Editor’s Note: Welcome to our Points Principles series, an ongoing series dedicated to explaining the basics behind the confusing world of frequent flyer miles and travel rewards points. Follow along as we lay out some of the building blocks to travel for nearly free. And check back to the Points Principles page to see what ground we’ve already covered.
It's a question that comes up for every aspiring traveler getting started with using points and miles: “Will I earn miles on a flight that booked with miles?”
You'll find that the short answer is no, you won't earn miles on an award ticket you booked using frequent flyer miles. And while it might be disappointing that you can't add to your stash of miles on these flights, it makes sense.
But that's not all. There's another way to book a flight for free, yet still earn some frequent flyer miles in the process.
Let's dive in.
The Basics of An Award Ticket
When you book a flight using an airline's frequent flyer miles, it's called an award ticket. And every airline handles it a bit differently – from the amount of miles you need to book a given flight to which partner airlines you can book and whether you can book a one-way flight or need a round trip.
But there's one universal truth to all award tickets: You won't earn miles. Every airlines' rules spell that out clearly, like Delta.
And sure, it's disappointing. Who doesn't want to earn more miles?
But think about it. Frequent flyer miles are a way to incentivize you to buy flights and stay loyal with a specific airline. When you're not paying cash, there's no reason to give you something back.
Well that's not the end of the story. There's another way to book flights for free, and it's a great way to keep earning miles, too.
Earn Miles When You Use Credit Card Points
Welcome to the world of credit card points. And while they're similar, there are some critical differences between credit card points and airline miles.
For starters, airline miles live with that airline. You generally can't transfer or combine them with another, different airline account.
Credit card points from banks like Chase, American Express, and Capital One are far more versatile. You can transfer each of them to many different airline accounts.
But that's not the only way to use these points. From Chase to Citi, every one of these major travel rewards banks allows you to use your points to book flights directly through a travel portal. And when you book a flight this way, you can still earn frequent flyer miles on the flight you take.
It works like this: When you book flights directly with credit card points, you're essentially trading in some of your credit card points and having the bank book the flight for you. In the eyes of the airline, it's as if you paid cash for your ticket.
You'll get the best deal through Chase with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Because when you book flights with these Chase points, they're worth more toward your flight.
When you book a flight with the points from your Chase Sapphire Preferred card, every point is worth 1.25 cents. So the card's 60,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months can get you $750 in free travel. If you’ve got the Chase Sapphire Reserve, that jumps to 1.5 cents per point – meaning the 50,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months gets you $750 toward a flight, hotel, or rental car.
And making sure you earn miles on these flights is pretty straightforward. After you've picked your flight and started the check-out process, you'll simply enter your frequent flyer information along with the rest of your personal details.
Meanwhile, it's even easier if you're booking with Capital One miles. You could book a flight directly through the airline's website using a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card – then just go back and cover the cost with points using the Purchase Eraser function.
You won't earn more frequent flyer miles when you use airline miles to book an award ticket. But thanks to the versatility of credit card points, it's still possible to keep earning miles when you're traveling for free.