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Wacky Airline Rewards Leave Free Flights in the Dust

SmarterTravel

Swapping unused airline miles for magazine subscriptions is so passe. Forget Rolling Stone magazine — use those miles to go backstage at a rock concert or snag tickets to the Billboard Music Awards. Music doesn’t interest you? How about an authentic replica of Gandalf’s “Magical Silver Scarf” from the Lord of the Rings movies? Made of 100 percent New Zealand wool, it’s woven by the same weavers who made some of the costumes for the movies.

These are just two of the many unusual rewards frequent fliers can turn their award miles in for nowadays.

Research company IdeaWorks, in partnership with Switchfly, recently reviewed the frequent flier programs of 160 airlines, highlighting 25 of the most unusual and innovative reward options in the report, “Airlines Woo Members with Wild, Weird and Wonderful Rewards.”

Offerings range from unique products to one-of-a-kind travel experiences, and everything in between. Some can be “bought” straight up with miles, while others have to be bid on in auctions or won in raffles.

Here is just a taste of some of the most unique rewards on offer:

* ANA All Nippon Airways: For 15,000 miles you’ll get a four-course meal for two — with Champagne — at the Lexus experience store in Tokyo.

* EVA Air: For 100,000 miles you’ll get access to a flight simulator and trainer for a 90-minute session.

* El Al: For 120 points (plus $60) you can propose to your partner with the line’s Inflight Marriage Proposal Kit, which includes a bottle of wine and two elegant glasses delivered by the flight attendant after she has said yes, plus premium chocolates.

* Cathay Pacific: 15,000 miles gets you a very unique eight-hour Hong Kong handicraft tour that includes visits to a tailor, shoemaker and wood engraver.

* Avianca: A few slices of New York City’s famed pizza can be had for 5,803 miles. It’s part of a walking tour that stops at three pizzerias in several Manhattan neighborhoods.

* Qantas: For a whopping 536,500 points you can take part in Earthwatch’s Conserving Koala Country program in Australia. You’ll spend 10 days in Great Otway National Park in Victoria conducting measurements, collecting samples and tracking koalas by radio. Room and board are included.

* Air Canada: For 128,000 miles parents can purchase a $1,000 (CAD) gift certificate to a Me to We Adventure and Volunteer trip for their child. Participants may lay bricks for a new school, dig for a water project or teach English in a school in destinations like Kenya, Tanzania, India, Ecuador, Ghana and the Amazon.

* Emirates: It only takes 12,000 miles to get a first-level ticket to a Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) football/soccer match with access to the Emirates Club at the stadium.

* Auction and raffle rewards included TAP Portugal’s auction of a four-night cruise; Etihad Airways’ raffle of an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix package for two with four-night hotel stay, VIP race seating and air tickets; and American Airlines’ auction of a Justin Timberlake Live in New York package for two, which included flights, hotel accommodations, transfers, meals and a $600 prepaid credit card.

If you had unlimited air miles, which experience would you select? Or if you could make one up, what would it be?

— written by Dori Saltzman

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