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Best and Worst Last-Minute Redemptions for Holiday Travelers

Dec. 20, 2016
7 min read
Best and Worst Last-Minute Redemptions for Holiday Travelers
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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

AirlineFromToCabinPrice (USD $)MilesValue Per Mile (Cents)
American AirlinesJFKLAXEconomy$60965,0000.93
American AirlinesJFKLAXBusiness$1,61952,5003.08
American AirlinesJFKLAXFirst$2,56985,0003.02
DeltaJFKLAXDelta One$1,61975,0002.16

*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

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AirlineCabinPrice (USD $)MilesValue Per Mile (Cents)
American AirlinesEconomy$2277,5003.03
American AirlinesFirst$32790,0000.36
Virgin AmericaEconomy$2199,9632.20
Virgin AmericaFirst$29913,8702.16

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

AirlineFromToCabinPrice (USD $)MilesValue Per Mile (Cents)
American AirlinesMCOJFK/LGAEconomy$35365,0000.54
American AirlinesMCOJFK/LGAFirst$48390,0000.53

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

AirlineFromToStopsCabinPrice (USD $)MilesValue Per Mile (Cents)
American AirlinesMIAORDEconomy$51765,0000.79
American AirlinesMIAORDFirstN/AN/AN/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 by Christmas tree in the airport. Image courtesy of Daniel Lobo via Flickr.