Thinking back over the past few years of redeeming miles and points for flight awards, most are fairly mundane. More often than not I’ve redeemed miles for economy travel across the country, to Europe, or some short-haul trip within the western United States.

It’s not that I see these awards as bad. They were certainly acceptable to me in terms of value, and they are the sort of everyday award choices I would expect any family to make. I have a threshold for when I’ll use miles versus cash, and that was met every time.

That being said, I’ve also booked a handful of really sweet awards where I got excellent value out of my miles. Here are three of the best.

Last-minute LifeMiles

Last year I planned a last-minute trip to the southwest using Avianca LifeMiles. The LifeMiles award chart for short-haul intra-zone flights in the U.S. is extremely attractive, especially if you’re flying to or from regional airports like us. We booked our one-way tickets about a week from departure.

Round-trip airfare for our Arcata-Tucson flights was going for $866. I shelled out a mere 7,500 LifeMiles and $30.60 in fees per person. Using $433 (half of $866) as the value of our flights, we were getting over 5.3 cents per mile. I’ve never come close with any other economy redemption.

Cathay Pacific Business Class Using Alaska Miles

Alaska Airlines attractive award chart for Cathay Pacific first and business class flights is one of the redemption opportunities I expect to change in the near future. It’s simply too good of a deal. When United is charging 80,000 or more miles for a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia, Alaska is over here charging only 50,000. First to East Asia is only 60,000. It’s one of the best deals you can find for premium cabin travel.

When my older kids and I visited China in late 2018, I booked Cathay Pacific business class for our return flight. This award also included a segment in premium economy from Beijing to Hong Kong. It was 150,000 Alaska miles well spent. Assuming a very conservative $2,000 one-way for the cash flights, we got 4 cents per mile.

First and Business Class to Australia

This is a bit behind me now, but back at the beginning of 2017 I took a quick solo trip to the Land of Oz. My flights there included an experience in the nose of a 747, flying United Polaris First, followed by my first flight on an A380 in Asiana business class. Assuming the typical round-trip from San Francisco to Syndey costs $6,000 in business, I was looking at $3,000 in “value”.

The cost? Just 80,000 United Miles for both of these and maybe $30 in fees. It was an excellent value (3.7 cents per mile), considering how much time I got in premium cabins. I was also giddy, as it was my first time flying in any true international first or business class product.

How I Approach Value

The “cents per mile” that I got aside, each of these were an amazing experience in their own right. This is the real value I look for. There is certainly a specific threshold that I aim for when redeeming miles versus using cash, but at the end of the day, I could never afford a premium cabin ticket to Australia. The value was simply that I got to experience it.

Featured image courtesy of Masakatsu Ukon via Flickr under CC-BY-2.0 license