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

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

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The average number of award miles needed for a domestic, one-way economy flight between New York and Los Angeles ranges from 12,000 miles to 22,000 miles. 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.

This is the case for airline miles earned with a specific airline. There are also credit cards that earn generic miles and points that can be used to purchase flights with a number of different carriers. Generic credit card miles and points are often worth 1 cent each for travel redemptions, so the number of miles you need in that case will be 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 about 7,000 and 119,000 miles 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, which are just different award levels. The more flexible your trip plans, the more likely you'll find award flights at lower cost levels.

Other airlines, like Delta, do not publish any award charts, and instead charge miles on a case-by-case basis.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.

Business class
First class
American Airlines12,500-30,00025,000-55,00050,000-95,000
Delta Air Lines7,000-18,000N/A37,500-60,000
Southwest Airlines8,631-24,99914,653-34,110N/A
United Airlines12,50025,000-50,000N/A
Air Canada12,500-17,50025,000-60,000N/A
Virgin Atlantic20,000N/A72,500-85,000
Alaska Airlines*12,500-30,000N/A25000-70,000

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

The average amount of award miles needed for a free international ticket in coach/economy cabin from New York to London ranges from 28,000 miles to 35,000 miles. 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.

Business class
First class
American Airlines30,00057,50078,000-220,000
Delta Air Lines35,000-40,000N/A120,000-250,000
Southwest AirlinesN/AN/AN/A
United Airlines30,000150,000N/A
Air Canada35,000-60,00060,000-160,00090,000-180,000
Virgin Atlantic10,000-21,000N/A47,500-75,000
Alaska Airlines*30,00057,50057,500-60,000

Another interesting oddity about booking international flights with miles is that you may face additional charges in the form of fuel surcharges and taxes. These can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. 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 $150 in taxes on an economy flight.

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 $135. A business class seat on that same itinerary would cost $892, and you'd pay $1,192 for first class. That same flight would cost you 10,000, 20,000 and 75,000 miles for economy, business and first class respectively. To get the per-mile value, you simply need to divide the dollar fare by the price in miles.

  • Economy: $135 / 10,000 = $0.0135
  • Business: $892 / 20,000 = $0.0446
  • First: $1,192 / 75,000 = $0.0159

As you can see from the calculations above, business and first class on American Airlines provides a better value, with business getting you nearly four times 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 Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — aren't tied to a specific airline. However, they can still get you an award flight. These miles are either used by redeeming them 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 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. You can also fly with a wide range of different airlines, offering more flexibility.

With general travel rewards cards, one 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.

Easily compare the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card's earning potential in the chart below:

Rewards Rate
Annual Fee
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day$95
Apply Now
On Capital One's Secure Website
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases$95
Apply Now
On Chase's Secure Website

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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).