Arguably, the best use for frequent flyer miles is long haul international flights in business or first class. This is the only way many of us will ever experience the luxury of flying with lie flat seats, elaborate meals, and top notch service. I don’t disagree. Avid point collectors have the means to experience these “once in a lifetime” trips year after year. That being said, domestic travel is a more common need for most of us, and ticket prices have been rising steadily. Luckily, as point collectors, we seem to have a glut of great domestic flight options these days. Here is a round up of some of my favorites…
Citi ThankYou: More than $3,125 worth of travel
Citi has quite a few decent signup bonuses right now that will award you ThankYou points (you can find these on my “Best credit card offers” page):
- CitiBusiness: 50K
- Citi ThankYou Preferred: 40K
- Citi Forward: 30K (via this FlyerTalk trick)
- Citi ThankYou Premier 25K
Citi allows each person to sign up for two Citi cards at a time. After that, you need to wait approximately 95 days before signing up for more. A couple could leverage these deals as follows:
- Round 1: Each person sign up for two cards: the CitiBusiness card and the ThankYou Preferred. Total ThankYou haul: 180K
- Round 2 (95+ days later): One person sign up for the ThankYou Premier and the other sign up for the Citi Forward card.
After the two signup rounds described above, this couple would have over 235,000 ThankYou points. The reason for getting the Forward card (besides the sign-up bonus) is that it allows this couple to continue to earn ThankYou points at a rate of 5 points per dollar at restaurants, movie theaters, and bookstores (see “Forward 5X“). The reason for getting the Premier card is that it allows this couple to book airfare at the rate of 1.33 cents per point. So, those 235,000 points earned from sign-up bonuses become worth $3,125 of travel! Even better, flights flown with these points earn airline miles and elite credit. Of these Citi cards, only the Premier card has an annual fee. It may be possible for this couple to avoid even that by cancelling the card after a year and then have the other person sign up. Alternate annually.
ThankYou points can be used equally well for international travel, but you are likely to find better value with other point programs especially if you want to fly business or first class.
Southwest Companion Pass: Up to $3146 worth of travel
Once a person earns 110,000 Southwest RapidRewards points in a calendar year, they are awarded a companion pass that is good for the rest of that year and all of the next.
When using points to book Southwest flights, each point is worth
1.67 1.43 cents towards “Wanna Getaway” fares. So, the 110,000 points you’ve accumulated are worth $1573 worth of flights for one person. However, since you can now fly a companion for free, it is really worth up to double that amount: $3146 worth of flights! Please note, though, that the only way to get $3146 worth of travel with those points is to spend them all during the two years that your companion pass is valid, and to spend them all on “Wanna Getaway” fares. While this is still an amazingly good deal, most people will probably get less than $3146 worth of travel from it.
British Airways Avios: Up to $3,885 worth of travel.
There’s nothing new about this, but it’s worth mentioning that British Airways Avios points offer amazing value for short haul direct flights on BA partner airlines. Here are some examples:
- Fly Detroit to NYC for only 4,500 points each way on American Airlines.
- Fly Seattle to Honolulu, Hawaii for only 12,500 points each way on Alaska Airlines.
- Fly NYC to Toronto or Montreal for only 4,500 points each way on American Airlines.
- Fly Miami or NYC to Bermuda for only 7,500 points each way on American Airlines.
To see how valuable this is, take the first example above. Delta and American Airlines currently charge about $700 for round-trip flights from Detroit to NYC (LaGuardia airport). With Avios, you can take the same American Airlines flight for only 9000 points round trip. That means you will get 7.77 cents per point value. In other words, 50K Avios can be worth as much as $3,885 worth of travel!
To see if Avios will work for you, it’s a good idea to check first for direct flights on BA partner airlines from your local airport. An easy way to do that is to search Wikipedia for your airport and look for “Airlines and destinations”. Look for flights from One World partners such as American Airlines, LAN, and Cathay Pacific; and BA partners such as Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus. Then, use Wandering Aramean’s Avios Redemption Calculator to figure out how many points those flights would require. Note that the partner airline has to have saver level award seats available for you to be able to book with Avios.
Since Avios points can be transferred from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program or from American Express’ Membership Rewards program, getting Avios is easy. Here are some examples of how to get 50K Avios with a single credit card sign-up:
- Chase British Airways Visa: 50K points after $1K spend
- Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus: Currently 50K points after $5K spend. Then transfer to Avios.
- American Express: Offers between 50K and 100K come and go. Watch my “Best credit card offers” page and keep an eye out for good targeted offers in your mail. One great thing about Amex is that they frequently offer 30% or higher transfer bonuses to British Airways.
Which to choose?
