Summer Hull writes the weekly “Get to the Points” column for CreditCards.com
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Pretty much everyone who belongs to a frequent-flyer program is familiar with the ubiquitous 12,500-mile domestic saver one-way award on airlines such as United and American, but what if I told you that you could fly on that very same domestic flight, operated by those very same U.S.-based airlines, for only 7,500 miles? If you don’t book the award directly with United or American but instead book with one of their partners, this is a distinct opportunity!
Not all miles and points are created equally, and every award chart has its own point redemption valuations for various flights. On most award charts you will find “sweet spots” on airline partner programs where a particular award is priced very competitively and offers a better value. Earning your airline miles is half the battle, but the more-challenging half of the equation is learning to use those miles like a pro by uncovering award chart sweet spots.
Let’s hop into three of my favorite airline award chart sweet spots for domestic economy travel.
Fly United from 15,000 miles per round trip
United has a traditional airline award chart that charges 12,500 miles each way for a domestic economy saver award within the lower 48 states. Their domestic economy award availability at the saver level isn’t perfect, but it is decent. United is in the Star Alliance network, which means it has many other airline partners whose members can use their miles to book flights operated by United when a saver award is available.
One of these Star Alliance partner programs is Avianca LifeMiles. You may not have ever heard of the Colombian airline Avianca, but its LifeMiles program is a 1:1 transfer partner of the Citi ThankYou program, so you can move your Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi ThankYou Preferred credit card points into that program easily and instantly.
LifeMiles divides the continental United States into three geographical zones, and travel within a zone on Star Alliance partner United is as low as 15,000 miles round trip. I live in Texas, which is in Zone 2 and extends as far east as Florida and as far northwest as Montana. This means if I book my award flight via LifeMiles, I could fly on United from Houston to Chicago, Miami or Bozeman, Montana, for just 15,000 miles round trip instead of the 25,000 miles that United would want for the same flights.
Fly American from 7,500 miles each way
Similar to the concept of flying United flights for less by booking via its partner Avianca, you can book American Airlines flights for less via British Airways. These airlines are in the OneWorld Alliance and British Airways uses a distance-based chart to determine how many Avios points it costs to fly on British Airways or their partners. For relatively short domestic flights, this distance-based award chart can save you a lot of redeemable miles. You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points and AmEx Membership Reward points to the British Airways program.
For nonstop flights up to 1,151 miles in length, British Airways charges just 7,500 Avios. This means when a saver award is available, you can fly on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Las Vegas or Miami to New York City for just 7,500 Avios instead of 12,500 American Airlines miles. If your nonstop flight is 1,152 – 2,000 miles, it will cost 10,000 British Airways Avios each way. That is roughly the distance from New York City to Salt Lake City.
Another very handy feature of the British Airways program is if you cancel a domestic economy flight booked on American Airlines at least 24 hours before departure, you will only lose the taxes paid on the flight, which are often just $5.60. This is a much better than the $100 – $200 American would charge for a close-in cancellation or change. British Airways also does not charge any last-minute booking fees, unlike most of the U.S. airline programs.
Say Aloha to Hawaii for just 12,500 miles
If you have Hawaii on your travel dream board, you absolutely want to learn about Hawaii-specific airline award chart sweet spots. Using the British Airways distance-based Avios award chart to fly on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines can get you nonstop from the West Coast to Hawaii for just 12,500 Avios each way, but that doesn’t really help those of us who live east of Phoenix.
Another program with a very favorable award chart for Hawaii is Korean SkyPass, a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, Korean SkyPass is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance, along with Delta, and its award chart groups Hawaii in with the rest of North America and charges 25,000 miles for an economy round trip from basically anywhere in North America served by Delta to Hawaii. This is a much better deal than the 45,000 miles and up that many U.S.-based airline programs would charge for a round trip to Hawaii.
It can feel a little overwhelming at first to start learning about credit card transfer partners and booking award flights via a partner airline, but doing so can save you tens of thousands of miles or more each year. Start small and get your feet wet with one new program at a time.