If you're looking to score the best deal on domestic flights when using your miles, you're in the right place.
Generally, shorter domestic flights aren’t the best way to get the most value out of your miles. If you're considering whether to use points or pay in cash, if often makes more sense to save your points when booking an average domestic fare…
But not always. From flash sales to the discounted web specials that come with new dynamic award pricing models on all the major domestic airlines, you can often find a great deal using miles from a U.S. airline program. And while it's hit or miss, you can occasionally find outsized value by booking with a partner airline program. Plus, booking these award tickets mean you'll leap past the restrictions of basic economy – except for Delta, the only major carrier that offers basic economy award tickets.
Here are some 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!
- Use Chase Points to Book Cheap Flights
- Use Capital One Miles to Erase Your Purchase
- Delta SkyMiles: Flash Sales
- American Airlines: AAdvantage Web Specials
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Great for Stopovers
- Southwest Rapid Rewards: The Most Flexible Fares
- United MileagePlus: Avoid Basic Economy
- JetBlue Points: Cheaper than Chase Portal
- British Airways Avios: Nonstop AA Flights
- Virgin Atlantic Points: Nonstop Main Cabin Delta Flights
- Best Ways to Book First Class
Use Chase Points to Book Cheap Flights
We saved the best for first.
There are plenty of dedicated airline mileage programs out there you can use to book domestic flights, and some are better than others. But in our minds, the simplest and most valuable way to book domestic travel using points is by using Chase Ultimate Rewards points in the Chase travel portal.
Because of how airlines set their rates when using miles, you typically get the best bang for your buck for long-haul flights – especially flying in business or first class. That's why it's generally not the best use of miles: There's simply not as much value flying domestic.
But when you use credit card points like Chase, it works differently. These points act like cash, and the amount of points you need to book a flight (or cruise or hotel) is based entirely on the cash price. Simple, right?
And Chase points shine because you get a bonus when using your points to book travel through the Chase travel portal.
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, every point gets you 1.25 cents when redeemed towards travel. When you use your points this way, you get 1.25 cents per point no matter whether you're booking a cheap domestic fare, an international trip, a hotel for a long weekend, or an exorbitantly expensive first class ticket.
Upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and you get 1.5 cents per point. That means you could book the same flight above for around 9,200 points.
The simplicity really shines here – but so does the value. In this example, American is charging 21,500 AAdvantage miles for the exact same flights in Main Cabin, while Sapphire Preferred cardholders could book a Main Cabin fare for just under 15,000 points.
It gets better. See that $11.20 charge when using American miles? You don't have to pay that when booking directly through Chase. While you'll always pay a small (and sometimes large) fee when using airline miles, using credit card points is the only way to book flights for completely free. And unlike using airline miles, you'll still earn miles on your flight when you use Chase points to book.
Of course, this doesn't always work out. When flight prices get as high as they have within the U.S. in recent months, you'll wind up using far more points. But if you can find a cheap fare, it's always worth considering booking through the Chase travel portal first.
Use Capital One Miles to Erase Your Purchase
The easiest way to use points and miles for flights is through the Capital One purchase eraser.
Simply book a cheap flight directly with the airline and pay with your Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Then, you can log in to your Capital One account and erase the purchase from your statement using your Capital One miles.
You've got 90 days to “erase” a travel purchase from the time it appears on your credit card statement. And every mile is worth 1 cent.
This means you can book a flight like this nonstop Alaska Airlines flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Spokane (GEG) for $188 roundtrip and erase the charge from your card using 18,800 Capital One miles.
It's that easy. There are no blackout dates, you’ll get to earn frequent flyer miles, and perhaps most importantly, you can book directly with the airline.
Delta SkyMiles: Flash Sales
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.
But 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 roundtrip 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 4,000 SkyMiles roundtrip!
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 Delta SkyMiles flash sales.
One big caveat to keep in mind: The cheapest awards are typically Delta basic economy fares. Delta began selling basic economy award tickets on nearly all domestic flights in 2019 – and they've continuously spread to more and more international routes, too.
