The right way to use airline miles


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Reserving flights with airline miles might be intoxicating—it lets you expertise journey you could not in any other case be prepared or in a position to shell out the money to do.  Award journey can open up the door to almost limitless alternatives, but it surely takes some understanding to discover ways to maximize each incomes and redeem airline miles. One of many key methods to earn airline miles is thru accountable use of the suitable bank card. Our information will stroll by way of what you’ll want to know.

What are airline miles?

Airline miles are a rewards forex you’ll be able to earn after becoming a member of an airline’s loyalty program. For instance, American Airways operates the AAdvantage program and United Airways operates the MileagePlus program. Miles on this utilization is actually one other time period for “factors,” as incomes and redeeming miles actually isn’t tied to the mile as a bodily measurement of distance. 

These miles can usually be redeemed for a wide range of choices, however utilizing them to e book flights on the airline you earned them with (or companions in the identical alliance) often nets one of the best worth.

Professionals and cons of incomes airline miles with bank cards


  • May help you acquire flights in any other case out of attain
  • Rewards your loyalty to particular airways
  • Some playing cards might provide further perks like a free checked bag


  • Not as versatile as some forms of bank card rewards
  • Requires effort to maximise the worth of redemptions

Sorts of airline bank card miles

There are lots of a number of forms of bank card rewards which you could redeem for air journey. However they primarily fall below two classes: airline miles and versatile factors.

One distinction between airline miles and versatile factors is the place the rewards accrue. A card just like the UnitedSM Explorer Card deposits the miles you earn through spending on the cardboard instantly into your linked United Airways MileagePlus account. In different phrases, the miles don’t “reside” in your card. Even if you happen to had been to shut your airline card, you wouldn’t lose the miles (although an expiration date might apply relying on the phrases of the precise airline’s loyalty program). 

Under are some examples of airline miles from common U.S.-based airways:

  • Alaska Airways MileagePlan miles
  • American Airways AAdvantage miles
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Frontier Miles
  • Hawaiian Airways HawaiianMiles
  • JetBlue TrueBlue factors
  • Southwest Fast Rewards factors
  • Spirit Airways Free Spirit factors
  • United Airways MileagePlus miles

Importantly, you’ll be able to redeem your miles for flights on extra than simply the airline with which you might be gathering rewards. You possibly can e book flights with its airline alliance companions, too. As an example, United Airways is a part of the Star Alliance, so a United Airways miles collector can e book flights on Air Canada, SWISS, Singapore Airways, and extra by way of the United web site. You will get to simply about wherever on the earth with most airline rewards currencies. Extra on this later.

A possible draw back of airline playing cards are that the rewards can usually solely be redeemed with the airline for flights or upgrades. There isn’t an possibility to make use of your rewards for money again. Some common versatile bank card factors provide you with an choice to money out your factors—and whereas we usually advocate utilizing your rewards for journey, having a backup possibility might be good.

Airline miles vs. versatile journey rewards

With versatile journey rewards bank cards, the rewards acquire in your card till you redeem them. You’ll usually both switch your factors to an airline or resort companion after which e book journey instantly, or use your factors to e book journey by way of the issuer’s portal. Examples of versatile rewards applications embody:

  • American Specific Membership Rewards® factors
  • Bilt Rewards
  • Capital One Miles
  • Chase Journey℠ 
  • Citi ThankYou factors

Versatile rewards help you use your rewards to instantly e book flights on a wide range of airways, relying on who the issuer companions with. For instance, Chase has 11 airline companions you’ll be able to switch your rewards to at a 1:1 ratio, which suggests when you have 20,000 Chase Final Reward factors you’ll be able to switch them into your Air Canada Aeroplan account leading to 20,000 Aeroplan miles. This may be a wonderful solution to maximize the worth of your rewards. 

