How to get to New York City on points and miles
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The most populous city in the U.S. by a factor of two, New York City has a little bit of everything. Whether you’re visiting for business or for leisure, to see friends and family, or simply to explore, New York continues to rank near the top of many travelers’ lists. Today we’re going to take a look at your best options for getting to New York on points and miles.
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Airlines that fly to New York
Just about every airline that flies in the U.S. offers service to New York City in one way or another, with three major airports to choose from (and a couple of smaller ones in the region as well).
The largest and one of the most well-known airports around the world is John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), which acts as a hub for Delta, JetBlue and American Airlines. This is also where you’ll find most international flights arriving and departing, including ultra long-haul flights like the 16-hour trip to Hong Kong (HKG) that Cathay Pacific flies 3x daily, or multiple daily flights to the Middle East on Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. For North American travel, JFK also offers a bit of everything. You’ll find short hops up and down the East Coast and transcontinental flights to California.
Next up is LaGuardia (LGA), which is undergoing some much-needed construction and expansion, but does have some traffic issues at the moment. Most flights out of LaGuardia are operated by Delta, Southwest or American Airlines, but United also has a decent presence. Generally speaking, flights from LaGuardia will be shorter hops as the smaller airport is better suited to handle regional jets. In fact, there aren’t any nonstop flights from LGA to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Last but not least is Newark airport (EWR), and while it’s technically in New Jersey and not New York, this United mega-hub handles hundreds of domestic and international flights a day. Many international Star Alliance airlines will fly to Newark in order to leverage the connecting traffic United brings in.
In addition to the big four carriers, you’ll also find Alaska Airlines operating a number of transcontinental flights out of JFK, Spirit offering low fares from LaGuardia and Newark, JetBlue flying from all three major New York airports and Frontier flying out of LaGuardia.
Best mileage options
Your best mileage options will depend primarily on where your trip is originating, as well as when you choose to travel, with both United and Delta now using dynamic award pricing and American Airlines inching closer to that mark every day.
Let’s start by looking at flights operated by United Airlines. Avianca LifeMiles will price out some shorter flights, like this Newark (EWR) to Washington DC (IAD) trip, at only 6,500 miles each way in economy.
United may charge the same amount, or double that amount, depending on how the dynamic pricing algorithm feels that day.
Longer flights like Newark to Houston (IAH) cost a more standard 12,500 miles when booked through Avianca, with transcontinental flights costing an extra 1,000 miles on top of this. You should always price compare between United and other Star Alliance programs before booking, as some days the dynamic pricing might work out in your favor.
Use United’s 30-day calendar view to spot the cheapest award flights, which can be cheap with flexibility.
American Airlines is still in the process of fully rolling out dynamic award pricing, so to some degree you can still expect awards to follow a fixed award chart. That means that flights under 500 miles in distance will often cost 7,500 miles each way, and flights over that will often cost 12,500 miles. Still, you might get a nice surprise when you go to book, like this short shuttle flight from LaGuardia to DCA for only 5,000 miles instead of 7,500. Always be sure to click on the web specials since some lower cost award options live in that tab.
Delta’s dynamic award pricing is quite variable, making it really hard to predict what a flight might cost. You can see here that flights from Atlanta to JFK vary from 7,000 SkyMiles on the low end to over 3x more on the high end.
This gets even more extreme if you look at business-class awards on the premium transcontinental route of LAX to JFK. The cheapest awards you’ll find cost nearly as much as a full round-trip ticket to Europe, and the more expensive ones cost almost 3x as much.
Southwest uses a truly revenue-based award pricing system, meaning that the cost of your award ticket is directly tied to the cash price of the fare. This means it’s impossible to save up for aspirational high-value redemptions, but you can redeem your points as soon as you earn them without any FOMO. Southwest is also known for offering low fares, like this one-way award between Chicago Midway (MDW) and LaGuardia for only 5,419 points (as opposed to $89 cash). Of course, you can turn that into a two-fer if you have the Companion Pass.
JetBlue uses a similar system as Southwest, with the biggest difference being that JetBlue offers a business-class product that might be worth saving your miles up for. You could fly one-way from JFK to LAX for only 15,600 TrueBlue points and taxes, or you could splurge and pay anywhere from about 50k – 100k points to fly JetBlue’s Mint class, easily the best premium product operating within the United States.
We know that 50k+ points is a lot for a one-way domestic award, so now is a good time to introduce an option that might be useful for pretty much all flights to and from New York: paying with points.
A number of Chase and Amex credit cards offer bonuses when you redeem your points to book flights through the issuer’s travel portal. While this doesn’t always offer the highest redemption value, there are two huge advantages to booking this way. First, you can book a seat on any flight that’s for sale without having to hunt for award space. Second, these awards show up as revenue bookings with the airline, meaning you’ll earn miles and elite qualifying miles on your flight, unlike a normal award.
As a Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholder, I get a 50% bonus when paying with my Ultimate Rewards points for flights booked through the Chase portal. This means I could book a Mint ticket for as little as 46,500 points (less than JetBlue typically charges using points) and still earn miles on the flight.
Further Reading: The ultimate guide to Amex Pay With Points
Which airport: JFK vs. LGA vs. EWR?
Depending on your hometown/preferred airline, this choice might be made for you. If you live in Kansas City (MCI) and are loyal to United, you’ll have to fly into Newark unless you’re willing to change carriers for this trip. Similarly, the purpose of your trip might make one airport more or less convenient, as many business meetings throughout the years have been ruined by traffic from JFK. LaGuardia used to have a bit of an edge, as it’s geographically closer to Manhattan, but the current construction and long delays have certainly eroded that.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to balance a few factors, including the cost of the ticket, how loyal you are to a particular airline and how flexible your schedule is. If you’re only in New York for a short trip, or have an important meeting to attend, you’ll want to coordinate your flight time and airport selection to minimize traffic jams as much as possible. If you ant to skip the traffic entirely, you could even consider taking a BLADE helicopter to Manhattan in only five minutes.
No matter where you’re flying from or why you’re traveling to New York, you’ll have plenty of options to pick from. Competition helps drive down prices for the consumer, and with thousands of flights a day and three major airports you can even score some pretty cheap tickets if you’re patient and flexible.
Featured image by Miguel Sanz/Getty Images.
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