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 SkyMiles 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. Thrifty Traveler Premium members continually receive alerts for Delta SkyMiles flash sales, like this sweet deal to Denver we sent in March with fares as low as 4,000 SkyMiles roundtrip.
Get dirt-cheap Delta SkyMiles deals like this one sent straight to you with Thrifty Traveler Premium!
If you need SkyMiles, Delta and American Express frequently offer up to 100,000 SkyMiles on their suite of co-branded Delta credit cards. And you can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points from cards like the The Platinum Card® from American Express Platinum or American Express® Gold Card instantly to your Delta account.
American Airlines: AAdvantage Web Specials
For years, a typical domestic flight on American would set you back 25,000 AAdvantage miles roundtrip, 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 with deeply discounted awards for economy flights. They're called web specials, and it's fairly easy to find domestic flights starting at just 6,000 AAdvantage miles 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. If you're inflexible, prepare to pay much more. You have to take the bad with the good when it comes to dynamic award pricing.
Thrifty Tip: Use American's award map search tool to find out where you can fly for the lowest rates. You'll need to choose the exact dates and number of miles you'd like to use. Input 6,000 miles and choose an off-peak one-way travel date for the best results. Then, click through to find more dates on AA's calendar search.
These cheap fares are the new normal and they're not as restrictive as they used to be. Although these fares can't be changed after booking, you can still cancel web specials free of charge. Your miles will be redeposited into your account and any taxes and fees paid will be refunded. Then, simply rebook new flights.
A handful of credit cards will let you book these cheaper flights and also pad your AAdvantage miles stash. In fact, you can quickly earn up to 135,000 American miles by opening just two cards.
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. 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 $99 annual fee.
Another unique way to earn AA miles is to earn points on rent with Bilt Rewards and transfer points from Bilt to American Airlines.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Great for Stopovers
While Alaska miles are not the easiest to earn, it can be a great way to hop around the U.S. on the cheap if you've got some stashed away.
For flights within the continental U.S, Alaska, and Canada, Alaska Airlines uses distance-based pricing tiers to determine how many miles you need. It separates these ranges as a Hop, Skip, Jump, or a Leap.
- Hop (under 700 miles): Starting from 5,000 miles one-way in economy
- Skip (701 – 1,400 miles): Starting from 7,500 miles one-way in economy
- Jump (1,401 – 2,000 miles): Starting from 10,000 miles one-way in economy
- Leap (2,101+ miles): Starting from 12,500 miles one-way in economy
Not sure how long your flight is? Plug in the route at GCmap.com!
A one-way flight from Portland (PDX) to Bozeman (BZN) via Seattle (SEA) that would normally cost $158.60 for a Main Cabin fare could be purchased for just 5,000 Alaska miles + $5.60. That's some incredible value.
But it gets even better. Say you live in New York City (JFK) and want to visit all that the West Coast has to offer on one trip. By booking a stopover in each direction, you could get to see San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), and Portland (PDX), all for just 25,000 miles total … roundtrip!
If you're looking for more Alaska miles, you can sometimes get a decent sign-up bonus when opening up an Alaska Airlines credit card. Otherwise, flying Alaska Airlines is a great way to build up some miles since it still awards miles based on the distance flown.
Southwest Rapid Rewards: The Most Flexible Fares
For those who like to fly with checked bags and have the most flexibility with changing plans, Southwest Airlines is your ticket. And its Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program is the most straightforward of almost any U.S. airline.
You can book any flight and the cost in miles always correlates directly to the cash price of a ticket. This means the lower the fare, the fewer points you'll need to book. Simplicity at its finest.
Thrifty Tip: Use the Southwest low fare calendar to view dates across a monthly calendar and select “points” when booking to see the price in points.
And if the price happens to drop after you book, you can rebook and get some miles back. Want to cancel the trip altogether? You can change plans or cancel any time up until 10 minutes prior to departure. All your miles will be redeposited and any taxes and fees can be refunded to your card.