Right here’s how. Let’s say you needed to fly from Toronto to Dallas in early June 2024. The money value for a enterprise class ticket is $787 on Air Canada’s web site on the time of this writing. However paying for it with factors would price simply 35,000 Aeroplan factors. Should you personal a card that earns Chase Final Rewards factors, redeeming these factors for money again is value a penny some extent. However transferring 35,000 Final Rewards factors at a 1:1 ratio to the Aeroplan program to redeem for that enterprise class ticket nets you a worth of almost 2 cents per level taking taxes and costs into consideration. 

A draw back to utilizing a versatile journey rewards card somewhat than an airline card is that you simply gained’t get airline-specific perks similar to a free checked bag or precedence boarding.

The right way to earn airline miles

Right here’s a take a look at a few of the handiest methods to earn airline miles on purchases you’d have to make anyway. 

Join a co-branded bank card

A co-branded airline bank card is one which accommodates the title of an airline (e.g. the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Specific Card). Just like a retailer bank card, a co-branded airline bank card will provide advantages which can be particular to that model. This might imply free checked baggage, most popular boarding, reductions on in-flight meals and drinks, and extra.

An American Airways earns AAdvantage miles, a United Airways bank card earns United MileagePlus miles, and so forth. The precise incomes construction will range by card, so ensure you go for a card that matches your life-style properly. For instance, foodies who journey continuously will admire the United Explorer Card’s rewards construction, with 2 miles per greenback spent on United purchases, eating, and resort stays booked instantly, 1 mile per greenback on different purchases. 

To view charges and costs of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Specific Card, see this web page 

UnitedSM Explorer Card

Intro bonus

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months your account is open

Annual price $0 introductory annual price for the primary 12 months (then $95)
Common APR 21.99%–28.99% variable APR

Open a versatile journey rewards card with airline switch companions

Should you don’t want the advantages that include an airline-specific card—for instance, perhaps you journey gentle with only a carry-on and a private merchandise so a free checked bag isn’t a lot use to you—maybe you’d want a versatile journey card that allows you to switch factors to whichever airline companion you discover one of the best deal on.

When utilizing a versatile journey card, it can behoove you to discover ways to leverage airline alliances. You may not all the time be capable of switch your factors on to the airline you’d prefer to e book a flight with, however if you happen to can switch them to a companion and e book by way of that companion’s web site, you’ll considerably lengthen your journey attain. 
For instance, perhaps you’re in a position to switch rewards from the Capital One Enterprise X Rewards Credit score Card to British Airways then e book a ticket by way of British Airways on an American Airways-operated flight. Or maybe you switch your Capital One Miles to Virgin Atlantic, then e book a flight on Delta by way of Virgin. Simply beware such companion seating could also be in restricted provide, so discover the flight you need by way of the companion airline (British Airways or Virgin within the above examples) earlier than transferring your factors.

Capital One Enterprise X Rewards Credit score Card

Intro bonus

Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases throughout the first 3 months from account opening

Annual Payment $395
Buy APR 19.99%–29.99% variable
Overseas Transaction Payment None

Earn welcome bonuses

The quickest solution to earn airline miles (and versatile factors, for that matter) is often by way of bank card welcome bonuses. You possibly can probably earn hundreds of {dollars} value of journey from a single provide—and there are scores of various choices.

For instance, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Specific Card comes with 60,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases in your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. That is possible sufficient to get you to London and again, significantly in case your dates are versatile and also you make the most of Delta’s award offers web page. Plus, the SkyMiles Reserve provides a “TakeOff 15” profit, the place award tickets on Delta price cardholders 15% fewer miles to redeem. 

Needless to say to earn a welcome bonus, you’ll often want to fulfill a minimal spending requirement inside a selected period of time. Just remember to’re in a position to full the spending requirement on a possible new card earlier than you open it—or you may forfeit an important alternative. 

Additionally beware that making use of for an excessive amount of new credit score in a brief time frame can sign to issuers that you simply’re determined for credit score, so be strategic in terms of making use of for brand spanking new playing cards to earn welcome bonuses. 

