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How Much Are Airline Miles Worth?

How Much Are Airline Miles Worth?

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We break down how much airline miles are worth, and what to keep in mind when you plan on using them for a flight.
Airline miles value
Airline miles value Source: Getty Images

The average airline mile across major U.S. companies is worth 1.3 cents. The value of an airline mile depends on a few factors, including the airline, whether you are flying international, domestic, economy or business, and the day of the week that you are flying.

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 average and 60% more than American Airlines’ miles, which are the least valuable of the group. The table below outlines our findings:

Frequent Flyer Program
Average Value of One Mile
Compared to Average (%)
American AirlinesAAdvantage1.0 cents-30%
DeltaSkyMiles1.3 cents0%
JetBlueTrueBlue1.6 cents30%
Southwest AirlinesRapid Rewards1.4 cents20%
United AirlinesMileagePlus1.2 cents-20%
Average1.3 cents

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 miles value on international flights

Among the itineraries we surveyed, international bookings were consistently rewarded with a higher mile value than domestic flights. In fact, American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines had a combined average mile value that was 1 cent greater for international 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.

Are Miles Worth More When Flying Internationally?

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 for international flights.

Airline miles value by seat class

On average, the value of an airline 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 than an economy class fare.

Flying Economy Versus Business - Value of a Mile

Airline miles value by part of the week

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. Overall, you’d be better off redeeming your miles for weekday flights if you’re looking to get the most value.

Value of Miles When Flying During Week Versus Weekend

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 use a revenue-based miles program.

The other 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:

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, directly affecting the value of mileage 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 articles below for a granular discussion on how to maximize the value of your miles.

Impact of the coronavirus on the value of airline miles

As the coronavirus continues to impact travel, consumers are concerned about the fate of their airline miles, the value of their miles and the financial prospects of the airline industry. Generally, miles are not holding their value well. Airlines are making it harder than ever to redeem miles, as they want customers to pay cash for financial stimulus. And those who are frequent flyers for business or leisure are sitting on the sidelines until regular travel resumes.

For example, for the following award booking with Delta Air Lines, when you take the price of a basic economy fare ($398.20), subtract the taxes and fees ($11.20) and divide that amount by the number of required miles (34,000), it equates to a modest value of 1.1 cents per mile.

Impact of the coronavirus on the value of airline miles
Impact of the coronavirus on the value of airline miles

Since we value Delta SkyMiles around 1.3 cents per point, a value of 1.1 cents falls below the usual value of Delta miles.

Because of situations like this, it is more important than ever to have a points and miles strategy to ensure your miles are protected.

If you have a significant amount of airline miles with any airline rewards program, keep these potential scenarios in mind:

Possible bankruptcy

Several airlines have already filed for bankruptcy because of the financial impact of the coronavirus. This unfortunately directly affects consumers as their accrued airline miles become worthless.

If you have airline miles with an airline that is facing a possible bankruptcy, it may be advantageous to get rid of your miles. If flying isn't in the near future for you, you might consider other redemption options, such as booking rental cars, buying gift cards or purchasing merchandise.

Inevitable devaluation

Frequent flyer programs are big business for each airline. Their partnerships with credit card issuers, along with loyal customers, means consistent cash flow for the airline. However, when too many airline miles are in circulation, it becomes a liability for the airline. The simple way for airlines to minimize this risk is to charge more miles for flights. This is known as "devaluation."

United Airlines devalued their MileagePlus program at the start of 2020. The most significant change to the program was rewarding flyers for how much they spend, rather than how often they fly. This devalues the program because it favors those who fly in expensive seats, rather than those who fly often. Thus, the miles you earn and your customer loyalty are worth less.

Such devaluations reduce the value of loyalty, causing price to be the deciding factor for purchasing airfare. A lack of flying in 2020 will also drive loyalty program utilization down sharply. In short, the coronavirus pandemic could prove to be a turning point for airline loyalty programs, causing airlines to examine the value proposition of these programs for consumers.

Best way to earn airline miles

If you do not travel frequently, it can be difficult to earn a large amount of airline miles. Additionally, each airline program has unique policies around points expiring, so a very infrequent traveler may find themselves earning and losing points. If this pertains to you, you may want to consider adding an airline miles credit card. These cards will earn you airline miles on each purchase on your preferred airline to use toward a future flight.