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The average airline mile across major U.S. companies is worth 1.3 cents. The value of a mile will not only depend on which airline the mile is for, but also on whether it’s international or domestic, economy or business, a weekday or weekend, and a few other factors. Below we look into the value of an airline mile and highlight some of our discoveries.
The Value of Airline Miles by Airline
In order to calculate the value of a mile for each airline listed below, we collected dozens of itineraries for popular domestic economy class round-trip routes. We then divided the price for each flight by the number of miles it takes to fly the same route. We repeated this process across multiple itineraries and then calculated an average of all itineraries to get a single number for the value of an airline mile. We discovered that JetBlue’s miles are worth 30% more than the average and 60% more than American Airline’s miles, which are the least valuable of the group. The table below outlines our findings:
|Airline||Frequent Flyer Program||Average Value of One Mile||Compared to Average (%)|
|American Airlines||AAdvantage||1.0 cents||-30%|
|Southwest Airlines||Rapid Rewards||1.5 cents||20%|
|United Airlines||MileagePlus||1.1 cents||-20%|
We detected large differences in the value of airline miles depending on the details of the flight. The most interesting differences exist when looking at international flights, selecting business class, and flying during the weekend.
Airline Mile Value on International Flights
Among the itineraries we surveyed, international bookings were consistently rewarded with a higher mile value over domestic flights. In fact, American Airlines, Delta, and United Airlines had a combined average mile value that was one cent greater forinternational flights, and Delta even gave travelers an additional 1.5 cents in value per mile. We excluded Southwest Airlines and JetBlue from this comparison because of their limited international travel destinations. Bottom line: If you’re trying to maximize the value of your miles, you’re better off booking international travel over domestic.
Travelers should be aware that their miles will not cover certain taxes when booking an international flight. While the specific taxes you’ll have to pay will depend on what country you’re visiting, the highest taxes include air passenger duty, passenger service, airport security charges, and passenger facilities charges. Since these taxes aren’t covered by miles, travelers should determine whether the additional mile value outweighs the taxes that’ll be incurred by redeeming miles for international flights.
Airline Mile Value by Seat Class
On average, the value of a mile is the same whether booking economy or business class. However, not every airline rewards miles the same way. When redeeming for a business class flight with American Airlines, for example, the value of a mile is 50% more when compared with booking an economy class fare. Southwest Airlines, on the other hand gives you 60% more value if you book in economy class.
Airline Mile Value by Part of the Week
In order to explore how the days of the week during which you travel affect the value of your miles, we compared popular domestic routes. We found that using your miles during the weekend dilutes their value by 10%, on average. Certain routes seemed to be exempt from this, such as when flying from Los Angeles to New York City, which yielded the same mile value. But for the most part you’d be better off redeeming your miles for weekday flights if you’re looking to get the most value.
Miles Earned on Price vs. Award Chart
Historically, miles have been awarded based on the price that was paid for a flight or on an airline’s award chart. The former, often referred to as a revenue-based awards program, is straightforward in that it awards a set number of miles per every dollar spent on the flight. For instance, if the awards rate was 5 miles per dollar and the flight costs $300, then you’d be awarded 1,500 miles. On top of this awards rate, customers earn a bonus depending on their airline status. Major U.S. airline companies, like the ones mentioned above, all employ a revenue-based miles program.
The other popular method used to calculate the miles you earn on each flight is based on an airline’s award chart. You start off with the number of miles your flight encompasses, which is often referred to as the base miles. From there adjustments are made depending on the airline, but the most common adjustment is a bonus for booking business or first class. For instance, if you flew from New York to Los Angeles you’d be awarded approximately 2,800 miles because that’s the distance between the two cities. In this hypothetical scenario you’d receive bonus miles if you booked your flight under business or first class. We provide American Airlines’ old awards chart for reference of the bonuses you can expect:
|Seat Class||Base Miles||Seat Class Bonus Miles|
|Business (Full Fare)||100%||50%|
|Business (Discounted Fare)||100%||50%|
Overall, both of these award models reward high spenders and make it more difficult for infrequent flyers to accumulate miles, and therefore directly affect the value of mileage programs. More and more airlines are continually turning their awards programs into revenue-based miles programs. This means that business travelers and customers who often take short, but expensive, flights will benefit the most.
Beyond our aggregate study, we also conducted in-depth analyses for each individual airline frequent flyer program mentioned above. We recommend reading the applicable articles below for a granular discussion on how to maximize the value of your miles.