When redeeming points and miles for flights, business- and first-class seats tend to get the most attention. And there is a good reason for it: You’ll almost always get significantly more bang for your buck when booking premium cabin seats with miles compared to what a cash ticket would cost.
However, you may be a traveler who just wants to fly as often as possible, or you’re traveling as a family that needs to book multiple tickets. In these cases, booking economy class tickets may be the way to go, as each ticket will require fewer points and miles than seats in premium cabins. That means you’ll be able to travel more often without spending too much cash out-of-pocket.
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It’s always a good idea to check the price of cash tickets when considering redeeming points and miles for economy class flights — especially when high fuel surcharges are imposed. There are many cases where, if you have available cash, you may want to just buy a regular cash ticket and save your miles for a better deal.
But there are some cases where economy redemptions typically provide excellent value. Here are seven of them.
Long-haul international one-way flights
While most travelers tend to book round-trip flights when traveling for leisure, you may want to keep your trip open-ended and just book a one-way. Location-independent remote workers often prefer booking a one-way flight as it keeps their opportunities open for where to travel next.
The problem with this is that one-way cash tickets across an ocean can sometimes be absurdly expensive — in some cases, more than a round trip. However, award tickets are generally priced as one-ways and will usually cost exactly half the number of points or miles as a round trip.
For example, if you’re looking for a one-way flight from Boston to London and want to take the nonstop on Virgin Atlantic, it’s as much as $1,680 one-way in this example.
Or, you could book this flight by redeeming just 10,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles and $151 in taxes and fees.
At 15.29 cents per mile, this is definitely one of the more extreme examples, but you’ll see this trend of great redemption values for one-way flights in several other long-haul international markets.
When booking one-way flights, always research if you’ll need to show proof of onward travel in order to enter the country. A low-cost flight, bus, train or refundable ticket may be all you need to prove you don’t plan to overstay your visa.
Another way you can maximize the value of an economy award redemption is to use your points and miles to book a multi-city itinerary. Policies for stopovers and open-jaw tickets are more flexible for award travel than they are when booking cash tickets.
For example, if you wanted to book this mini round-the-world itinerary from San Francisco to Sydney; New Delhi; and Lisbon, Portugal as a cash ticket, it comes to $5,176 total for travel dates this fall.
If you’d rather book directly with an airline for a better experience during irregular operations, or if you need to make any changes, it’s $5,557.
However, thanks to Air Canada Aeroplan’s stopover rules for award travel tickets, you can book this itinerary for just 150,000 points plus applicable taxes and fees. It is a little complicated, as you’ll need to find award space and then call Air Canada to complete the booking, but it is an incredible deal compared to paying in cash.
And if you wanted to use United MileagePlus miles instead, it might even be cheaper, as it is in this example for only 140,000 miles plus $186.51. You could even add another intra-region stopover for free with United’s famous Excursionist Perk.
This represents up to 3.84 cents per mile when compared to the cash ticket, which is much higher than TPG’s current valuation of 1.11 cents per mile for United MileagePlus.
If you wait until the last minute to book your flights, you’ll generally find that prices rise. On the contrary, award space on flights may start to open as it gets closer to the flight’s departure date and the airline has a better idea of which seats won’t sell.
This makes booking a last-minute ticket one of the best ways to use your points and miles for an economy class award redemption. Say you decide last minute that you want to fly from Rio de Janeiro to Florianopolis, Brazil.
When researching the Friday before, I found a cash ticket for a flight departing Rio’s Santos Dumont Airport to Florianopolis on Sunday, March 6, for $278-$309 one-way, depending on where you book.
This same flight can be booked for just 9,600 United MileagePlus miles + $7. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer instantly to United and book this flight just two days away for only $7 out of pocket.
That can be a big relief when you see flight prices that are much higher than usual such as this example. Taking the miles into account, you’d be getting a value of around 3.15 cents per mile, which is even more than TPG’s current valuation of Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Short flights using Avios
If you’re only flying a few hundred miles on a nonstop Oneworld alliance carrier, using British Airways Avios to book the flight is one of the cheapest ways to fly when redeeming points and miles for economy tickets.
The distance-based award chart means that flights under 650 miles can be redeemed for as little as 4,500 Avios, while partner flights price a little higher.
You’ll get the best value for your Avios when redeeming on short routes that typically have higher cash fares. For example, the short flight on Cathay Pacific between Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan usually costs around $200 one-way but it can be even more during peak travel periods. At the time of writing, it is $392 one-way around Chinese New Year in January 2023 when booking directly with the airline.
