Best ways to redeem Capital One miles for domestic flights

Oct 17, 2020

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With the coronavirus pandemic causing a decrease in air travel demand, domestic airfare has also dropped. As a result, redeeming miles for flights doesn’t always make sense since you’re not getting maximum value out of them.

This is where a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card can come in handy. You can charge your airfare to the card and then redeem miles at a rate of one cent per mile. You’ll earn miles with the airline frequent flyer miles and offset the cost of your ticket.

When Capital One introduced airline transfer partners, it was a game-changer for Capital One miles collectors. It provided an opportunity for bargain hunters to squeeze even more value from their rewards from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. This card currently offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

While there’s a lot of value in the 11 frequent flyer programs to which you can now transfer your miles, there’s currently only one U.S. carrier on the list. As a result, you’ll have to know just how to leverage airline partnerships if you’re looking to book a domestic flight.

In today’s post, I’ll examine the best options for transferring Capital One miles to airline partners when you need to book a domestic flight, and I’ll look at how to decide when to use this option versus using miles for recent travel purchases.

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In This Post

Capital One transfer partners

Let’s start with a high-level overview of the program’s transfer partners and what it will take to book a flight within the U.S. Here’s a chart that shows four key details:

  1. How much each carrier charges for these flights (economy / first class)
  2. How many Capital One miles you’d need to transfer for each one-way award
  3. Which domestic partner(s) can be booked through the carrier’s program
  4. Whether you can book those awards online
Program Miles needed for one-way domestic flight Capital One miles needed
Domestic partners Online booking?
Aeromexico 40,000 – 44,000 / 80,000 – 88,000* 53,333 – 58,666 / 106,666 – 117,333 Delta Yes
Air Canada Aeroplan 12,500 / 25,000 16,666 / 33,333 United Yes
Air France/KLM Dynamic Dynamic Delta, Alaska Yes
Alitalia 20,000 / 40,000 26,666 / 53,333 Delta No
Avianca 7,500 – 12,500 / 25,000 10,000 – 16,666 / 33,333 United No
Cathay Pacific 15,000 / 45,000 20,000 / 60,000 American, Alaska Yes
Emirates Skywards Varies based on carrier and route Varies based on carrier and route Alaska, JetBlue No
Etihad 12,500 / 25,000 16,666 / 33,333 American No
EVA 39,000 / 58,000 52,000 / 77,333 United Yes
Finnair 27,000 / 51,000 36,000 / 68,000 American No
JetBlue Based on cash rate Based on cash rate None Yes
Qantas 18,000 / 36,000 24,000 / 48,000 American Yes
Singapore KrisFlyer (United) 25,000 / 40,000 50,000 / 80,000 United No
Singapore KrisFlyer (Alaska) 7,500 – 12,500 / 17,500 – 47,000 15,000 – 25,000 / 35,000 – 94,000 Alaska No

*Uses dynamic pricing and is often higher than award charts.

Just keep in mind that these partners have variable transfer times, so check out our guide to Capital One transfer times so you know how long you’ll have to wait for your miles to post.

Best transfer options

That’s a lot of information to take in. It’s even more complicated when you factor in the 2:1.5 transfer ratio for most of the above partners (Emirates and Singapore use a 2:1 ratio). So which programs are the best options for domestic flights? In no particular order:

Avianca LifeMiles

South American carrier Avianca can offer some great award rates on United. The LifeMiles award chart divides the U.S. into three zones, and if your origin and destination are both in a single zone, you’ll redeem just 7,500 miles each way. In most cases, these will be short-haul United flights, but there are some geographic sweet spots. Here are some examples of flights that will require 7,500 miles each way:

  • Colorado to California
  • Florida to Montana
  • Texas to Indiana

Given the 2:1.5 transfer ratio, you’d need just 10,000 Capital One miles for this award, which is a fantastic rate. Even better? These domestic awards between zones top out at just 12,500 LifeMiles each way (or 16,666 Capital One miles). The only problem is that you may have to call to book, and Avianca has been known to have less-than-stellar phone support.

There are also some fantastic hidden gems in the LifeMiles award chart, so you may be better off booking one of these redemption options with your Capital One miles instead.

Related: Everything you need to know about Avianca LifeMiles

Etihad Guest

Another great option for domestic flights is Etihad Guest, which allows you to book American Airlines award flights for 16,666 Capital One miles each way in economy and 33,333 miles each way in first class. Both of these match American’s own award rates through the AAdvantage program, but unfortunately, you’ll have to call to book.

Related: Etihad Guest miles continue to fly under the radar

Singapore KrisFlyer

Despite the 2:1 transfer ratio, Singapore KrisFlyer can be a great option for booking Alaska Airlines flights, with flights starting at 15,000 Capital One miles each way and topping out at 25,000 miles, including Hawaii and Alaska. You will have to call to book, though, and don’t even bother considering first-class awards, as you’ll need to use a minimum of 34,000 Capital One miles each way.

Singapore’s award chart for Alaska Airlines. Just keep in mind that it will cost you double these amounts in Capital One miles.

Note that the KrisFlyer program also partners with United, but the 2:1 transfer ratio makes these awards unattractive. For United-operated flights, you’ll be much better off transferring to and then booking with Avianca.

