What kind of flight can 25,000 United miles get you? How much is 2,000 Southwest points worth? Trying to assign a value to airline points and miles can be a haphazard task.
Here at NerdWallet, we’ve created our own airline miles valuations through a comprehensive analysis of hundreds of flights across eight airline programs. But even still, it’s tough to definitively know how much a flight costs on points, the way everyone knows that a Costco hot dog and soda combo forever and always costs $1.50.
Thanks to airlines with award charts, there’s a little more clarity around how much it’ll cost to book flights on miles or points.
Airline reward redemptions: award charts vs. dynamic pricing
Dynamic pricing: Some airlines have what’s called dynamic pricing, where the cost to book flights on points or miles is loosely correlated with the cost in dollars. Meaning: A more expensive cash fare also costs more in miles.
Among the biggest airline programs that deal in dynamic pricing are:
Award charts: Meanwhile, other airlines use award charts to define the cost to book award flights. With award charts, routes have fixed redemption rates. Those fixed numbers can be based on factors such as time of travel (typically broken down into three categories: standard, peak season and off season), the region you’re traveling to or the number of miles flown (or a combination of all of those things).
Award charts can be helpful in eliminating guesswork around how much your flight might cost. If you fly on American Airlines from your home in Houston to Hawaii for the holidays, you can know it’s 22,500 MileSAAver miles, no matter what time or specific day of the week you actually fly.
Award charts also mean you can find redemption sweet spots, which are extra-good deals simply because your route is optimized perfectly for a relatively low points redemption (even if it might actually be fairly pricey when paid for in cash).
With that said, here’s your comprehensive guide to airline award charts:
Air Canada Aeroplan
Air Canada resources:
The Air Canada Aeroplan doesn’t have an exact award chart — but it has something close. When booking award flights, you’ll encounter what Air Canada calls “predictable pricing,” which is a sort of hybrid of award charts and dynamic pricing.
Sure, the price you pay in Aeroplan points is correlated to the price of the equivalent cash fare (if demand suddenly spikes, points fares may too). But a published award chart range eliminates most confusion, making it easier to estimate how many points your flight will cost you.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines resources:
Alaska’s award flight booking system bases the cost of flights on a combination of route popularity and flight distance. It also awards miles in distance traveled (rather than dollars spent).
For flights within the contiguous U.S. and Alaska, award tickets start at 5,000 miles each way (that’s for trips less than 700 miles in Main Cabin). But for longer flights within the contiguous U.S. and Alaska, expect to pay as much as 50,000 miles for a Main Cabin seat.
Sometimes, international travel through partner airlines can turn out to be even cheaper. Economy seats between the U.S. and Asia on Cathay Pacific are just 30,000 Alaska miles, while seats on American Airlines between the U.S. and Australia are just 40,000 miles, which can turn out to be a great deal when traveling during peak seasons.
There’s also the Money & Miles payment option, which lets you pay partially with miles and partially with money (though it also tends to result in relatively poor value).
American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines has a region-based award chart with just a taste of dynamic pricing thrown in; that award chart is a baseline of how much you’ll need to spend, but expect to be flexible in finding travel dates. American Airlines also offers lower points rates on off-peak dates, so you may be able to save some points with even further travel flexibility. There are three types of award redemptions: MileSAAver (which tend to have the most limited availability), AAnytime and Web Specials.
Flights within the contiguous 48 U.S. and Canada in the Main Cabin that are also less than 500 miles start at just 7,500 miles (the same route in First Class would be 50,000 miles). International flights can also tend to be a good deal, with Main Cabin MileSAAver seats between the U.S and Europe priced at 30,000 miles, or 35,000 for flights between the U.S. and Asia.
ANA Mileage Club
The ANA Mileage Club uses a distance-based award chart, so shorter flights will cost fewer points than longer ones. Japan domestic flights, such as between Tokyo and Osaka, start at just 5,000 miles one way (longer flights cost more, such as 7,000 miles to fly between Okinawa and Tokyo). Meanwhile, international flights start at 12,000 miles.
With so many partner airlines and relatively low rates to book on those airlines, the ANA Mileage Club is one of the best loyalty programs for booking flights with almost all of the other Star Alliance airlines.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways resources:
Rather than a region-based award chart, British Airways has an entirely distance-based award chart. That’s especially beneficial when you’re flying short-haul flights within the same region, such as between Los Angeles and San Francisco, as opposed to long-haul flights that would otherwise be within the same region, such as between Los Angeles and New York (in which case you might be better off booking with an airline that has a region-based award chart).
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific resources:
The Cathay Pacific frequent flyer program has a standard award chart that determines point redemptions by distance-based zones, so a flight that’s between 1 and 750 miles would cost less than one that’s between 751 and 2,750 miles.
While Cathay Pacific can have great redemptions — especially if you can find a sweet spot flight that reaches into the upper end of Cathay Pacific’s distance-based zones — many points and miles pros prefer using Alaska miles to book award flights on Cathay Pacific, such as the bucket-list trip of using Alaska miles to book a first class Cathay ticket to Asia.
Frontier Airlines Frontier Miles
The Frontier Miles program (formerly known as EarlyReturns) is based on a set award chart. Though there are no blackout dates, Frontier does limit the number of award flights sold.
One-way flights on Frontier Airlines start at 10,000 miles for flights within the U.S. and Puerto Rico. International flights can turn out to be a particularly good deal, with flights between the U.S. and either Jamaica, Mexico or the Dominican Republic starting at 15,000 miles.
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
Hawaiian credit card transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards
Hawaiian Airlines resources:
The Hawaiian Airlines award chart is region-based, with flights within Hawaii starting at 7,500 miles for Main Cabin fares. Flights from Hawaii to the West Coast of the U.S. mainland start at 20,000 miles, while flights to the East Coast cost 30,000 miles.
NerdWallet values Hawaiian miles at 1.1 cents each.
The bottom line
Award charts have their pros and cons, but for airlines with fixed award charts (versus dynamic pricing), there’s typically less of a correlation with award redemptions and cash fares. If you spot an ultra-cheap cash airfare sale, you may not get that same discount in points or miles.
Award charts also mean plenty of room for sweet spot redemptions, based on distance flown, regions you’re traveling between or time of year.
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