The 5 Best Domestic Award Chart Sweet Spots

Mar 14, 2019

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When it comes to booking international award chart sweet spots, the trick is identifying the carriers and routes that offer the best combination of award rates, in-flight experience and availability. When it comes to domestic travel, on the other hand, your options are much more limited. That doesn’t mean you can’t still score a deal, but you’ll often find the best domestic sweet spots take the form of booking the same flights with a different carrier that charges fewer miles.

If you’re not looking for premium class award tickets to far-flung destinations, keep reading. Today we’ll take a look at five of the best domestic award chart sweet spots for your next trip within the US.

1. Cheap Awards to Hawaii

With Southwest finally selling tickets for its flights to Hawaii after an agonizingly long wait, many West Coast-based travelers might find that the easiest way to book award flights to Hawaii is simply to log in to the Southwest website and search. There are two downsides here: Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program is revenue-based, meaning that if and when ticket prices climb from their shockingly low $49 debut, award costs will climb with them. Second, those traveling from the East Coast might have a harder time stringing together a routing that works at a reasonable price.

Thankfully, there are a number of dependable sweet spots you can utilize to get yourself to Hawaii using points and miles. The first involves using the British Airways Executive Club and its distance-based award chart to fly one of its partner airlines — either American Airlines or Alaska Airlines — from the West Coast to Hawaii for only 12,500 Avios each way in economy. Between these two carriers you’ll find extensive routing options to most of the major Hawaiian destinations.

It’s also easy to boost your Avios balance, as British Airways partners with both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

If you’re leaving from the East Coast, consider using Alaska Airlines miles to fly from the lower 48 to Hawaii for only 15,000 miles each way in economy. Note that flights are more expensive if redeemed for partner travel operated by American Airlines, so you’ll want to stick to Alaska-operated flights the whole way.

If you’re looking to take United-operated flights, your best bet is likely to book through Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program. While United charges 45,000 miles for round-trip economy flights from the US to Hawaii, Singapore only requires 35,000 miles. KrisFlyer also partners with all of the major transferable point currencies above, though be aware that Capital One miles only transfer at a 2:1 rate.

2. Redeeming British Airways Avios for American Airlines Flights

Even outside of flights to Hawaii, the value of using British Airways Avios for American Airlines flights bears repeating a second time. As noted above, British Airways uses a distance-based award chart, and since it prices each segment of an award separately, you’ll want to stick to nonstop flights whenever possible. You’ll typically get the most bang for your buck on the shortest flights; all American-operated flights up to 1,151 miles in distance can be booked for only 7,500 Avios each way vs. the 12,500 AAdvantage miles American would charge you for most flights.

From American’s hub at Chicago O’Hare, here are just a small fraction of the destinations you could visit for only 7,500 Avios each way:

Another huge coup using the British Airways award chart can help you book a true international lie-flat seat at a fraction of the cost. American is known for flying a number of wide-body aircraft — think Boeing 777s, 787s and more — on regularly scheduled domestic flights. Because British Airways prices domestic first class as business class instead of true first class, these awards are very reasonably priced.

As an example, you can fly a 787-9 equipped with American’s best business class seat, the B/E Aeropsace Super Diamond seat, between Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) for only 15,000 Avios each way in business class. This is a great savings over the 25,000 AAdvantage miles you’d need to use for the same flight.

If you’re in need of additional inspiration, check out JT Genter’s guide on when to book American award flights through British Airways.

3. Using Avianca LifeMiles for Short Flights on United

While Avianca uses a more standard, zone-based award chart (instead of a distance-based one like British Airways), it’s one of the only airlines that splits the US into different award zones. These three zones roughly map to the East Coast, central US and West Coast, and United flights that stay entirely within one zone only cost 7,500 LifeMiles each way in economy.

Flying from Chicago to Miami (MIA) for only 7,500 miles and $5.60 in taxes is an absolute steal.

LifeMiles also runs award sales from time to time, dropping the cost of this flight from Washington-Dulles (IAD) in US Zone 1 to Houston (IAH) in Zone 2 from 10,000 miles to 8,000 miles.

For additional details on this program, check out Richard Kerr’s guide to LifeMiles.

4. Delta Award Sales

The Delta SkyMiles program gets a bad rap for being relatively hard to redeem ever since the carrier decided to pull its published award charts and switch to variable pricing. Under this approach, the price you see on any given day is the price you get, just like a cash ticket. It leaves the door wide open for sudden increases and has helped Delta sink to the bottom of TPG’s valuation of US legacy carriers’ miles, with SkyMiles worth only 1.2 cents to American and United’s 1.4 cents each.

If you’ve ever tried to book a Delta award yourself, you’ll probably understand the frustration. On any given day, a one-way economy award between Los Angeles (LAX) and New York-JFK could cost 11,000 miles … or it could cost nearly 4x more.

