These things are a pain. I earned some from a couple credit cards; I had 112k miles to use. I figured this would be cool for some kind of trip. You can read about various positives about stopovers and open jaws, which are coming hard to come by on US airlines, but are great for free stops and extra city hops. You can also find articles out how to avoid their high fuel surcharges, and take note of their expiration, which I did not. Although these seem to be sought after by some, I think they have very limited practical usage and had a frustrating time trying to actually get value out of mine. These are valued on the current September 2016 TPG Points and Values Series at 1.4 cents apiece. United at 1.5. I’m not even up to the latest routing rules on United but I can tell you it’s easier to get value out of that program all day long vs. Lufthansa’s Miles & More. I’ve had minimum 2 cents on any United point I’ve ever used, easily more considering multiple stops and premium class cabin. I got little to NEGATIVE value out of some attempts to try and use these damn Luft points.
Lets look at why these things are a pain in the ass.
- Points have a hard expiration date – Unlike most programs where some activity will extend the life of your points, these have a hard date. Points expire at the end of the quarter 36 months after they are issued. The US call center is not manned 24/7 so if you’re calling at the end of the quarter, be prepared for a busy day. I actually had a tougher time getting through to someone the day before than I did today, but it’s gonna be busy. These won’t extend even if you fly a Lufthansa flight. US rule only? No, same for Germans as well – you either need an elite status or you have to have the credit card. I’m under the impression the card even requires some activity vs. just holding it. When is any set of miles expiring? It seems the call center agents can only see about this and the next quarter ahead, the rest is up to you to figure out or wait. Thankfully AwardWallet was doing a good job and did let me know how many of mine were coming up for expiration.
- I did however find out how to keep Lufthansa miles from expiring – although it’s not that great – if you book a ticket, then cancel it within 24 hours, your miles will be redeposited for free. If you cancel after, they will be redeposited for 50 EUR (much cheaper than many other programs) – although they will need to be spent by the end of the next quarter. I’m not sure if this always puts you a quarter ahead, or if it’s just that I was asking at the end of this one, and if I canceled a flight next week it would be a new one; meaning the rule would not be the next quarter, but simply the current quarter. It seems you could book something 9 months out, cancel and redeposit for 50 EUR, and come out a little ahead… for a price.
- Fees to Europe are ridiculous and practically unavoidable – If I avoid BA using AA miles going through LHR, I avoid the massive fuel surcharge fees. If I try to use United to go to Germany… I still have to pay massive fees. Lufthansa birds? $730 taxes and fees. United? $730.
- I found an economy flight on Lufthansa for 50k miles and $730 on United. The same flight directly from United was $550.
WTF? I can understand a poor redemption of miles but how the hell can you get to this point where it actually costs you more to use them? I know fares come with different restrictions and out of different buckets, but that doesn’t matter – there is no way the additional points and cash cost came with any kind of actual value add to justify them. This is just insane and stupid. I was able to find a LOT flight over to reduce fuel surcharges – 50k and $193 – not awful but not great either. KVS is telling me business is available, however the Lufthansa site is not. Which is correct? The call center is closed and I don’t feel like bugging them anyway. Indirect LH flights for this same trip are 50k miles and $717. There is a business saver for 55k and $997 or business flex for 105k and $998. Will these taxes stay the same if you try and call up and add stopovers/open jaws? If you add some and get the business flex price this could be a positive. Although good luck with that. In the end, to make the fees tolerable to Europe you either have to be A. going on a Polish sweet spot or B. be going in a premium class cabin and leveraging all your stopover and open jaw rules along the way.
- The website search sucks – are you doing anything other than looking for a round trip flight to one city in Europe? Then the site is not for you. I couldn’t use it for looking up US flights. I couldn’t for trying to make a Euro trip with a stopover. Trying to find that cheap trip to Poland on LOT to avoid fuel surcharges? Good luck using this site. I used United for general Star Alliance availability, domestic and international. I used KVS for a more thorough search and automated way to find a LOT flight – there are some directs to ORD.
