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The worst day to use your miles for domestic flights (graphic)

by on Fri June 6, 2014 • No Comment

Mile enthusiasts know that the best values for redeeming airline miles are in long-haul international tickets, especially in Business and First Class.

But domestic Economy Class awards are still by far the most popular according to a survey of frequent flier program members.

We’re often taking a look at award trends, and we were asked an interesting question:

What day is the most expensive to use your miles?

Here’s one look at it for the big 4 that use traditional award charts: American / US Airways, Delta, and United.

The chart below shows the average price in miles for domestic awards to and from airports that carry about 50% of U.S. air traffic, averaging the lowest mile price available on the routes for each day and airline. It’s from a check we did in the Spring after American changed award prices.


The result is clear.

Much like airfare, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are cheapest. You’re most likely to find the lowest price ‘Saver’ level seats on those days.

But the gap between the most expensive and cheapest days was wider than we thought.

Sunday takes the crown as most expensive, over 30% more so than Tuesday on average.

It’s a day with a collision of interests. Business travelers want a head start on their week, and leisure travelers want to get home in time to avoid taking another vacation day.

For summer holiday weekends, returning after Independence Day is much more expensive with miles than Memorial Day or Labor Day thanks to kids being out of school almost entirely around Independence day.

American AAdvantage is the worst offender on Sundays.

Sundays are over 40% more expensive than Tuesdays with AAdvantage, costing over 45,000 miles on average versus about 32,000 miles on Tuesdays.

Thanks to its new multi-tier award price chart, some route / date combos only have flights that cost 100,000 miles for a roundtrip Economy Class award, even months in advance during non-holiday periods. You can thank the US Airways merger for this trend.

Despite this, traditional airline miles can have good value for domestic flights.

It’s possible to find situations where cash prices are $500+ and ‘Saver’ level awards are open for 25,000 miles.

These ‘Saver’ prices are available over half of days on the global airlines, but you’re often stuck with the least desirable flight times. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to offer more options with better flight times.

If you want easy to reach domestic awards, but aren’t very flexible with travel times, you’ll often find better value earning points from a good double miles bank card.

You pick the most convenient flights,  booking any airline you want, earning miles from the flight in the process.

Or stick to Southwest.

It delivers consistent value of over 1.4 cents per point just about every day of the year if you can plan ahead, since it sells awards based on the cash cost of a ticket, not an award chart like American AAdvantage where the most expensive level is 4x the cost of the lowest level.

A typical $300 ticket on Southwest will cost you around 20,000 points.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points let you take advantage of both Southwest and United’s programs.

JetBlue and Virgin America also offer good near-2 cent per mile value most of the time, but convenient destinations are limited if you don’t live in one of their focus cities.

And if you live in a city with a lot of American, US Airways, or Alaska non-stop flights you can take advantage of cheap awards using British Airways Avios for as little as 9,000 points roundtrip.

But you’ll be stuck needing to find days with the lowest ‘Saver’ level awards available, which means you’ll need to be flexible, and don’t count on peak days like Sunday.

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