Here is a link to a good article written by Ben at One Mile at a Time, basically outlining the 101s of airline mileage redemption. You should definitely take a read if you are starting to dabble into the mileage game.
This article explains why accruing miles are good, showing where you can redeem the miles and on which airlines, and how to go about doing so using the online search tools available for find available award seats. Ben also uses a few examples showing Cathay Pacific which is good for us here in Hong Kong.
Redeem Premium or Coach seats?
Many bloggers take the stance that miles are really good value for premium award space, which I totally agree. But many of us, including myself, would rather take two flights in economy vs one in business or first class, so that we can go to more destinations. I will usually fly only economy class when redeeming so that I can visit as many places as possible. I will only fly premium cabins if I can’t find economy class award seats for the particular route I am looking for, and forced to spend the extra miles.
Sure I’d love to fly business or first class, but unless I’m flying a crazy itinerary around the world, I can usually handle a long-haul flight in economy if it’s fairly direct. Even one as long as from Hong Kong to New York. Additionally, I don’t drink on airplanes or eat caviar and chocolate. All of that high end alcohol they’re serving and fancy food will be useless to me so I can’t really extract value from the premium cabin except the flat bed seating. My friend recently flew EVA business class to Europe and was served Dom Perignon. He had two bottles himself, this is an example where it might be worth paying extra if you can enjoy all of the benefits.