The deals shown above vary greatly, so which is best for you will depend heavily on your personal situation. Here is a brief overview of each:
- Citi ThankYou: Most flexible opportunity. Fly any airline any time. Earn airline miles and elite credit for flights. Requires the most credit card sign-ups (6 cards total: 3 per person).
- Southwest Companion Pass: Companion pass can be used on any Southwest flight in which seats are available. Can be used for paid flights or award redemptions. This deal is obviously limited to Southwest flights, which means domestic flights only. Requires one person to do two credit card sign-ups.
- British Airways Avios: Avios are the least flexible of these options since they can be used only on BA and BA partner flights. BA flights are almost useless because BA charges huge fuel surcharges when booking awards on their metal. Further, you’ll only get good value for relatively short, direct flights. That being said, often those short, direct flights are quite expensive so Avios can be a huge win if you can use them. Requires only one credit card sign-up to get 50,000 points. Of course, you can get even more value through multiple sign-ups.
What about Ultimate Rewards?
More often than not, I write about ways to earn Ultimate Rewards points. Why not here? As always, Ultimate Rewards are amazingly valuable and can be used for domestic flights. Here are some examples:
- Book through Ultimate Rewards to get 1.25 cents per point value (and earn airline miles and elite credit for flights).
- Transfer points to Southwest and use points for “Wanna Get Away” fares. That way, you’ll get 1.67 cents per point value. Note that points transferred in this way do not count towards a companion pass.
- Transfer points to British Airways and use for short haul, direct flights on AA or Alaska Airlines.
- Transfer points to United Airlines and use for domestic awards. If you redeem 25K miles for a $500 flight, you will get 2 cents per point value.
That being said, I personally like to keep my Ultimate Rewards points for luxury travel. For example, transfer to United Airlines and use for international business or first class Star Alliance flights. Or, transfer to Hyatt to stay at hotels that would otherwise cost $500 or more per night.
The deals described above require signing up for various credit card offers. If you always pay off your credit card bills in full each month, then these are terrific opportunites. If you tend to run a balance, then do not do this. The best rewards cards tend to also have the highest interest fees. If you run a balance and pay interest you will not come out ahead.
I already have a Southwest Premier Credit card (applied Sep 2011) and about four other chase cards (last app Jun 2013). I was planning to apply for the SW Plus personal and SW Premier Business cards this Jan.
Do you think this is a feasible option or should i wait?
I think it would be reasonable to go for it now as long as you have a very good credit score. If you’re not approved, be prepared to offer to cancel other Chase cards in favor of the new ones.
Hi – same comment as on the Credit Card offers site requesting an update on Southwest. Additionally, I believe the Citi policy has changed to one-at-a-time? I was able to get two during the first week of January, but am not so confident about this any more?
wingtipper: It seems very likely that the Southwest 50K offer will come back eventually. Yes, the Citi policy changed around the end of Feb. You can no longer get approved for more than one card in a day.
[…] Points for domestic travel […]
My strategy has been to only apply for business cards lately (for personal reasons) so how do you feel about the Citi Business AAdvantage card (with 50k bonus AA miles to sign up) and the Citi Business Thank You card (with 50k bonus Thank You points to sign up). Do you know if you can apply for these at the same time? Citi always worries me.
Chris: You should be fine signing up for two Citi business cards at once. Citi is very strict about not approving more than 2 though. Once you’ve applied for 2, wait 95+ days before applying for more.
I’m thinking of applying for the Chase Priority Club Visa, the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card, and the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card. Does Chase usually accept two personal card applications on the same day?
I also applied for the Chase Ink Bold business card two months ago. Is it okay to apply for another Chase business card so soon?
Ben: Yes, Chase will sometimes accept two personal applications at once, but the second one will require a call to their reconsideration line. I don’t think you can get more than 2 in a month (business or personal) with Chase. I’d recommend that you hold off on the Priority Club Visa for a while and just do the Southwest cards right now.
@pas it takes 25k UR for a round trip from either PDX or SEA. You transfer them to BA and call BA to book through their partner Alaska. Their availability has been pretty good when I have booked with them.
[…] Miler issues a rare review of card benefits specifically for domestic travel, and an even rarer trip report. We find the […]
@NATE – I have no clue about reward travel but still wondering, how many UR points does it take for Hawaii trip from SEA/PDX area?
@Greg The Frequent Miler
Do you know if the 95 day wait period applies after downgrading cards?
DealsSeeker: If a bank lets you downgrade a card, it shouldn’t result in a credit pull so it is a non-event with respect to your credit score
[…] Frequent Miler discusses a few domestic travel options for credit cards that may not be obvious to […]
Please please please don’t spoil DTW! shhhhhh
Your citi calcs are off also btw, cuz the TY companion pass is worth a lot per authorized user!!
