Get Free Flights
There are two credit cards that can earn airline miles for consumers: co-branded credit cards and general rewards cards. The first, airline co-branded credit cards award you miles for every dollar you spend, with their affiliated airline and general purchase. Nearly every single carrier has their own credit card and they usually award more miles for purchasing tickets on the airline.
The other type are travel reward cards that earn you miles like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® and dozens more like them but they aren't tied to a specific airline. However, they can still get you a free flight. These miles are used retroactively, to pay off travel statement credit off your credit card. Some use a pure cash earning method that you use to pay with cash on the airline of your choice.
1. If you use the card to pay for the airfare, taxes included, then you can use any miles you accumulate on your account to pay off those charges making the full flight free.
2. You can shop airlines and get the best deal on the ticket to your destination.
3. Some Airlines have blackout dates and a max number of seats on a flight available for mileage reward travel this is not an issue with Travel reward cards.
1. With general travel rewards cards, a single mile equates to $0.01 in airfare. With most co-branded cards you get at least $0.02 per dollar sent on tickets on their airlines so you could earn a ticket with half the price.
2. Co-branded cards come with other benefits like: Free Checked Bag, Discount Meals, Priority Boarding, Discounted Companion fares, and on United a visit to the Presidents Club.
3. It is also easier to purchase your tickets and spend your miles.
4. And the big one is co-branded cards offer large mileage awards after a minimum dollar spend usually within 3 months (see detail chart at bottom).
How Many Miles Do You Need For a Free Flight?
My family and I have used most of the co-branded cards out there but one thing to note is that they often change their programs and requirement so this will only be a guideline or starting point.
Most airlines have a short flight mileage requirement and an anything in the continental US mileage needed for a ticket. Other airlines, like Delta, do not publish any award charts, and instead charge miles on a case by case basis, usually taking into consideration day of week, destination miles, etc.
At the time of publishing this was the cost to go from NYC to Los Angeles.
Coach Economy First Class Business Class
American Airlines 12,500 - 30,000 50,000 - 95,000 25,000 - 55,000
Delta Air Lines 15,000 39,000 - 52,000 39,000 - 52,000
Southwest Airlines 15,000 N/A 73,000
United Airlines 12,500 ? 50,000
JetBlue 10,000 - 20,000 73,000 - 147,000
Air Canada 7,500 - 12,500 35,000 15,000 - 25,000
Virgin America 8,000 - 13,000 43,000 - 119,000 N/A
Alaska Airlines* 15,000 - 23,000 25,000 - 60,000 N/A
Some airlines priced based on the general region (Europe, South America, etc.) other on miles to destination, while still others very based on the specific itinerary and date.
Airline Economy First Class Business Class
American Airlines 30,000 - 65,000 85,000 - 175,000 57,500 - 135,000
Delta Air Lines 30,000 70,000 - 175,000 70,000 - 175,000
Southwest Airlines N/A N/A N/A
United Airlines 30,000 150,000 80,000
JetBlue N/A N/A N/A
Air Canada 30,000 - 38,000 70,000 - 80,000 55,000
Alaska Airlines* 25,000 - 60,000 50,000 - 70,000 50,000 - 70,000
International flights purchased with miles can face additional charges in the form of fuel surcharges and taxes. Miles cover all of the U.S taxes except a $23 security fee. You are responsible for all international fees and taxes. For example, if you fully pay for a trip to London in miles, you can still be charged over $200 in taxes.
Is it a Better Deal to Redeem Miles for Business or First Class?
You almost always get a better value for both domestic and international flights purchasing the premium cabins.
For example, a one-way economy seat on American Airlines from JFK to LAX can cost $195. A business class seat on that same itinerary would cost $1,059, and you'd pay $1,249 for first class. That same flight would cost you 30,000, 52,000, and 85,000 miles for economy, business, and first class respectively. To get the per-mile value, you simply need to divide the USD fare by the price in miles.
Economy: $195 / 30,000 = $0.007
Business: $1,059 / 52,000 = $0.020
First: $1,249 / 85,000 = $0.015
As you can see from the calculations above, business and first class on American Airlines provides you with over twice the value for each mile. Therefore, you get the best bang for your buck if you save up enough miles to pay for a more luxurious cabin ticket.
Co-branded Card Bonus Mileage with Minimum Spending
Most co-branded cards have bonus mileage they award if you spend a minimum amount of money on the card, usually in 3 months. Below are the bonus miles given by card and the extra benefits they offered: (See the upcoming strategy blog for how to maximize your benefits with these card to double or triple there impact even if you don’t like using credit cards)
Card Award Miles Spend Extra Benefits
Alaska Air 40,000 miles $2,000 NBD, DCF
AmEx Delta Sky Miles 30,000 miles $1,000 FYF, PB, FB
AmEx Delta Sky Miles 50,000 miles $3,000 FYF, PB, FB
United Explorer Card 40,000 miles $2,000 FYF, PB, FB, PCE
United Barclays Aviator Business 80,000 miles $1,000 FYF, PB, FB, PCE
American Airlines AAdvantage 50,000 miles $2,500 FYF, PB, FB,NFTF
Southwet Rapid Rewards 40,000 points $1,000 NBD
Jet Blue 10,000 miles $1,000
Air Canada 50,000 miles ? DCF, FB
NBD -No Black out Dates
FB -free bag
PB -Priority Boarding
RF -Refer Friends Bonus
NFTF -No Foreign Transaction Fees
PCE -Pres. Club Entry - 1 a yr.