On the other hand, award seats are still widely available for January 2023 travel and you can book this same flight with just 7,500 Avios plus $58.50 in taxes and fees.
That makes this redemption worth a value of 4.45 cents per point, which is well above TPG’s current valuation of 1.5 cents per point for Avios.
The cheapest short-haul off-peak awards apply to flights operated by British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus. These may have fuel surcharges that make these redemptions less valuable considering many low-cost carriers compete with super cheap cash fares, but you can often find good deals regardless.
For example, this Iberia one-way ticket from Madrid to Lisbon is $205 in late March.
Meanwhile, an award ticket on off-peak dates is just 4,500 Avios and $25.40, giving you a whopping 4 cents per point in value.
Delta SkyMiles flash sales
It’s a common theme for points and miles enthusiasts to ridicule Delta’s SkyMiles program for its many devaluations over the years. However, one good thing to come from this change is the introduction of SkyMiles flash sales.
These short-lived sales usually correlate to cheaper cash tickets as well, but there seems to be a larger number of seats available for the lower SkyMiles rates than the lower cash rates — and the SkyMiles rates during these sales often exceed TPG’s valuation of 1.57 cents per mile.
Recently, Delta had a pretty great sale for main cabin tickets starting from just 40,000 SkyMiles one-way or 80,000 miles round-trip from more than 31 U.S. cities to Australia. Availability was wide open at the time of writing, such as these flights in March from Los Angeles to Sydney.
And not too far back, we saw rates as low as 2,000 SkyMiles one-way between Seattle and Denver. One year ago, there was a SkyMiles flash sale with round-trip flights to Mexico starting from just 5,000 miles round-trip. These deals pop up regularly, but often span different cities than the last flash sale.
Long story short, if you see a deal like these, jump on them quickly as they are some of the best ways to see the world for next to nothing.
United flights to Hawaii for 7,500 Turkish Miles&Smiles
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better deal to Hawaii than redeeming 7,500 Turkish Miles&Smiles miles for a one-way ticket in economy. Sure, there have been many sales for cash fares to Hawaii from the West Coast for under $200 round-trip lately, however, those are mostly basic economy tickets.
By booking these United flights with Turkish miles, you’ll be getting its standard economy fare, which includes advanced seat selection and a full-size carry-on bag, among other perks. It’s also often possible to find availability from points further east such as Chicago or New York as long as you’re willing to make a connection on the West Coast.
For example, when comparing mid-week flights in September, I see United standard economy tickets from Newark to Honolulu for $884 round-trip with one stop in each direction.
That’s a pretty expensive flight considering what we’ve seen lately. However, if you transfer Capital One Rewards miles or Citi ThankYou points to Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles, you can book a similar itinerary for just 15,000 miles round-trip plus minimal taxes and fees.
This provides a value of around 5.8 cents per mile, which is more than four times TPG’s 1.3 cents per mile valuation for the Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles program. And if you’re transferring credit card rewards, it’s more than double the value of Capital One miles and Citi points.
Aer Lingus flights to Ireland from 13,000 Avios
If hopping across the pond to Ireland is on your bucket list, you’ll be able to get some great value from Aer Lingus Avios by redeeming just 13,000 Avios one-way for off-peak travel flights from the East Coast to either Dublin or Shannon, Ireland.
Compare that to the typical 22,500 American AAdvantage miles it costs during the off-peak season and it’s nearly half the amount.
Searching for a last-minute flight from New York-JFK to Dublin over St. Patrick’s Day, cash fares are running $777 round-trip when booked directly with the airline.
Compare that to an award ticket for just 26,000 Avios plus $256 in taxes and fees and you definitely have yourself a deal in this instance.
However, the high fuel surcharges imposed by Aer Lingus mean you’ll want to be careful to compare the cost of a cash fare for this redemption. For example, you can typically find cheap cash fares between these two cities for around $450 round-trip.
In this case, you’d still be spending less cash if you were to redeem the miles, but you’re probably better off just purchasing the cash ticket instead.
Redeeming points and miles for flights doesn’t have to be just for business- and first-class seats. If using your points and miles is going to get you to see somewhere new without burning through your cash reserves, a flight in economy class is just as good as any. And, if you focus on redeeming your miles for the economy award redemptions in this article, you’ll be sure to get a lot of outsized value.
Feature photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.