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When it comes to family travel, using points and miles can really help lessen the cost of your overall vacation. Instead of spending thousands of dollars out of pocket, you can potentially spend close to nothing if you maximize your travel rewards. Still, when flying with a family, the number of points and miles required for an airfare purchase can still really add up. Knowing how to use the least amount of points/miles to get to a destination is imperative. Here are 10 great opportunities to use 10,000 points/miles or less per person for a flight right now:
1. United Airlines 5,000 Miles Awards
Traditionally, most US-based airlines price domestic award flights at 12,500 miles one-way. However, United just announced that it is doing away with its award chart for flights starting Nov. 15. While this is not great news overall, especially for those who fly at peak times or on “sweet spot” awards, there are some upsides. United awards are now starting out at just 5k miles one-way. (And this is not just for short-haul awards; many mid- to long-haul flights are showing these discounted mileage fares as well.) The downside for family travel is that these low-level awards will typically be available only during off-peak dates. If you have some flexibility in your schedule (flying out a day or two before or after the peak days), you’ll have better luck snagging these lower priced award flights.
Those who have United elite status or are a United credit card holder will see the lowest pricing possible. All other members will still see discounted prices, but likely at rates about 1,000 miles pricier. This is why signing into your United account is important when searching for award pricing. While expanded award availability is a good reason to have a United credit card as long as award charts in play, it looks like the United Explorer Card and similar will continue to save you some United miles going forward.
2. Use LifeMiles on United Flights for Just 7,500 Miles
Although United is doing away with its award chart on Nov. 15, you can still take advantage of some very generous awards by using partner miles to fly on United metal — those award charts are still in effect and have not changed. For example, you can use Avianca LifeMiles to book a short-haul award within the US for a fixed 7,500 miles one-way. While using United miles might be better for those off-peak 5k mileage redemptions, there is a good chance you’ll see a much better value using LifeMiles for that same route if you are looking to fly on more popular dates.
The Avianca LifeMiles program splits the United States into three regions. As long as you are flying between two city pairs within the same region, LifeMiles will charge you as little as 7,500 miles for that award redemption. The three regions include:
- United States 1: Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington (DC)
- United States 2: Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin
- United States 3: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming
This means you can fly all the way from Minnesota to Florida for just 7,500 miles since they are in the same region. If you need to fly from United States 1 to United States 2, those award redemptions are still a favorable 10,000 mile redemption.
Avianca’s LifeMiles program is also one of the few airline programs that allows you to use cash plus miles — you just need to have at least 40% of the required miles in your account, then you can pay for the remaining amount in a cash equivalent. This allows you to essentially purchase points at a relatively inexpensive price.
If you are short on LifeMiles, there are many ways to earn them as they are transfer partners of Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1), Capital One (2:1.5 ratio), Marriott Bonvoy (3:1) and Amex Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio). Not only that, you’ll often see promotions where you can purchase LifeMiles with a huge bonus offer.
3. American Airline Reduced Mileage Awards for Citi Credit Card Holders
Every quarter, American Airlines offers reduced mileage awards for those who have an American cobranded credit card, such as the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard. With many of the cards, you’ll receive 3,750 miles off a one-way award ticket (or 7,500 miles off a round-trip). For flights over 500 miles, award tickets within the continental US typically cost 12,500 AAdvantage miles (although if you have flexibility you might be able to snag one of its Economy Web Special fares). However, if one of your city pairs is on the reduced mileage award list for the month you are flying, you’ll get an extra 3,750 mile discount, which means you are down to paying just 8,750 miles for your one-way flight.
If you happen to be flying a route that is less than 500 miles, those award redemptions are typically just 7,500 miles. For these particular flights, you cannot get the full 3,750 discount, but instead you’ll save 1,000 miles each way. This means those flights will cost you just 6,500 miles one-way.
If you act fast and book a flight on or before Apr. 30, you can receive a 10% mileage rebate on all flights booked with select co-branded American Airlines credit card. (This benefit is being eliminated on May 1) This benefit is in addition to the reduced mileage awards, as long as you are booking with an eligible cobranded card and have yet to meet your yearly max. If you take this additional 10% rebate into account, that means that flights longer than 500 miles will ultimately only cost you 7,875 miles and those shorter than 500 miles will cost just 5,850 miles.