Related: Maximizing Singapore Airlines partner awards

Decent options

Some of Capital One’s other partner programs have some decent award rates, and under certain circumstances, it could make sense to use these options:

Air Canada Aeroplan

The Aeroplan program can be a good option for United flights, especially since you can easily book partner awards online. Prices are 16,666 Capital One miles each way in economy class and 33,333 miles in first. Consider this option if you run into issues (or don’t even want to bother) with Avianca LifeMiles.

Related: How to maximize Aeroplan miles

Air France-KLM

Flying Blue now has a dynamic award chart, so there’s really no telling how many miles an award flights on Delta or Alaska will require. However, I found many domestic fights for 14,500 Flying Blue miles, or 19,333 Capital One miles. You should be able to book this online, but the Flying Blue website is notoriously unreliable and has had issues displaying Delta-operated award flights. Instead, try to use mobile apps to beat Flying Blue restrictions on award searches.

Related: Discounted Flying Blue Promo Rewards

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

The Asia Miles program offers domestic award flights in economy class on both American and Alaska for 20,000 Capital One miles each way. You can book online, making this an attractive option over Qatar and Etihad. Just be sure to read this post on deciphering the new Cathay Pacific Asia Miles award booking engine.

Related: Everything you need to know about Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Emirates Skywards

Emirates is partners with both Alaska and JetBlue, but there’s a 2:1 transfer ratio that dilutes its value. For Alaska (see the award chart here), the best values are 30,000 Capital One miles for travel within states like Alaska or California. For JetBlue, the pricing is based on the route, with some occasional values (see the award chart here). Sadly, you’ll have to call to search award availability and book.

Qantas Frequent Flyer

You can easily book awards on American Airlines using Qantas miles starting at 21,333 Capital One miles each way in economy class (round-trip flights of 600 miles or less), and you’ll need 42,666 miles in domestic first class on two-cabin aircraft. Etihad offers better award rates for these flights and should have access to the same inventory, so only consider this option if you want the ease of booking online.

Related: Complete guide to maximizing the Qantas frequent flyer program

Poor options

Some of Capital One’s airline partners have such unfavorable award charts for their respective U.S. partners that it’s difficult to imagine a situation where you should transfer miles to one of them for a domestic award:

  • Aeromexico
  • Alitalia
  • EVA
  • Finnair
  • JetBlue

When to transfer miles and when to redeem miles for recent travel

United Boeing 777 aircraft at Newark EWR
United award flights through Avianca can be a great value, but when should you simply redeem miles for travel purrchases? (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.)

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, Capital One Spark Miles for Business and Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business lets you redeem your miles for one cent each as statement credits towards any travel purchase that you’ve made within the last 90 days. So how do you decide when to transfer miles and when to redeem for recent travel purchases?

The information for the Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Here are five factors you should consider:

1. Cost. The easiest way to get started looking for a domestic flight is to check your favorite airline’s price and search an online travel agency for the lowest prices (or consider Google Flights for a quick snapshot).

As noted above, the least expensive domestic round-trip awards (on Avianca) will require you to transfer 20,000 Capital One miles, and most will require at least 33,000 miles. As a result, if you find any highly-discounted fares for $300 round-trip or less, you’ll probably be best just redeem miles for recent travel purchases.

If the flights aren’t this inexpensive, it’s still critical to know the cost in dollars, since that price will translate to the number of Capital One miles required. If math isn’t your strong suit, add two zeros to the end; a $500 ticket will cost 50,000 Capital One miles.

2. Award availability. Next, look for award availability at the lowest mileage levels using the major domestic carriers’ websites (American, Delta and United). When you find saver-level award space, you can use the chart above to see how many airline miles it will require.

3. Factor in mileage earning and upgrade opportunities. When you redeem miles for recent travel purchases, you can book tickets the way that you normally do. That means you can earn miles from the flight and credit towards elite status. If you currently hold elite status, you should still enjoy all of your elite status benefits, including being eligible for upgrades. You may not receive those benefits when you transfer your Capital One miles to an airline that books a partner award. To estimate the value of the miles you could earn, consult TPG’s latest points and miles valuations.

One additional note: if you want to enjoy your free checked-bag benefits on United-operated flights through cards like the United Explorer Card, remember that you have to use your card to purchase the ticket. As a result, flights in this scenario would be a poor choice for redeeming for recent travel, as you’d still need to pay those checked bag fees.

4. Consider taxes and fees. All frequent flyer programs will add TSA taxes at a minimum, which will be $5.60 each-way on nonstop flights. However, Flying Blue has started adding additional surcharges to Delta awards, so remember this when using your miles.

5. Think about the risks and hassle factor. When you are faced with the choice of redeeming miles for recent travel or transferring miles to frequent flyer programs, consider the time it could cost you, especially if the airline doesn’t offer online booking. You may have to create a new account and spend time calling the airline.

There’s also the risk that the airline won’t be able to see the award you want or that the award could disappear before you receive your airline miles. For these reasons, you should probably default to redeem miles toward recent travel whenever you won’t save a lot of miles by transferring them, especially when you aren’t familiar with the frequent flyer program.

Bottom line

Capital One took a significant step forward when it added transfer partners in late 2018. While cards like the Capital One Spark Miles for Business had always offered solid value propositions, this new redemption option significantly boosted this currency’s value.

If you need to book flights within the U.S., the transfer partners give you an array of options, some with solid redemption rates. Just be sure to crunch the numbers to ensure you won’t get a better value by redeeming miles for recent travel purchases.

And right now, the Capital One Spark Miles for Business comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $4,500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

Additional reporting by Joseph Hostetler.

Featured photo by urbazon/Getty Images

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