Want to take it to the next level? If you earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you can book flights using points and still get your companion's flight for free – just pay the taxes and fees!
You can earn a ton of Southwest points with a bonus on a Southwest credit card, but Southwest is also a Chase transfer partner. This means you can instantly transfer points earned from either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® to Southwest.
United MileagePlus: Avoid Basic Economy
When it comes to basic economy, United is the worst of the big-name U.S. airlines. United mimics ultra-low-cost carriers and doesn't even include a carry-on for basic economy passengers. One solution: Book your flight with United miles.
You'll always book into a main cabin fare when booking a flight with United miles. That means you'll be able to bring a carry-on bag and have the ability to change plans for no extra fees.
While you won't find as many widespread deals like you can with American and Delta, there are some routes where you'll find cheap domestic redemptions on United. For instance, these flights between Denver (DEN) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) for 5,500 United miles each way aren't too shabby.
For the most part, it will make more sense to book a cash ticket when flying United, but you may find some cases where booking with points makes sense – especially if you want to avoid United basic economy.
You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards instantly to United if you wish to book directly with the airline. And if you're earning points on rent with Bilt Rewards, you can also transfer those points to United.
Thrifty Tip: Similar to American, United also has a destination map where you can explore how far your miles can take you. Just click on “refine search” and check the “Book with miles” box. This map seems to have some bugs and is not as intuitive as American's, but it's a neat tool that will hopefully be improved in the future.
JetBlue Points: Cheaper than Chase Portal
JetBlue basic economy fares, dubbed “Blue Basic,” also don't include a carry-on bag. That's why we always recommend booking one of JetBlue's standard “Blue” fares or higher.
When booking with JetBlue's TrueBlue points, you'll always be booking at least a “Blue” fare. And while its dynamic pricing model means that the price in points tends to follow the cash price of a ticket, booking with JetBlue points is often a cheaper option than booking through the Chase travel portal if you want to book a fare that includes a carry-on.
For instance, looking at flights from San Diego (SAN) to New York (JFK) this fall, Blue fares are going for $298 roundtrip. This would require around 23,800 Chase points for Sapphire Preferred cardholders when booked through the Chase travel portal.
But if you were to transfer Chase points to JetBlue at an even 1:1 exchange, it would require only 18,800 points + $11.20 in taxes and fees. The 5,000 points saved are well worth paying the small amount of taxes in cash.
Of course, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison since you'll earn frequent flyer points when booking the cash-priced fare through the Chase portal and Sapphire Reserve cardholders would get slightly better value (~19,800 points). But if you're interested in using the fewest number of points and want to book directly with the airline, you may want to consider transferring your points to JetBlue.
Chase points transfer to JetBlue at an even 1:1 ratio. This means 1,000 Chase points = 1,000 JetBlue points. You can also transfer Citi points and Amex points to JetBlue, but you may not get an even exchange. Citi Premier® and Prestige® cardholders can transfer 1:1, while other Citi cardholders and Amex Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:0.8 ratio. This means you'll only get 800 JetBlue points for every 1,000 transferred.
Thrifty Tip: You can use JetBlue's best fare finder to search for flights on a flexible calendar. Just click the “Use TrueBlue points” to view the fares in points.
British Airways Avios: Nonstop AA Flights
Looking for a short nonstop flight on American Airlines? Booking the flight with British Airways Avios may be a cheaper option than American's own AAdvantage program.
While American has some great Web Special rates, it doesn't always sell these specials on nonstop flights from its hub cities. Turning to partner British Airways, which has a distance-based award chart, can be a great way to score a deal on nonstop AA flights under 650 miles.
For example, American is selling its nonstop flight from Philadelphia (PHL) to Charleston (CHS) for the standard 12,500 miles one-way.
Keep in mind that British Airways charges per segment, so this deal only works on nonstop flights.
