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 three of our favorite ways to book domestic flights within the continental U.S.
Looking to get to the Hawaiian islands? We’ve compiled a separate guide on the cheapest ways to fly to Hawaii using miles!
For years, a typical domestic flight on American would set you back 25,000 AAdvantage miles round trip, with some cheaper rates for short flights. Those prices are nothing to write home about.
But American has shaken things up in a big way recently with deeply discounted awards for economy flights. They’re called economy web specials, and it’s fairly easy to find domestic flights starting at just 5,000 AAdvantage each way. If you’re flexible with your travel dates, it’s not difficult to snag these dirt-cheap domestic awards on many routes nationwide.
That said, these economy web specials come with some strings attached. Critically, these fares cannot be canceled outside of the federal government’s 24-hour penalty-free cancellation window unless if you have top status with American. And unlike typical American award bookings, they cannot be changed.
American also has another novel program that can get you some extra savings on normal economy award tickets. 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, a 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.
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.
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.
Thrifty Tip: Use Delta’s Price Calendar search function to zero in on the cheapest rates.
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. We’ve even seen Delta SkyMiles flash sales on domestic flights go as low as 5,000 SkyMiles round-trip!
Even transcontinental routes like BOS to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) can be regularly booked starting at just 12,000 to 15,000 SkyMiles. Both American and United would typically charge at least 25,000 miles for those flights.
This is the beauty of Delta’s variable award pricing system. While it sometimes means Delta wants a boatload of SkyMiles, the upside is these ultra-cheap domestic flights and other SkyMiles flash sales.
One big caveat to keep in mind: These ultra-low domestic awards are typically Delta basic economy fares. Delta began selling basic economy award tickets on nearly all domestic flights last year – and they’re quickly spreading to even international flights.
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.
But there are still great deals to be had. If you need SkyMiles, Delta and American Express frequently offer up to 70,000 SkyMiles or more on their suite of co-branded Delta credit cards. Those cards are getting a major overhaul as of Jan. 30, 2020.
And you can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points from cards like the Platinum Card from American Express Platinum or American Express Gold instantly to your Delta account.
Iberia Plus Avios
British Airways has long been viewed as one of the best ways to book a domestic flight on American Airlines. But their sister Spanish airline, 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. With 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.
But it can get even better. Iberia shines even brighter when you can’t book a nonstop flight.
British Airways, for example, airline charges on a per-segment basis – so if you need a one-stop flight, you’ll be charged separately for each segment of the journey. That’s not the case with Iberia, which sets the price based on the total distance of your round-trip flights, regardless of how many stops it takes.
So while British Airways would charge a whopping 33,000 miles for the one-stop flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Grand Rapids (GRR) and back, Iberia doesn’t care that you need to make a stop in Chicago-O’Hare (ORD). Because the entire journey is under 1,000 miles, the exact same flights price at just 12,000 Iberia Avios.
There are two major restrictions to keep in mind when booking American Airlines flights this way. Round trip fares are required – you can’t book a one-way flight on American Airlines using Iberia miles. And much like American Airline’s economy web specials, you generally can’t cancel or change AA flights booked through Iberia.
With the rise of American’s economy web special fares, booking American flights through Iberia isn’t always the slam dunk it once was. But there can still be substantial savings.
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 60,000-mile signup bonus after spending $4,000 in three months, are a great way to earn miles that you could use to book these flights.
Compared to big international trips and glamorous first class cabins, using miles to book short domestic hops may not be sexy. But sometimes you just need a quick getaway – and want to do it on the cheap.
Give these three airline programs a hard look when you’re booking domestic travel with points and miles.
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.