Best and Worst Last-Minute Redemptions for Holiday Travelers

Dec 20, 2016

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An estimated 103 million people will be traveling between Christmas and New Years this year. 42.5 million people will travel by plane, a 3.5% increase over last year. The busiest day this holiday season is expected to be this Friday, December 23, and as we get closer to departure date, ticket prices are increasing. At the same time, many last-minute travelers are looking to use their miles to avoid spending a ton of money.

We’ve taken a look at some of the most notoriously busy routes and some oddly expensive ones to see where and when it makes sense to use points or miles rather than cash. You’ll find more in-depth analysis below, but the bottom line is that you might want to save those miles and just pay for a ticket this holiday season.

Below is our analysis for several key routes, including the lowest fares available (as of publication time) on the given date.

New York – Los Angeles – December 23

Airline From To Cabin Price (USD $) Miles Value Per Mile (Cents)
American Airlines JFK LAX Economy $609 65,000 0.93
American Airlines JFK LAX Business $1,619 52,500 3.08
American Airlines JFK LAX First $2,569 85,000 3.02
Delta JFK LAX Economy $609 32,500 1.87
Delta JFK LAX Delta One $1,619 75,000 2.16
United EWR LAX Economy $765 25,000* 3.06
United EWR LAX Business $1,619 50,000 3.23
JetBlue JFK LAX Economy $656 62,900 1.04
JetBlue JFK LAX Mint $849 84,100 1.00

*Enhanced availability exclusively for United elites and cardholders, including the United MileagePlus Explorer Card .

You won’t be getting anywhere close to a decent value from your AAdvantage miles if you redeem them for an economy flight on American this time of year. However, the carrier’s fully flat transcontinental business-class product for 52,500 miles makes for a great redemption for the holiday season, getting you more than 3 cents per mile in value. Similarly, you might want to avoid redeeming for JetBlue, even for a flat-bed seat in Mint — especially considering that you’ll earn 6 points per dollar spent on paid fares, plus another 6x points if you pay with the JetBlue Plus Card.

Los Angeles – San Francisco – December 23

Airline Cabin Price (USD $) Miles Value Per Mile (Cents)
American Airlines Economy $227 7,500 3.03
American Airlines First $327 90,000 0.36
Delta Economy $221 20,000 1.11
Delta First $259 37,500 0.69
United Economy $226 10,000 2.26
United First $325 25,000 1.30
Virgin America Economy $219 9,963 2.20
Virgin America First $299 13,870 2.16

While there are some bad uses of miles on the NYC-LAX route, the absolute worst has to be on American Airlines from LAX-SFO. Please don’t use your miles for first class on AA or Delta; a redemption of just above a third of a cent per mile is never worth it, so just buy your ticket with cash. However, there are some great economy redemptions available, like the SAAver economy award space for 7,500 miles on American Airlines.

Orlando – New York City – January 2, 2017

Airline From To Cabin Price (USD $) Miles Value Per Mile (Cents)
American Airlines MCO JFK/LGA Economy $353 65,000 0.54
American Airlines MCO JFK/LGA First $483 90,000 0.53
Delta MCO LGA Economy $300 25,000 1.20
Delta MCO LGA First $439 45,000 0.98
United MCO EWR Economy $452 25,000* 1.81
United MCO EWR First $591 50,000 1.18
JetBlue MCO LGA Economy $300 23,100 1.04

If you happen to head to the land of Mickey for a last-minute family New Year’s trip, there aren’t many great options to return using miles. I recommend leaving a day early or spending an extra day or two on the ground, as prices come down pretty quickly. If you do have to fly on January 2, Delta isn’t a bad option. Additionally, you can look at flights from Tampa and Daytona Beach, each about 1-1.5 hours away.

Miami – Chicago – January 2, 2017

Airline From To Stops Cabin Price (USD $) Miles Value Per Mile (Cents)
American Airlines MIA ORD Economy $517 65,000 0.79
American Airlines MIA ORD First N/A N/A N/A
Delta MIA ORD ATL Economy $740 60,000 1.23
Delta MIA ORD ATL First $948 55,000 1.72
United MIA ORD Economy $531 25,000* 2.12
United MIA ORD First $913 50,000 1.83
Frontier MIA ORD Economy $631 N/A N/A

Miami on January 2, 2017 looks to have some of the worst availability throughout the entire holiday season. If you had a hole to burn your money/miles in, that would probably be a better use for it. Other routes that are commanding huge sums of miles on January 2 are on American Airlines Miami-Boston, Miami-New York and any Miami-to-hub routes (Charlotte, Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles). That being said, there are other options on American and United if you don’t mind connecting or leaving from West Palm Beach or Ft. Lauderdale instead.

Bottom Line

If you really want to use your miles instead of spending money, doing your research will help you get the best value. United’s domestic one-way awards will always be between 10,000 to 25,000 miles for economy tickets and between 25,000 to 50,000 in business/first. American’s domestic awards range from 7,500 to a whopping 65,000 miles in economy and 15,000 to 95,000 miles one-way in business or first class. Meanwhile, Delta doesn’t offer a published award chart, but if you can find long-distance flights for 25,000 miles or less in economy or 50,000 miles in business or first, you probably aren’t getting a terrible deal.

Have you ever scored a great last-minute flight redemption for the holiday? Share your experience in the comments below!

Featured image courtesy of Daniel Lobo via Flickr.

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