deal with anything but round thousands, but also don’t want to overcharge customers, so it costs 67,000 miles one-way in Business to Asia. Interestingly, it’s the same price for South Asia and the Far East, so it’s the same price to redeem for Los Angeles to Tokyo as it is to redeem for Los Angeles to Singapore via Tokyo on the same flight number. Keep in mind that there are some fuel surcharges and fees, in the realm of $200-$300 according to ITA and the Singapore Airlines website.
Russia is considered Europe in Lufthansa’s region chart, so you can fly from Houston to Moscow or JFK to Frankfurt on Singapore Business for only 52,000 miles one-way in Business. That’s taken care of with just the signup bonus!
Relatively Cheap Domestic United First/Business Class Redemptions
Since United codes all of their forward cabins on 2-class aircraft as “Business” class, it costs only 35,000 miles for a roundtrip domestic redemption in United domestic First and even p.s. Business Class, their premium transcontinental flights between San Francisco/Los Angeles and New York-JFK. That means it’s only 17,000 miles for a one-way domestic First class or domestic Business class ticket. In comparison, United charges 25,000 miles for the same seat.
Lufthansa charges 12,000 miles one-way for a domestic Coach ticket, which is close to United’s 12,500-mile level. Valuations are different for everyone, but I definitely value a premium cabin on a coast-to-coast trip at 5,000 extra miles. And while there may be some fuel surcharges on international awards booked with Miles & More, there are no fuel surcharges to worry about on domestic United flights.
There are definitely more possibilities with Miles & More, but these three redemptions are what are worth pointing out.