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The Cheapest Award Flights for Intracontinental Travel

November 10 2016
9 min read
The Cheapest Award Flights for Intracontinental Travel
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When headed on an international award trip, most of us book the over-water segments segments first. This often leaves booking intra-destination flights at the bottom of our to-do list, and can result in making poor choices in using miles for flights within a foreign continent.

With the ongoing trend of airlines eliminating stopovers and open jaws from award tickets, booking cheap intracontinental award tickets is a great way to get more value out of your international itineraries. By visiting more than one destination after your long-haul flight from the states, you'll hopefully lessen the sting of no longer having stopover and open jaw capabilities. Today, I'll cover cheap award flights you can book when looking to fly within each continent — excluding, understandably, Antarctica.

Distance/Revenue-Based Award Programs Are Always Applicable

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Before we review each continent, an important strategy to remember is to check the programs that charge for award flights based on the distance of the flight or the revenue cost of the ticket. As long as one of these distance- or revenue-based airlines (or one of their partners) fly in the continent you visit, it very well may offer the cheapest award flight regardless of which continent you're researching. Typically, if you find that a revenue-based program is offering the cheapest award flights, that means the revenue fare is low. In that case, it's probably worth saving your points or miles and paying cash for the ticket.

Here are a few such programs to keep in mind:

ProgramNotes
British Airways Executive Club4,500 Avios for flights between 1-650 miles in length on all Oneworld partners (North America Excluded)
Iberia PlusDistance-based, with some routes offering lower fuel surcharges than BA
Virgin Australia VelocityDistance-based award chart
Virgin America ElevateRevenue-based for its own flights
Southwest Rapid RewardsRevenue-based
JetBlue TrueBlueRevenue-based

Keep Region Definitions in Mind

Not all airlines define regions the same, or for that matter even have the same number of regions. This means that depending on your specific destination, one program typically accepted as offering the cheapest award flights for the continent in question may not be the right pick in your case.

For example, some programs consider the Caribbean as a single region (United); others count some of the Caribbean with Hawaii (Flying Blue); and some may count it as part of North America (Aegean). In the same manner, many programs disagree on whether Egypt is in Africa or the Middle East. If you're flying to what could be considered a border country, study the region definitions closely.

With those guidelines in mind, let's look at each continent and see which programs offer the cheapest award flights. All costs are for one-way, economy flights.

North America (Including Caribbean/Hawaii)

ProgramCost
British Airways Executive Club7,500 Avios for flights between 1-1,151 miles in length on American Airlines
12,500 Avios for West Coast to Hawaii on American/Alaska
American Airlines AAdvantage7,500 miles for US flights less than 500 miles in length
Delta SkyMilesAs low as 5,000 miles (typically on cheap revenue, short-haul flights)
Flying Blue12,500 miles to certain Caribbean destinations and 15,000 miles to Hawaii
Virgin America ElevateRevenue-based for its own flights
Southwest Rapid RewardsRevenue-based
JetBlue TrueBlueRevenue-based

South America

ProgramCost
Avianca LifeMiles5,000 miles intra-Brazil
Delta SkyMiles12,500 miles on GOL/Aerolineas Argentina
British Airways Executive ClubVaries by distance - great availability on LATAM

Europe*

ProgramCost
British Airways Executive Club4,500 Avios for flights 1-650 miles in length (often high surcharges)
Flying Blue8,500 miles for short-haul

*The cheap rates of low-cost carriers in Europe often make it difficult to justify redeeming miles for award flights.

Africa

ProgramCost
Flying Blue17,500 miles intra northern or southern Africa (lower rates may be available on some routes)
United MileagePlus17,500 miles intra northern or southern Africa
Singapore KrisFlyer15,000 miles intra Central/South Africa
American AAdvantage10,000 miles (check routing rules for partner/region combination restrictions)

Middle East*

ProgramCost
American AAdvantage17,500 miles (Oneworld members Qatar Airways & Royal Jordanian)
British Airways Executive Club4,500-7,500 Avios for flights 1-1,151 miles in length
Flying Blue15,000 miles short haul

*Not a continent, but its unique geography and multiple definitions according to different award programs make it a region worth breaking out separately.

Asia

ProgramCost
Flying Blue10,000-20,000 miles depending on route
Delta SkyMiles12,500-22,500 miles depending on route
United MileagePlus5,000 miles intra-Japan (routes up to 800 miles)
British Airways Executive Club4,500 Avios intra-mainland Japan routes
Alaska Mileage Plan12,500 miles on Cathay Pacific
Singapore KrisFlyer7,500-25,000 miles depending on origin/destination regions
Air Canada Aeroplan20,000 miles for any intra-Asia

Australia/Oceania

ProgramCost
Flying Blue15,000 miles on Aircalin/China Airlines
Aegean/United/Asiana12,500 miles
Alaska Mileage Plan17,500 miles on Fiji Airways with one stopover allowed
Virgin America Elevate3,500-9,500 points intra-Australia
British Airways Executive Club4,500 Avios flights 1-650 miles in length

Bottom Line

A common theme for most continents is the use of British Airways Avios for short- to medium-haul flights. Fuel surcharges on these routes when using Avios are also usually minimal (Europe excluded). Regardless of which continent you're visiting, pull the award charts (if available) for any program that catches your eye as a good deal, and make sure the region definitions line up with your expectations.

Another tip: You'll often find great deals when searching intra-region awards. When completing these searches, programs typically first route you out of your originating region to a hub, then back into the originating region to the destination you searched. This has the effect of allowing you a cheaper award ticket than if you only searched to the airline's hub. Here's the cost of an intra-Africa business-class award from Johannesburg (JNB) to Abijan, Côte d'Ivoire (ABJ) with a transfer in Paris (CDG):

Here's the cost if you just wanted to book just the JNB-CDG leg:

By adding a flight, you've effectively lowered the cost of the JNB-CDG leg by 25,000 miles.

What programs do you use for intracontinental flights?