How Does ValuePenguin Get Paid?

How Many Airline Miles Do You Need for a Free Flight

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 may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more. Citi is an advertising partner.

The number of award miles needed for an award flight depends on a variety of factors. A domestic, one-way economy flight between New York and Los Angeles ranges from 8,000 miles to 57,000 miles, depending on the dates and carrier. An international coach round-trip will run you around 60,000 miles, while one-way in first class to Europe starts at 70,000.

The exact number of miles needed for a free flight will primarily depend on three things:

  1. Origin and destination
  2. Cabin type
  3. Which airline you are flying and/or booking through

This is the case for airline miles earned with a specific airline. Many airlines offer co-branded credit cards that earn miles directly with their program. There are also credit cards that earn flexible points that you can transfer to airline miles, as well as cards that earn generic points that can offset the purchase cost of flights booked with any carrier.

How many miles needed for a free flight by airline

We sampled flight awards available with U.S. carriers and found that consumers need between about 8,000 and 57,000 miles to get a free one-way coach flight.

Free flights in business or first class start at around 25,000 miles and climb to well over 150,000 miles one-way. In most cases, the cost of a round-trip flight is approximately double what you see below.

  • Region-based pricing: Some carriers have a region-based award chart with the lowest-level award prices published. Awards are often available for a greater number of miles if these "saver" seats are sold out. American Airlines and Alaska fall into this category, although the former offers "Web Special" awards that can be cheaper than the published rate, and Alaska's chart takes flight distance into account.
  • Dynamic pricing: Other airlines, such as Southwest and Delta, use dynamic pricing where the cost of a free flight in miles depends on the cash ticket price. For the purposes of data comparison, we sampled prices for domestic flights between New York City (EWR/JFK/LGA) and Los Angeles (LAX), booked a little more than a month in advance. You can expect short-haul tickets, such as a flight between San Francisco and Los Angeles, to cost fewer miles.
Airline
Coach/Economy
Business class
First class
Pricing
American Airlines10,000-30,00020,000-55,00050,000-115,000Region-based
Delta Air Lines8,000-36,50056,000-112,500N/ADynamic
Southwest Airlines7,519-57,08812,194-60,175N/ADynamic
United Airlines10,600-20,80025,000-75,500N/ADynamic
JetBlue7,700-15,80082,200-165,900N/ADynamic
Alaska Airlines12,500-30,000N/A30,000-95,000Region-based
Spirit Airlines6,000-20,000N/AN/ADynamic
Frontier10,000N/AN/ARegion

Frontier pricing determined between LGA and ONT.

How many miles do you need for a free flight to Hawaii?

Looking to soak in some sun on a Hawaii beach? Free flights to the 50th state require more miles than flights within the continental U.S., as you might expect.

Based on our research, we found that one-way coach tickets to Hawaii cost between 8,000 and 66,000 miles.

We sampled both flights from the East Coast (JFK) and West Coast (LAX) to Hawaii (HNL).

Airline
West Coast (LAX)
East Coast (JFK)
American Airlines22,500-32,50022,500-63,500
Delta Air Lines10,500-39,00019,500-66,000
Southwest Airlines7,800-16,59661,346
United Airlines24,800-35,00034,300-45,000
JetBlue34,10023,400-29,300
Alaska Airlines15,000-50,00020,000-50,000
Hawaiian Airlines

Note that JetBlue does not operate flights to Hawaii. Some segments will be operated by Hawaiian Airlines.

How many miles do you need to have for a free international flight?

The general number of award miles needed for a free international ticket in coach/economy cabin from New York to London ranges from 10,000 miles to 65,000 miles.

Tickets in business and first class start at 47,500 miles but can sometimes cost you in excess of 300,000 miles. First class awards are expensive as well, ranging from 70,000 miles to 345,000 miles one-way.

International flights follow 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 (EWR/JFK) and London (LHR/LGW). Note that booking award travel to other parts of the world, including Asia, Africa and Australia, can be significantly higher for U.S. passengers.

Airline
Coach/Economy
Business class
First class
American Airlines22,500-65,00057,500-135,00080,500-310,000
Delta Air Lines35,000-40,000170,000-285,000N/A
Southwest AirlinesN/AN/AN/A
United Airlines20,700-33,00060,000-155,000121,000
JetBlue37,000-40,900252,500N/A
Alaska Airlines22,500-35,00057,500-75,00070,000
Air Canada32,700-55,00060,000-322,700100,000
Virgin Atlantic10,000-20,00047,500-65,000N/A
British Airways13,000-20,00050,000-60,00085,000-100,000
Air France24,000-55,00060,000-318,000221,500-345,000

Alaska does not operate flights to Europe. Award flight prices are for tickets with their international partners.