You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, or Chase to British Airways. And, in a roundabout way, you can also transfer Citi ThankYou points to British Airways by first transferring to Qatar and then from Qatar to British Airways thanks to their new Avios partnership.
Virgin Atlantic Points: Nonstop Main Cabin Delta Flights
Similar to its U.K. counterpart, Virgin Atlantic points are a great way to book shorter nonstop Delta flights within the U.S.
Virgin also has a distance-based award chart when booking Delta flights outside of Europe. As you can see, it's just 7,500 miles for flights under 500 miles.
But the best part is that you'll be booked into a Delta main cabin fare when using Virgin points. Of course, you can also book main cabin tickets with SkyMiles but you may get a better deal booking with Virgin points.
For instance, if you're looking to fly roundtrip from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Grand Rapids, Michigan (GRR), Delta is charging 21,000 SkyMiles for basic economy or 24,000 miles for Main Cabin.
Plus, Virgin is a transfer partner with all of the major banks. That means if you have transferrable points with Amex, Bilt, Captial One, Chase, or Citi, you can instantly transfer them to Virgin for booking.
Best Ways to Book First Class
Using points and miles to book first class flights within the U.S. can be a difficult task. Delta and United rarely have decent rates or saver award space that can be booked by partner airlines. However, American Airlines routinely offers web specials for domestic first class seats on flights around the nation.
These are mostly for the standard recliner seats. The extra legroom and free drinks may be nice, but it's nothing like a premium cabin on a long-haul international flight. Nonetheless, for rates as low as 16,000 AAdvantage miles each way, it can be a bargain for these front-row seats.
Use AA Miles for JetBlue Mint
We think JetBlue Mint is the best way to fly domestically. Lie-flat seats and service that beats its big-name competitors is a big reason to fly JetBlue Mint on a transcontinental flight.
It isn't exactly cheap to do using points and miles, but it's much cheaper to use American AAdvantage miles to book these seats than it is through JetBlue. You'll often find rates on JetBlue for well over 100,000 TrueBlue points.
But thanks to a new partnership with American, you can book the same JetBlue Mint seats for half price. It starts from 50,000 AA miles one-way for flights to or from Las Vegas (LAS), Seattle (SEA), or San Diego (SAN). If you're flying to or from Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), it's 65,000 miles one-way.
While this seems high for a domestic flight, the product you'll be flying and the service you'll receive will be similar to an international business class flight.
Thrifty Traveler Premium members were recently alerted to a ton of award space for late summer and fall flights flying coast-to-coast in JetBlue's Mint Class. These rates can be an incredible deal – especially with summer airfare on the rise.
Use Etihad Guest Miles for AA Flagship First
Another more obscure way to get a great deal on lie-flat seats when flying within the U.S. is to book American Airlines Flagship First Class using miles from its Abu Dhabi-based partner Etihad.
Yes, you read that right. You can use miles from an airline based in the Middle East to book a domestic U.S. flight.
And it's often much cheaper to book through Etihad than with AAdvantage miles. Etihad's redemption chart for AA flights shows that “Premium” redemptions, such as Flagship First, for flights wholly within the U.S. can be booked for 32,500 miles one-way.
The catch is that you'll have to call Etihad in order to book this award. Before you call, search for available saver award space on British Airways' website. If the AA flight can be booked by British Airways, it should be bookable with Etihad as well. Then, call Etihad at 1-877-690-0767 to book the flights.
You can transfer points from Amex, Capital One, or Citi to Etihad, but make sure you confirm availability through Etihad before you transfer any points. If you're seeing something you want to book now, you might want to turn to a stash of Amex Membership Rewards points: Through July 30, the bank is offering a 20% bonus on transfers to Etihad, bringing the cost down to just 28,000 Amex points.
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 to get somewhere or take a quick getaway – and want to do it on the cheap.
Give these options a hard look when you're booking domestic travel with points and miles. If you want to cut down your travel costs, this is the way to do it.