Yet Delta has also recently stepped up its efforts to provide a good value redemption to the savvy deal seeking traveler. Delta’s award sales have become more and more frequent, including domestic economy awards for 10,000 miles round-trip, flights to Europe for 30,000 miles round-trip and flights to Asia for 30,000 miles round-trip in economy or 50,000 miles in Premium Select. In many cases, these sales represent a discount of 50% or more off “standard” award pricing other carriers publish, and they could be an even greater discount over the crazy variable prices Delta might demand on any given day. If you’re able to be selective about when you actually redeem your Delta SkyMiles, these award sales can make them quite valuable, and they likely played a large role in the carrier winning the inaugural TPG Award for the Best US Airline Loyalty Program.

5. American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards

American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards are a great tool for frequent domestic travelers. While they won’t carry you quite as far as some of Delta’s award sales, they’re a great way to save on travel around North America. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, you should check out this guide for all the ins and outs, but here’s an overview.

First of all, you need to hold certain credit cards to be eligible to book a Reduced Mileage Award. If you have the following cards, you can save up to 7,500 miles off a round-trip award ticket (or 3,750 off one-way tickets) leaving from or arriving into select airports:

Or, you’re eligible for up to 5,000 miles off a round-trip award ticket (or 2,500 off one-way) if you have one of the following:

  • Citi / AAdvantage Gold World Elite Mastercard
  • Other credit cards listed here that are no longer open to new applicants.

Reduced Mileage Awards are available when your award either departs from or arrives into a participating airport, and these airports rotate each month. American publishes a list of airports every couple of months, giving you a short window of time to lock in these awards. You can get a full list of airports currently eligible at this page.

 

Note that you’ll have to call American to book these awards, but the savings are absolutely worth it. You should always check the list of Reduced Mileage Awards before booking any domestic AA travel.

Bonus: Fly Cathay Pacific First Class From JFK to Vancouver

Outside of American’s domestic wide-body flights, you’re typically not going to find many big planes and lie-flat seats flying within North America. One notable exception is Cathay Pacific’s fifth-freedom route between New York-JFK and Vancouver (YVR). (Update, 9/9/2019: this flight will be discontinued in the spring of 2020.)

This flight is operated by a 777-300ER featuring Cathay’s chic and exclusive six-seat first class cabin, and it continues on to Hong Kong (HKG) after a brief stop in Vancouver.

This flight cover 2,449 miles and takes six hours, giving you just enough time to experience all the bells and whistles of a truly five-star airline. If you want to book this flight with points and miles, here are your options for a one-way first class ticket:

Airlines Miles
Alaska Airlines 35,000 miles
Cathay Pacific 40,000 miles
British Airways 50,000 Avios
American Airlines 50,000 miles

Availability can be pretty tight on this route, and Cathay Pacific award space doesn’t show on ExpertFlyer, nor does it appear on all partner programs’ websites. Since the carrier’s Asia Miles award booking engine isn’t the easiest, I’d suggest starting with British Airways.com and then calling to ticket your award using the above currency of your choice.

Credit Cards That Can Help

Of course, many of you may dismiss some of the above programs, since many aren’t the ones offered by traditional, US-based carriers. However, it’s important to note that transferable point currencies can give you easy access to these niche programs, making most of these sweet spots possible. The power of these programs is that you aren’t locked into a single carrier and its award rates; you can select the airline that offers the best award rates to minimize the number of points you need to transfer.

Here’s a rundown of the top cards and transfer partners for each of the transferable programs.

(Photo by Jorge Rodriguez/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Jorge Rodriguez/The Points Guy)

American Express Membership Rewards

Top Cards: The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, American Express® Gold Card

Transfer Partners: British Airways, Avianca LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer, Delta SkyMiles

For additional details, check out the following posts:

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Top Cards: Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Transfer Partners: British Airways, Singapore KrisFlyer

For additional details, check out the following posts:

Citi ThankYou Rewards

Top Cards: Citi Prestige Card, Citi Premier Card

Transfer Partners: Singapore KrisFlyer, Avianca LifeMiles

For additional details, check out the following posts:

Capital One

Top Cards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Transfer Partners: Singapore KrisFlyer, Avianca LifeMiles

For additional details, check out the following posts:

Bottom Line

Domestic travel in the US may not be overly glamorous, but there are ways to maximize your points and miles on your next trip. However, once you’ve figured out which airline and route you need to fly, that doesn’t mean your work is over. The real savings for these flights come by picking which loyalty program to use to book a given award. Whether it’s British Airways for cheap, short-haul flights on Alaska and American or Avianca for cheap short hops on United, don’t forget to check your partner award charts for extra savings.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/TPG

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Intro APR on Purchases
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Regular APR
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Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
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