I’ll join the chorus against Avios for most trips. AA and AS have really been restricting award availability on their metal at the saver rate. So, Avios are usually unworkable for domestic travel, and unaffordable (account fuel surcharges and taxes) for international travel, except perhaps to South America.
UA, by contrast, has decent saver award availability.
@Nate: Thanks for the info. We’re actually from CLE but are using SEA to break up the trip into 2 days instead of 17 hours of connections. Unfortunately(?) I’ve already committed to SEA as we have RT tickets there. When I checked, it looked like most routes from CLE went through SEA, so that’s why I picked it. I didn’t look for reward flights at that time.
I’m OK buying AS tickets and using the companion cert. That’s $400 each for our NS, convenient, open-jaw flights. We scored the trip to SEA on miles, and it took a little doing but our side-trip to American Samoa is also on miles, as well as one intra-island flight. So, we’re still doing ok IMO. Constantly learning, but that’s why I’m here! Many more trips to come, and I’ll get better at this each one.
@Nknight. I live in Seattle and just booked a flight to HNL using converted UR points to Avios BUT am flying out of PDX. There is much more availability flying out of PDX then SEA. There is also BLI north of us an hour. They only fly to HNL once a day but I still found more then flying out of SEA. And AS flights do not show up on the BA site so you have to call them to book the flight.
I need to say that your “caution” at the bottom of the page is the clearest and best one I’ve seen of all the bloggers. I wish every blogger would list this every time they recommended a card!
Also loving the continued original content. I’m a huge fan!
I think there is a better TY Premier offer out there. I want to say 50K with for 3K spend in 90 days AND another 3K in days 91-120.
The frontier airlines mastercard may work for some people
Do avios transfer 1:1 to all its partners, cuz im definitely not paying the BA charges ;/
via FlyTalk: Chase is once again offering 100,000 Avios points
Dose the rapid reward shipping counted for the company passes?
Thanks FM, appreciate this post.
Regarding Wandering’s Avios calculator. I just looked at London to Dublin (checked 4 different London airports…City, Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted) for a trip I’m planning and it came back saying it was 30k economy, 60k business, 90k first. I doubt this is accurate for such a short flight. Am I doing something wrong?
Another problem with Avios – it costs 3x the points for domestic first unless it’s a 3 cabin plane.
Thanks for the multiple replies RE: Alaska Air via Avios.
I guess that’s the clincher for me … the flights we want (really the only ones that will work this time) are not available at the “super saver” level … they are a notch or 2 above that (more Alaska Air miles). Which probably eliminates the possibility of us booking with Avios. This time. We do plan to go back in the next 2-3 years to see some of the other islands.
Alaska flights do not show on BA’s website, you do have to check Alaska’s site. One other note there is when checking Alaska’s site for award availability, make sure that you are checking for direct flights to where you would like to go as BA’s award chart is by segment (unlike Alaska’s).
Avios are great, we’ve gotten a lot of value from ours. I would add that there’s no penalty for last minute bookings as there are with other programs. Also, since Central America is relatively close, Avios can be a good value for travel there. For example, Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica roundtrip is 15K miles + $45.
Is the companion pass for as many travels for 2013 and 2014 or can it only be used one time ?
I currently have plenty of UR points, and am interested in getting to Hawaii via BA Avios. Would I research and book this via BA’s site? Alaska Air has the flights we want, and I was going to use a companion certificate … Avios might prove to be a better deal.
I’m still pretty green when it comes to crossing airline company boundries, but this sounds too good not to research. We’re all booked for Hawaii in May, but I still need to connect the RT dots from Seattle to Hawaii.
Ah, part 2. We’re doing an “open jaw”(?) thing in Hawaii, flying SEA->HNL and back KOA->SEA. Can I book one ways using Avios?
Thanks in advance.
Nick Knight: Yes, BA allows one-way awards. Read my response to Dave to see how to go about booking them. I don’t remember if Alaska flights show up online via BA (probably not). If that’s true, then once you find Alaska award availability, call BA to book the award.
FM, I’m a little slow here. I understand the Southwest RR and the Citi TYP, but I don’t get how Avios works. I see that BA and AA and all those others are part of the OneWorld alliance. But in your example, you have Seattle to Honolulu being 12.5K Avios. On American’s redemption chart, for example, it’s 17.5K miles. Can I convert AA miles to Avios?
Dave: You cannot convert AA miles to Avios, but I listed some easy ways to get Avios in the post. Once you have Avios, search AA or AlaskaAir for non-stop (or direct) flights with low-level award availability. If those exist, then go to BA to book the award. One World partners like AA can be booked directly on the BA web site. For others, you need to call to book. The price in miles is always based on the BA rules, not the carrier’s rules.
Yet another great post. THIS is how a blogger should recommend credit cards. Clearly, FM had his Customers in mind when writing this post. Other bloggers — take notice! 😀