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How Many Airline Miles Do You Need for a Free Flight?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

The average number of miles needed for a free one-way domestic U.S. economy flight is 14,165, while an international coach flight will run you about 36,800 miles. The exact number of miles needed for a free flight will ultimately depend on three factors: your origin and destination, the cabin type, and what airline you fly with. When it comes to credit card miles, cardholders will frequently need enough miles to cover the price of a ticket, which is typically equal to 100 multiplied by the airfare.

How Many Miles Do You Need To Have For A Free Flight By Airline?

We sampled award miles needed for a one-way domestic flight, and found that consumers need between 5,000 and 147,000 to get a free flight. In most cases, the cost of a round trip flight is simply double what you see below. In some cases, like American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, the mileage price of a ticket will depend on the destination based around a broader region. For example, American Airlines charges the same price (in miles) for a main cabin flight inside the contiguous 48 U.S. states. The only variation you might see is by ticket type, such as MileSAAver or AAnytime.

Other airlines, like Delta, do not publish any award charts, and instead charge miles on a case by case basis. For the purposes of data collection, we sampled prices for domestic flights between New York City (JFK/LGA) and Los Angeles (LAX), booked a little more than a month in advance.

Airline

Coach/EconomyFirst ClassBusiness Class
American Airlines12,500 - 30,00050,000 - 95,00025,000 - 55,000
Delta Air Lines15,00039,000 - 52,00039,000 - 52,000
Southwest Airlines15,000N/A73,000
United Airlines12,500N/A50,000
JetBlue10,000 - 20,00073,000 - 147,000
Air Canada7,500 - 12,50035,00015,000 - 25,000
Virgin America8,000 - 13,00043,000 - 119,000N/A
Alaska Airlines*5,000 - 23,00025000-60,000N/A

The average amount of miles needed for a free international ticket in coach/economy cabin is 36,800. International flights followed similar trends to what we observed with domestic mileage awards. That means some airlines priced based on the general region (Europe, South America, etc.) while others depended on the specific itinerary and date. For the purposes of data collection, we examined the price of booking a flight between New York City and London. Note that booking award travel to other parts of the world, including Asia and Australia, will be significantly higher for U.S. passengers.

AirlineCoach/EconomyFirst ClassBusiness Class
American Airlines30,000 - 65,00085,000 - 175,00057,500 - 135,000
Delta Air Lines30,00070,000 - 175,00070,000 - 175,000
Southwest AirlinesN/AN/AN/A
United Airlines30,000N/A150,000
JetBlueN/AN/AN/A
Air Canada30,000 - 38,00070,000 - 80,00055,000
Virgin AmericaN/AN/AN/A
Alaska Airlines*25,000 - 60,00050,000 - 70,00050,000 - 70,000

Another interesting oddity about booking international flights with miles is that you may face additional charges in the form of fuel surcharges and taxes. For a passenger flying out of New York, taxes can make up as much as 38% of the total airfare, depending on the destination. While all U.S taxes with the exception of a $23 security fee are covered by miles, the traveler is on the hook for all international fees and taxes. For example, even if you fully pay for a trip to London in miles, you can still be charged as much as $165 in taxes.

Business/First Class Is A Better Deal When Redeeming Free Flights

It's better to use your miles to pay for a first class or business class seat rather than coach or economy. Even though it takes more miles to get a free business class seat, you get a greater dollar-to-point ratio. That is to say, you get a greater value for a smaller amount of points, when you redeem for a business or first class ticket. This holds true for both domestic and international flights.

For example, a one-way economy seat on American Airlines from JFK to LAX can cost $195. A business class seat on that same itinerary would cost $1,059, and you'd pay $1,249 for first class. That same flight would cost you 30,000, 52,000, and 85,000 miles for economy, business, and first class respectively. To get the per-mile value, you simply need to divide the USD fare by the price in miles.

  • Economy: $195 / 30,000 = $0.007
  • Business: $1,059 / 52,000 = $0.020
  • First: $1,249 / 85,000 = $0.015

As you can see from the calculations above, business and first class on American Airlines provides you with over twice the value for each mile. Therefore, you get the best bang for your buck if you save up enough miles to pay for a more luxurious cabin ticket.

How Many Credit Card Miles Do You Need For A Free Flight?

There are two credit cards that can earn airline miles for consumers — co-branded credit cards and general rewards cards. The first type is the easiest to understand. Airline co-branded credit cards award you miles for every dollar you spend, with their affiliated airline. Nearly every single carrier has their own credit card — American Airlines, Southwest and Delta have some of the best ones. When it comes to using those miles for free flights, everything we said above will apply to these credit cards.

Travel rewards cards that earn you miles — like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® — but they aren't tied to a specific airline. However, they can still get you a free flight. These miles are used retroactively, to pay off travel statement credit off your credit card. That means you would use card to pay for the airfare, taxes included, and then use any miles you accumulate on your account to pay off those charges. The benefit of this method, over co-branded credit cards, is that you can have the full flight be free, since general travel miles will also pay for any international taxes or fuel surcharges.

With general travel rewards cards, a single mile equates to $0.01 in airfare. Therefore, to know exactly how many miles you need to pay for a ticket, you need to multiply the price of that ticket by 100.

Comments and Questions

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).