4. 5th-Freedom Flight in the Caribbean for 4,000 British Airways Avios
Island-hopping in the Caribbean can be a ton of fun for a family, but quite expensive with cash. If you are flexible with where you want to go, you can actually pick up a fifth-freedom flight where you’ll be able to redeem a minimal amount of British Airways Avios points to hop between islands. For those unaware of the term, a “fifth-freedom flight” is essentially when a carrier operates a flight where neither the origin nor the destination country is the airline’s home base. Within the Caribbean, there are actually a number of different fifth-freedom routes, which will allow you to plan a beach-filled fun-in-the-sun family-friendly itinerary:
- Antigua – Saint Kitts
- Antigua – Tobago
- Nassau – Grand Cayman
- Saint Lucia – Grenada
- Saint Lucia – Port of Spain
Since British Airways flies these routes, this is the perfect opportunity to redeem your British Airways Avios points. And since they are all under 650 miles in distance, you can book them for just 4,000 Avios (off-peak dates) or 4,500 Avios (peak dates). Even though British Airways eliminated the option to book a flight for just 4,500 Avios back in 2016, this only applied to flights flown to/from and within the United States. Flights in the Caribbean and all other countries are still able to book at the “Zone 1” level.
In fact, if you want to island hop in style, you can book a lie-flat seat for just 9,000 Avios plus taxes/fees. From Nassau to Grand Cayman in business class it would cost you just 9,000 Avios and $40 in taxes/fees.
This could be the perfect opportunity to combine a stay at the relatively new Grand Hyatt Baha Mar with the Westin Grand Cayman. You could use your hotel points on both ends and then your British Airways points to hop from one destination to another.
5. Use British Airways Avios for Flights Under 10k Miles
British Airways uses a distance-based award chart where the number of points you use to redeem for a free flight depends on the distance between the city pairs (per segment). There are three zones that allow you book for under 10,000 Avios points:
- Zone 1 (0–650 miles): 4,000 (off-peak) / 4,500 (peak)
- Zone 2 (651–1,151 miles): 6,500 (off-peak) / 7,500 (peak) **
- Zone 3 (1,152–2,000 miles): 8,500 (off-peak) / 10,000 (peak)
** Unfortunately, flights within to/from and within the US that are between 0–650 miles still fall into the Zone 2 category.
If you are looking to fly within the US, British Airways partners with both American Airlines and Alaska Airlines. So even if you think of BA as an international carrier, you can still use your Avios points for partner flights and many times fly for less than if you were to redeem your American or Alaska miles. For example, you can redeem just 7,500 Avios to fly between New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA) where American Airlines would typically charge 12,500 AAdvantage miles for the same flight. Some other really good opportunities for redeeming just 7,500 Avios to/from and within the US include:
- New York City (JFK) to Bermuda (BDA)
- New York City (LGA) to Toronto (YYZ)
- Miami to Cancun (CUN)
- Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO)
Alternately, if you are looking to fly between city pairs outside of the United States, you can easily book flights for as low as 4,000 points (off-peak) or 4,500 points (peak) as shown in the island hop examples. This can be the perfect opportunity for your family to experience multiple cities within Europe and use your points and miles to get around (without having to take a European low-cost carrier). Or, if you find a cheap fare from your home airport to a European city, you could jump on that revenue fare and then book an award flight to get to your desired city.
6. Southwest Fare Sales + Companion Pass
Southwest is known for its basically weekly fare sales, which sometimes last for a few days or even a few weeks. During these sales, you can book a discounted Southwest flight or even get a credit/points back if your previously purchased flight went down in price. The number of points that have to be redeemed for a free flight is directly tied to the fare price, so the lower the fare, the better.
For example, right now you can fly from Honolulu to Maui on Southwest for less than 3,000 Rapid Reward points on many of its flights. Even better, if you have the Southwest Companion Pass another family member (or friend) can fly with you for free (plus taxes/fees). That means two passengers can fly on this particular route for just 2,830 Rapid Reward points (or just 1,415 points if you want to break the cost down per passenger). Using miles on another airline would be double, if not triple, the cost!
