3 Great Ways to Book Domestic Flights in the U.S. with Miles
If you’re looking to score the best deal on domestic flights when using your miles, you’re in the right place. Shorter domestic flights generally aren’t the best way to get the most value out of your miles, and we recommend against it when considering whether to use points or pay in cash for a flight.
But there are some standout frequent flyer programs that flip the script. Here are our top four ways to book domestic flights within the continental U.S.
A typical domestic flight on American will set you back 25,000 AAdvantage miles, with some cheaper rates for short flights. Those prices are nothing to write home about.
But American has a novel program that can get you some extra savings and change that. It’s called Reduced Mileage Awards, and it’s available to flyers who hold one of several American Airlines co-branded credit cards.
With this setup, that 25,000-mile flight can be as low as just 17,500 miles. Flights shorter than 500 miles normally cost 15,000 AAdvantage miles round trip, but you can get them for just 13,000 through Reduced Mileage Awards.
Only select airports qualify for the promotion, and the list of airports that make the cut is changing every two months or so. Check out the latest list here.
A handful of credit cards will let you book these cheaper flights and also pad your AAdvantage miles stash – which you should be doing anyway. Your best bet is the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, which comes with a $99 annual fee, though that’s waived in the first year. To learn more about this card, visit the Airline Credit Cards section of our Top Credit Cards page.
Another solid option is the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard, which currently offers a 60,000-mile bonus after making a single purchase within three months and paying the $95 annual fee. This offer is available through 10/31/18.
This card comes with an extra perk – thanks to a 10% rebate on award tickets when you use your miles, that 17,500-mile fare comes down to just 15,750 miles.
Delta no longer publishes an award chart that lets you know how many SkyMiles a flight should cost you. It’s just a fact of life with the frustrating yet misunderstood SkyMiles program. So while the airline doesn’t make it obvious, Delta often offers the cheapest way to get around the U.S. using miles. You just have to find the deals.
And there are plenty of deals out there. On routes long and short, you can regularly snag a round-trip flight for 10,000 SkyMiles or less. That’s a steal for flights like Boston (BOS) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Seattle (SEA) to Denver (DEN) and many more.
Even transcontinental routes like BOS to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) can be regularly booked starting at just 14,000 SkyMiles. Both American and United would charge at least 25,000 miles for those flights.
It’s part of the beauty of Delta’s variable award pricing system. Untethered from an award chart, Delta can sell these flights for whatever it wants. And while that sometimes means exorbitant prices, it also opens up these deals.
Unfortunately for flyers living in Delta hub airports, you can often miss out on the best of these deals. It’s the downside of what we call the Hub Penalty, in which Delta charges more miles on flights in and out of airports like Atlanta (ATL), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Detroit (DTW) and more.
Delta also has a habit of publishing SkyMiles flash sales, when they sell award flights at discounted rates. Lately, we’ve seen a handful of sales on domestic routes starting at just 11,000 SkyMiles, so stay tuned to our page to see when you can score a deal.
While Delta only pinpoints a handful of routes in their flash sales, we often find these discount prices are far more widespread. So do some searching the next time you read about a flash sale!
At those low rates, it’s easy to fund multiple flights for nearly free. Delta frequently offers a 60,000 SkyMile signup bonus on its Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, which carries a $95 annual fee that is waived in the first year. With the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card, you can often snag a 70,000-mile bonus. That card has a $195 yearly fee, which isn’t waived.
Iberia Plus Avios
Other bloggers love to talk up British Airways as the best way to book a domestic flight on American Airlines. But their sister company, Iberia, does them one better.
The British and Spanish airlines are owned by the same parent company. And they’re both a bit quirky in how they set prices for mileage awards. Both base how many miles they charge for a flight based on the distance you fly round trip – a rarity among airlines today.
British Airways is great for some short flights within Europe. But it penalizes U.S. travelers, charging a minimum of 15,000 miles no matter the distance.
On Iberia, that price can go as low as 11,000 miles for a round-trip flight in economy. Flights under 600 miles total price at that amount, while journeys between 601 and 1,000 miles come in at just 12,000 Iberia Avios. Flights up to 2,000 miles cost just 17,000 Iberia Avios, which still gives you some solid savings.
Thrifty Tip: Not sure how long your flight is? Head to GCmap.com and type in your full route (like MSP-ORD-MSP) to get the numbers.
Round trip fares are required – you can’t book a one-way flight on American Airlines using Iberia miles. But the savings here make that caveat well worth it.
And part of the beauty of Iberia Avios is that they’re so easy to earn. You can transfer points from Chase and American Express directly to your Iberia account.
So any of the American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards points or the Chase Sapphire Preferred, with a 50,000-mile signup bonus after spending $4,000 in 3 months, are a great way to earn miles that you could use to book these flights.
Getting the most out of your miles is all about using the right frequent flier programs. These three airlines are among the best when it comes to getting around the U.S. on the cheap.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.