To view charges and costs of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Specific Card, see this web page 

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Specific Card

See Charges and Charges

Intro Bonus

Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases in your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

Annual price $650
Common APR 20.99%–29.99% variable

Store by way of on-line portals

Many airways additionally function their very own proprietary buying portals which can award bonus miles for purchases you deliberate to make anyway. by way of the airline portal’s hyperlink, your purchases will probably be tracked and bonuses accordingly.

You possibly can probably obtain over 5 miles per greenback at common retailers similar to Dell, Finest Purchase, Residence Depot, and extra. These bonus miles are along with the bank card rewards you’ll earn for spending.

The right way to redeem airline miles for journey

The method of redeeming airline miles is straightforward. The problem might be  discovering methods to squeeze each final drop of worth from them.

The primary approach to make use of your airline miles for flights is thru that respective airline’s web site (or cell app). You’ll discover earlier than you seek for flights an choice to view costs in cash or miles. Choose miles to see if you happen to’ve acquired sufficient awards in your desired itinerary.

Airways have totally different strategies for pricing their award flights. Some study the space you fly, others cost in line with the money worth of the ticket, and nonetheless others use one thing known as dynamic award pricing—which is the place the variety of factors required to e book a flight rises and falls with demand. In that final case, peak flight instances similar to Thanksgiving would require extra factors than a less-frequently traveled time.

Maximizing your airline miles

The world of award journey can really feel sophisticated at first. Every airline comes with its personal tips and candy spots. Listed here are six ideas to information you as you earn and redeem miles together with your airline bank card.

All the time enter your frequent flyer quantity

Each time you buy a ticket, it’s best to enter your airline loyalty quantity to earn miles in your flight. Should you don’t have a loyalty account with the precise airline you’re flying, it’s free to enroll and takes just some minutes.

Evaluate the money value of your ticket

Simply because you’ll be able to cowl your flight with miles doesn’t essentially imply it’s best to. That is an oversimplification, however it’s best to typically intention to recover from 1 cent in worth per airline mile. 

Most airline miles have a tendency to supply a constant worth between 1.2 and 1.5 cents every to savvy vacationers, however might be value considerably extra in some instances. As talked about  earlier, not all airways value their award flights based mostly on the money worth of the ticket. A flight to Europe might price $250 at some point and $500 the following—however its award value could also be 30,000 miles for each dates.

Divide the money price of the airline ticket by the variety of miles you’re utilizing after which multiply the outcome by 100 to seek out what number of cents per mile you’re getting. If it’s below 1 cent, it’s typically not deal. Should you’re solely getting a penny (or much less) in worth, you’d possible be higher off paying money for the flight, incomes miles on that buy and if potential utilizing your rewards to take a press release credit score to offset the price of the flight.

 Bear in mind to take any taxes or charges out of the money value when doing for worth. As an example, If a ticket prices $400 and the miles value is 20,000 plus $100 in charges, the web worth of the ticket in miles is definitely $300. So you might be truly getting 1.5 cents in worth per mile, not 2 cents. 

Be versatile with dates

Flexibility together with your journey dates is essential to getting a strong worth in your airline miles. Should you can solely journey through the vacation season, award seats are possible going to be both costly or offered out. However if you happen to’re in a position to take a look at the worth calendar and let the offers or decrease costs information your journey, it’s potential to get a lot better worth in your rewards.

Be versatile together with your origin and vacation spot airports

Contemplate award flight offers from main U.S. hubs that don’t exist from smaller airports. Should you’re prepared to first fly from your private home airport to a global gateway hub, you may probably save lots. For instance, a flight from Newark to Paris could be tens of hundreds of miles cheaper than a flight from Rochester to Paris.

You also needs to analysis the costs of airports close to your vacation spot. The inconvenience of an additional stopover may yield monumental financial savings. For instance, if you wish to go to London, check out award costs to Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, and different main European airports close by. If the costs are dramatically decrease, you may be capable of merely e book your flight to one among these cities after which hop on a cheap flight to your precise vacation spot. You possibly can usually fly inside Europe for round $30 on a low-cost airline.

