Or, consider other cards for 50,000 more miles or points that transfer into United miles with additional flexibility for your everyday spending.
$1,000 toward travel or transfer to United, Southwest, and more.
Reward nights start at 10,000 points. Free anniversary night (no points needed) good at any IHG hotel (Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, more).
With all of the talk of rising mile prices and changes to frequent flyer programs it can be easy to think it’s impossible to get a reward flight. The reality is that’s not true, if you’re using the right mile program for the job.
Not all miles are created equal, and where you want to go is the most important thing to consider when deciding what miles you should earn with your card spending.
Below are our recommendations for basic Economy Class travel based on studying the changes and experience redeeming millions of miles. The good news is most of the recent changes make it harder to fly in first class with award miles, but most of us aren’t doing that anytime soon.
They’ll help you:
Expect to pay: 20,000 – 30,000 points to save $300 cash
Cash rewards. Airfare is usually only about $300 in the U.S. and this is where cash rewards tend to shine. The Barclaycard Arrival and Bank of America Travel Rewards cards are good choices, earning 2x and 1.5x points each and letting you book any airline ticket you’d like and get statement credit for it. There’s no fee for the Bank of America card. You can use our CardFinder tool to see more based on your monthly spending.
Southwest. Southwest’s program is generous for short trips. You’ll often pay less than 20,000 points for a roundtrip award flight, versus 25,000, 40,000, or more miles with American, Delta, and United. Every seat is available as a reward seat on Southwest and there are no change fees to deal with. Here are cards that earn Southwest points.
Traditional airline mile programs like those from United, Delta, and American advertise 25,000 mile awards, and they do exist, but you often have to take unwanted connections to get that price. For the most convenient flights you should expect to pay 35,000 miles or more. That’s not a great deal.
Expect to pay: 45,000 – 70,000 points to save $700 cash
Cash Rewards. Go this route if you insist on traveling during June, July, or the holidays, the most popular times for families to go to Hawaii. A double miles card like the Barclaycard Arrival will save you money without hassle.
United. They have the most seats to Hawaii, and if you’re planning to go sometime besides the crowded summer and holiday months, they give you a decent shot of an award for 45,000 miles roundtrip. Here are cards that earn United miles.
British Airways. It’s not intuitive, but British Airways points offer the ability to get to Hawaii for almost half the price as with other programs.
With British Airways points via partners Alaska Airlines and American flights from the West Coast are just 25,000 points roundtrip. The catch is these prices are for nonstop flights, so they are really most useful if you live in a city where Alaska or American flies nonstop to Hawaii.
You can earn British Airways points via Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.
Expect to pay: 60,000 – 90,000 miles to save $1,100 cash
United. Thanks to its partners Lufthansa, Swiss, and more you’ll have the most options to Europe for 60,000 miles using United. You can see cards that earn United miles here, and you can apply for more than one to get more bonus miles
American. If you’re planning travel from October 15 through May 15, you can get there for 40,000 miles with American. The catch is flights on its partner British Airways have a $700 surcharge, so you’ll want to watch out for those. You can see cards that earn American miles here.
Expect to pay: 35,000 – 55,000 miles to save $500 cash
Cash rewards. They can be useful here because the value isn’t great for traditional airline miles here. Tickets are cheap anyway and you’re well served with a cash rewards card. But if you must American has the most flights, so consider earning their miles.
Or, if you live in a city with a lot of American flights consider earning British Airways points, which let you fly on nonstop American flights for less than using American’s own miles.
Expect to pay: 50,000 – 80,000 miles to save $1,500 cash
United. You’ll have lots of options with United thanks to its partners ANA, Asiana, Air China, EVA Airways and more.
American. You won’t find many award seats listed on American’s website because it hides its big Asian partners Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. But they have good availability for 50,000 miles roundtrip to much of Asia from October through April if you call in to book. This can save you thousands on airfare.
Expect to pay: 40,000 – 60,000 miles to save $800 cash
United. Their partners Avianca and Copa have lots of award seats to Central America, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. They’ll even get you to Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, but you’ll need to connect in Panama or Colombia.
American. If you’re trying to get to Argentina, Brazil, or Chile they have the most options, but make sure to call in to book their partner LAN airlines, or use the British Airways website to check availability, as American’s website doesn’t list it.
Expect to pay: 75,000 miles to save $2,000 cash
American. For 75,000 miles roundtrip you can fly with their partner Qantas, and they tend to have seats available about half the time during the year, though the peak winter holiday times are toughest.
If you can’t decide where you want to travel our recommendation is to start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and earn Ultimate Rewards points.
Its points can transfer to both United and Southwest so you get the best of both worlds for domestic and international travel at good prices.
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