- The defined regions and traversal rules suck – Three region pricing is much more expensive in miles than two region pricing – and kicks in even if you don’t stop in the third region! I was trying to fly from ORD-BKK. There’s no direct flight. I have to go through China, South Korea, Japan, etc. to do it. This is a “Far East” region connection to “South-East Asia” region which is fine – other airlines do this too. As far as I know however, they don’t punish you for doing it. AA nor United would charge extra for transiting a region without a stop, but Lufthansa does! I think this is totally fair if I stop in somewhere like Japan, but just passing through? It seems ridiculous to charge more. I believe I found the SINGLE valid path I could take; ORD-SFO-SIN-BKK. How often is it that you need to study specific routing and specific partners to even figure out a flight path that might be possible period? Let alone then finding saver award space for over 11k miles in the air? The award chart states ORD to BKK is 80k economy or 135k business. It’s not 80k for North America to SouthEast Asia though. It is 80k for SFO-SIN, and, if you get lucky, you can add a flight before and after. All other routes forced 3 region pricing applies – so it’s really 100k or 185k respectively. Which brings me to another point…
- The award chart/mileage calculator sucks – It would be nice if they just had a chart you can quickly reference like everyone else, North America to Europe is x many miles, and so on. If you dig around you can find a pdf of this. The site however asks for a city pair. Why bother asking if the pair is not used for anything meaningful though? ORD-BKK prices out to 80k miles r/t. As I noted above though, almost every route, even before factoring in whether award space is available, is going to cost you 100k. Based on where you live and flight availability, you have less than a 1% chance of actually being able to do this in reality. Need more than 1 hop to get to SFO? Impossible then. ALL options for you will be 3 region pricing per their rules, so the actual ORD-BKK cost is 100k miles. LAX has a Star alliance flight on Thai Airways – but it goes through South Korea. 3 region pricing on Thai’s own bird. Other regions may effectively be similar – northern Africa or the Middle East for example; directs are possible, but the vast majority of availability is going to route through Europe, kicking in the 3 region pricing. The exception to this is going to South Africa – only because the base pricing is already the same as the 3 region pricing. So it’s basically the most realistic and honest answer from the chart. This 3 region pricing when only stopping in 2 regions is bad enough in terms of huge mileage cost anyway – but on top of this you’ll also have to pay a ton in fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees? We’re already at the practical value of these basically being useless for an economy flight. This wouldn’t be bad at $100 in taxes but $5-800, just stupid.
- Not being able to buy miles sucks. – I’m like a measly 300 points away from a more useful number in the thousands, but I can’t buy what you typically can for $35 or less (1000 miles) on so many other programs out there to make these more useful. So a pile will just fall useless anyway, even though it’s so close.
Best Uses of Lufthansa Miles?
The limited spots of real world use to me seem to be in the rather fancy first class service in Germany, or some decent redemptions in the US. Is that crazy first class experience worth it? Look, pay me a fraction of that and I’ll drive you around in a Porsche. If you note the car articles on my website, it’s probably going to be a lot more exciting Porsche drive as well. Just make sure anything fragile is well protected. As an “aspirational” award it’s kind of cool and all, but totally overblown for what it’s real value is vs. what it takes to actually get it. Sorry, I just see no calculus on how it’s actually a goal worth pursuing.
Domestic US trips are good. I have a friend flying ATL-ORD and back, economy one way and first the other. 29,500. I have a friend going to Alaska from ORD and back for 25k. The mileage calculator says the first flight should be 30k and the latter also 30k. For Germans, this calculator is embarrassingly imprecise for any trip. At present via United, the former trip would have cost 35k and the latter 35k as well, but with $80 taxes and fees vs. my Luft $12.
The problem is the ONLY thing that seems to be good are domestic trips. You can read articles about good value redemptions – and I don’t disagree that these are good redemptions – the problem is they are impossible to find. I don’t mean hard, I mean for all practical purposes, near impossible. The points redemption rates here are not from the North America region – they are from *specific cities* and for *specific flights* only. I work remotely and have very flexible dates and I had trouble doing anything useful. I thought I’d be able to do something cool and international with these miles that made sense – the reality is half the expiring lot now, and almost surely the remaining, will simply be going to US flights. Usage outside of that is far more limited than I expected when I first sought to collect some of these miles.