Getting 10 Cents a Mile on Domestic Award Redemptions

I rarely use miles for domestic travel. And most of the time I recommend strongly against it. Spending for a saver award, 25,000 miles roundtrip, you’re rarely going to get better than 2 cents a point in value. Any time tickets are more expensive are you even going to find saver availability?

There are a few foreign programs where spending miles makes sense domestically. For instance it’s no longer possible to spend just 4500 points for a British Airways award less than 650 miles on American or Alaska Airlines. I used to book the US Airways Shuttle DC – New York all the time for 4500 points each way. Not it’s 7500 points minimum for 1150 mile flights, which can still be a good deal. Flying American’s domestic first class is 15,000 points one way non-stop on these shorter routes.

However one of the really good values is Star Alliance member Avianca’s LifeMiles frequent flyer chart for US domestic travel. And United sometimes even has good availability when fares are expensive too.

I needed to go from Austin – Washington DC at the last minute, and here’s what I found on United’s website for non-stops. Ouch.

American, United, and Delta all had one way tickets priced between $400 and $440. Still not what I’d be willing to pay out of pocket.

The crazy thing is that United had domestic first class saver award space. Still I didn’t want to spend 25,000 United miles one-way, even though it wouldn’t be a terrible redemption considering the ticket price.

Fortunately since saver space was available I could use miles from one of United’s partners too. This is a United States 1 – United States 2 award from Avianca’s LifeMiles.

So just 15,000 miles one way instead of 25,000 miles. But it gets better.

LifeMiles lets you redeem cash and points, buying points at a discount at time of redemption which doesn’t count against the maximum number of miles you can buy in a year. This one way ticket would cost me all-in $176.49 and 6000 miles.

Even at 1.5 cents per each of those 6000 miles (I actually bought them for around 1.4 cents apiece) that’s $90, or an all-in cost of $266.49. That’s not cheap for a one-way ticket but at the last minute I was able to buy a $769 first class ticket for $267. That’s $500 savings thanks to LifeMiles and their new domestic US award pricing.

Put another way my 6000 miles saved me $592.51, or 10 cents per mile. 10 cents a mile is admirable for an international premium cabin redemption (and harder and harder to do most days). This was domestic.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Did you have the points in your account or did you transfer from citi? How long did the transfer take?

  2. I always see you and Lucky advertise the great deal on LifeMiles promo, but never pull the trigger since I don’t have a redemption in mind. Guess I need to just have a reserve balance for cases like this.

  3. Another way to look at it is that you paid $176.49 for 9,000 points, or slightly less than $.02 per point.

    But since you weren’t willing to pay the $769 in cash I wouldn’t use that number to make the comparison. If you had to make the trip and had to pay out of pocket you probably would have paid the $400 for another airline, so that would be a better number to work with. In that case you bought a $400 ticket for $266.49.

    Personally, I would have gotten the $610 economy seat for 10,000 points (if I’m reading the chart right) and no out of pocket. Even comparing that to the $400 ticket that’s $.04/mile, which I am very happy with.

  4. Faced with a choice to spend an additional 5000 miles for first on a 3 hour flight I will happily do so.

    Cash and points allows you to stretch your points especially if you’ve maxed out purchases for the year.

    The ticket itself was reimburseable but I couldn’t ask for $610 for the one way. I viewed this as a $176 expense-able one way ticket [that didn’t earn miles] where I spent 6000 of my own points to confirm an upgrade.

  5. Gary, you can’t expense first class?
    That’s my requirement for consulting work.

    Perhaps that’s why I don’t do any consulting.

  6. To clarify, this only works if saver seats exist on united?
    Also, I can’t find where to select class. Does it just come up automatically as a choice if there are some saver in that class?
    And FYI, their flight search page doesn’t work in chrome. The cities don’t populate.

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