Watch out for fuel surcharges

One oddity about booking international flights with miles is that you may incur significant charges in the form of fuel surcharges and taxes. These can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. While all U.S taxes with the exception of a $5.60 departure security fee are covered by miles, with many programs, 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 $151 in taxes on a one-way economy flight. If you want to fly in a premium cabin, a one-way Upper Class flight with Virgin Atlantic can cost you $826 in taxes and surcharges. This begs the question, is using miles for free flights always the best choice for premium cabins?

{"backgroundColor":"butter","content":"\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Ch3\u003EWatch out for fuel surcharges\u003C\/h3\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EOne oddity about booking international flights with miles is that you may incur significant charges in the form of fuel surcharges and taxes. These can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. While all U.S taxes with the exception of a $5.60 departure security fee are covered by miles, with many programs, the traveler is on the hook for all international fees and taxes.\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EFor example, even if you fully pay for a trip to London in miles, you can still be charged as much as $151 in taxes on a one-way economy flight. If you want to fly in a premium cabin, a one-way Upper Class flight with Virgin Atlantic can cost you $826 in taxes and surcharges. This begs the question, is using miles for free flights always the best choice for premium cabins?\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003E","padding":"double"}

Business/first class is a better deal when redeeming free flights

Most often, it is 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 return on your points.

This holds true primarily for international flights.

For example, let's assume a round-trip economy seat on American Airlines flying nonstop from JFK to LHR costs $622. A business class seat on a similar itinerary would cost $3,433, and you'd pay $5,797 for first class. Those same flights would cost you 60,000, 130,000 and 250,000 miles for economy, business and first class, respectively. To get the per-mile value, you simply need to take the dollar fare, subtract out the award taxes and fees, and then divide the result by the price in miles.

Economy: ($622 - $206) / 60,000 = $0.0069

Business: ($3,684 - $339) / 130,000 = $0.0257

First: ($5,797 - $338) / 250,000 = $0.0218

As you can see from these calculations, business and first class on American Airlines provides a better value, with business getting you nearly four times the value for each mile.

{"backgroundColor":"ice","content":"\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EFor example, let's assume a round-trip economy seat on American Airlines flying nonstop from JFK to LHR costs $622. A business class seat on a similar itinerary would cost $3,433, and you'd pay $5,797 for first class. Those same flights would cost you 60,000, 130,000 and 250,000 miles for economy, business and first class, respectively. To get the per-mile value, you simply need to take the dollar fare, subtract out the award taxes and fees, and then divide the result by the price in miles.\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"ShortcodeAlign--root ShortcodeAlign--center\"\u003E\n \u003Cdiv class=\"ShortcodeAlign--container\"\u003E \n \u003Cdiv class=\"ShortcodePullquote--root\"\u003E\n \u003Cp class=\"ShortcodePullquote--text ShortcodePullquote--black\"\u003E\n \nEconomy: ($622 - $206) \/ 60,000 = $0.0069\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EBusiness: ($3,684 - $339) \/ 130,000 = $0.0257\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EFirst: ($5,797 - $338) \/ 250,000 = $0.0218\n\n \u003C\/p\u003E\n\u003C\/div\u003E\n \u003C\/div\u003E\n\u003C\/div\u003E\n\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003EAs you can see from these calculations, business and first class on American Airlines provides a better value, with business getting you nearly four times the value for each mile.\u003C\/p\u003E\n\n\u003Cp\u003E","padding":"double"}

How many credit card miles do you need for a free flight?

The number of credit card miles you need depends on the number of award miles a flight requires.

  • Co-branded: Airline co-branded credit cards award you miles for every dollar you spend, directly with their affiliated airline. Nearly every single carrier has their own credit card — United, Southwest and Delta offer some of the best airline cards. When it comes to using those miles for free flights, everything we said above will apply to these credit cards.
  • Flexible points: Cards that earn you flexible points — like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and American Express® Gold Card — aren't tied to a specific airline. However, they can still get you an award flight. These miles can be transferred to any of the bank's loyalty partners, which include a variety of airline and hotel programs. Check out the list of Chase Ultimate Rewards® transfer partners. Points generally transfer at a 1:1 ratio to airline miles, but occasionally programs will run transfer bonuses, which means you need fewer bank points than the number of miles required by the airline.
  • Miles: Some cards earn "miles" — like the Discover it® Miles — that aren't really miles as we've described. These "miles" can be redeemed for flights through your credit card's travel portal, or they're redeemed retroactively to pay off travel purchases made on your credit card. That means you would use the 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 the last method, over co-branded credit cards, is that your flight can be completely free, as generic travel miles will also cover any international taxes or fuel surcharges. You can also fly with a wide range of different airlines, which offers more flexibility.

With general travel rewards cards, 1 mile usually equates to 1 cent 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. You're essentially redeeming miles as cash, although there may be restrictions where you can only redeem for travel purchases. Read more about the difference between cash back and airline mile credit cards.

The information related to Discover it® Miles has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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).