Guide in a premium cabin

You’ll typically get the best worth in your rewards by reserving in worldwide enterprise class or first-class. These seats are likely to price many hundreds of {dollars} and include lie-flat seats, free alcohol, intensive dine-on-demand menus, and even pajamas.

Be trustworthy with your self about how a lot value you personally place on extra luxurious flights. If the perks of flying enterprise or first-class are one thing you’d prefer to take pleasure in, miles may also help you attain that. However if you happen to simply care about getting from level A to level B, it’s most likely not value spending extra miles in complete simply to really feel like the mathematics reveals a better cent-per-mile valuation.

Diversify your miles

It’s a good suggestion to earn a couple of kind of airline miles. Generally one airline might cost exorbitant charges whereas one other might provide rock-bottom costs. It’s all the time good to present your self choices.

You possibly can obtain this by proudly owning bank cards from totally different airways. You can even open versatile journey playing cards with transferable factors, such because the Capital One Enterprise Rewards Credit score Card, which empowers cardholders to switch rewards to quite a few airline loyalty applications.

Capital One Enterprise Rewards Credit score Card

Intro Bonus

Earn 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 on purchases inside 3 months from account opening

Annual price $95
Common APR 19.99%–29.99% variable

Use award search web sites

Award websites automate a lot of the legwork when attempting to find one of the best miles worth for a flight.    Websites like, Award Nexus, and AwardHacker help you seek for availability throughout a wide range of worldwide airways and switch factors to this system that offers one of the best worth in your miles. A few of these providers cost a price, however they are often a useful software for frequent flyers.

How to decide on one of the best airline bank card for you

Selecting the best airline bank card isn’t as tough because it may appear. Contemplate the next when attempting to slender down your choice::

  • Does the airline serve your private home airport? Should you’re opening an airline bank card, make sure that the miles aren’t a trouble to make use of. Airways don’t fly to each airport, in spite of everything.
  • Does the airline or one among its companions journey the place you need to go? In case your dream is to go to Asia, a Southwest Airways card might not make it easier to. 
  • Are you able to obtain the welcome bonus minimal spending requirement? Once more, welcome bonuses are a shortcut to incomes sufficient miles for a flight. Should you can’t realistically meet the spending requirement to earn a brand new card’s welcome bonus, you’re leaving miles on the desk. However don’t make bills outdoors your finances simply to lock in a welcome provide, both. Search for a card with a proposal that matches your finances and your life.
  • Does the rewards construction on the cardboard complement your spending patterns? Airline bank cards include various bonus classes for spending. Discover one that provides bonus factors within the areas the place you usually spend.
  • Does the airline bank card ship advantages you’ll truly use? Airline bank cards can provide perks like companion certificates, airport lounge entry, free checked baggage and extra. Should you can’t use your potential card’s advantages, it’s most likely not match in your wants. Economic system-minded vacationers might not discover it worthwhile to pay for a premium bank card with lounge entry, however enterprise vacationers who have to work whereas on the go may. 
  • Is the annual price value it? Don’t let an annual price scare you off. If the cardboard comes with worthwhile perks you understand you need to use, it may be definitely worth the price ticket.

The takeaway 

Utilizing airline bank cards to earn miles after which reserving award journey may also help you go locations you thought had been solely a distant dream. Simply ensure you’re not taking up debt you’ll be able to’t repay with the objective of incomes rewards—incurring curiosity fees will wipe out any worth you get from rewards fairly rapidly.

Should you’re able to take the following step in studying about what you are able to do with award journey, think about the playing cards on our record of finest bank cards for journey and see if one may make it easier to obtain your subsequent trip.

Please notice that card particulars are correct as of the publish date, however are topic to vary at any time on the discretion of the issuer. Please contact the cardboard issuer to confirm charges, charges, and advantages earlier than making use of. 

Eligibility and Profit degree varies by Card. Phrases, Circumstances, and Limitations Apply. Please go to information for extra particulars. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Firm. 

Fortune Recommends™ has partnered with CardRatings for our protection of bank card merchandise. Fortune Recommends™ and CardRatings might obtain a fee from card issuers.