With enough date flexibility, you can even fly from the mainland to Hawaii using Rapid Rewards points for less than 10,000 points each way! Shown below is Oakland to Maui for just 8,967 plus $5.60 in taxes!
Of course, not every one of its flights will price out this low, or even for less than 10k Rapid Reward points, but if you book early and keep track of flight price decreases, you can often get Southwest flights at a significantly lower rate than another airline.
7. JetBlue Flash Sales + 10% Rebate for Card Members
JetBlue often runs flash sales that can last from a few hours to a few days. On many Tuesdays or Wednesdays, you’ll see an email in your inbox advertising these one- or two-day sales. If you follow JetBlue Cheeps on Twitter (@JetBlueCheeps), you’ll be able to get first dibs on the sales that are typically valid for only a few hours. Many times, these flash sales offer discounted pricing on many routes on both paid and point reservations.
While the fares differ every time, it is typical to see a sale with flights starting at just $49 one-way or as low as just a few hundred points. With JetBlue, the number of points required for a free flight is loosely tied to the price of the flight, so the lower the fare price, the less points required. When those $49 fare sales pop up, it means you can often book that same flight for about 3,000 JetBlue TrueBlue points, but sometimes the deals are even sweeter.
Remember, if you have JetBlue Mosaic status and a fare decreased in the number of points required, a simple phone call to the JetBlue Mosaic line will credit you the difference.
If you have the JetBlue Plus Card, you’ll further benefit by receiving 10% of your points back after making a redemption. This means instead of using 3,000 points, with the example above, you would be ultimately redeeming just 2,700 points for a one-way flight. This is an incredibly low number of points to use for a free flight.
8. Frontier 10k Value Awards
As long as you are looking to travel within the US or Puerto Rico, you can redeem just 10,000 miles for a free flight on Frontier Airlines.
Fortunately, with Frontier Airlines, these value redemption levels are commonly available and the airline even allows you to pool miles between family members if you have elite status or a Frontier credit card. I searched flights between Boston and Denver for the entire month of September and 10k mile award flights were available all but three days. When booking award flights with Frontier, try to book your flights at least 180 days in advance to avoid any booking fees. Booking anything within the 180 day time frame will cost you between $15–$75 in fees (those fees can be avoided if you have the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard or elite status).
If you plan on flying with your kids on Frontier on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you might be better off paying for your flight with dollars to take advantage of the Kids Fly Free offer.
9. Chase Ultimate Reward Points Within Europe
If you are looking to fly within Europe, you might find yourself flying on an airline that doesn’t partner with any airlines on which you have accrued miles. This is where using points from your Chase Ultimate Rewards account can come in handy. For example, let’s say you are planning a Greek Isles vacation this summer. Flying from Athens to Santorini is definitely the quickest method, but the cost of cash tickets can add up for an entire family. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which allows you to redeem your points at 1.5 points per cent through the travel portal, you can fly during a peak day in August for less than 6k Chase Ultimate Reward points each way, per person.
Of course, your Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be used for any flights booked through its portal (not just flights within Europe), so you’ll have to do the math of booking through the portal versus transferring your points to a partner airline.
10. New York to Vancouver With Cathay Pacific
One of the long-haul Cathay flights between New York (JFK) and Hong Kong (HKG) makes a quick stop in Vancouver, which allows you to book this fifth-freedom flight just for the North American segment. Since you are flying Cathay Pacific, you can expect more desirable and comfortable seats than on most US airlines, even at the economy class level. (Update, 9/9/2019: this flight will be discontinued in the spring of 2020.)
While you can use miles from Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and British Airways to book Cathay operated flights, you’ll actually find that redeeming Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, at just 10,000 miles per economy seat one-way, may be the best method.
Earning Cathay Pacific miles is actually not as difficult as you might think since the airline is a transfer partner of both Citi ThankYou Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. Here are more tips for earning and using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. (And if you do fly into Vancouver, we highly recommend adding on a drive along the Sea to Sky Highway.)
Minimizing the number of points and miles used will help maximize your family’s vacations. Why take one vacation with your points and miles, when you can stretch them to take many more. At just 10,000 miles per flight (or less), that dream should easily become a reality.
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