Where to credit your basic economy flights for maximum returns

Sep 1, 2020

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No one enjoys flying in basic economy, but sometimes the price is just too good to refuse. For example, take my friend who recently flew from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Newark (EWR) for only $24 in American Airlines basic economy. A standard economy ticket would have cost nearly $100.

One downside to flying basic economy is lower mileage earnings. Most major U.S. loyalty programs have transitioned to awarding miles based on the cost of the flight. So cheaper flights earn fewer points. In my friend’s case, he would have earned fewer than 100 AAdvantage miles on his recent flight.

Further, airlines generally award fewer elite qualifying miles on basic economy tickets. American awards 0.5 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) per mile flown, half that of a standard economy ticket. This is brutal for those chasing elite status — especially if the basic economy ticket is still costly.

Thankfully, you can still credit basic economy flights to partner airlines to earn more miles. This is because partners often award miles based on distance flown. You may also earn more status qualifying points.

In this article, I’ll give you a look at where to credit the most common basic economy fares in the U.S. and U.K. 

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How to pick an airline to credit miles to

There are a few critical things to keep in mind when choosing which airline to credit your basic economy flights to. The first is to do the math and see whether the operating carrier or one of its partners will yield the most miles for a given flight. Generally, you’ll want to go with whoever awards the most miles for a given flight.

This isn’t always the case, though. Each airline mileage currency has a different value, with some being worth as high as 1.8 cents each, according to TPG. Try and find a good balance between the number of points you’ll earn and the value of said points.

Finally, make sure that you can actually use the miles you earn. If you earn more Korean SkyPass miles on a Delta ticket but have no way of topping up your account, they’re virtually worthless to you, since you’ll never have enough miles to redeem an award.

We recommend earning miles that are both valuable and transferable from other currencies. This makes it so that you can easily top-up your balance and redeem for an award ticket. Further, it ensures that you’re never stuck with miles you can’t use.

Related: How to use credit cards to defeat Basic Economy

Alaska Airlines basic economy

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Alaska Airlines refers to basic economy fares as “Saver” tickets, booked in the X fare class. These fares have limitations when it comes to changing flights, choosing seats and elite status benefits.

Unlike other airlines on this list, Alaska still awards 100% miles flown on these flights. So if you fly from New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO), you’ll earn the full 2,586 miles, whether you’re in Saver or standard economy class.

Alternatively, you can earn 25% miles flown when crediting your miles to American Airlines AAdvantage. I don’t recommend this though — not only is this a lower rate, but it’s American miles are worth less than Alaska miles.

In this case, just credit your miles to your Alaska Airlines account. You’ll earn the most miles this way, something that’s especially important when you consider how hard it is to earn Alaska miles.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

American Airlines basic economy

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

American Airlines books basic economy tickets into the B fare class. If you don’t have AAdvantage status, you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar spent and 0.5 EQMs per mile flown. This means that a $100 ticket (before taxes) would earn a mere 500 AAdvantage miles, even on a 2,500-mile transcontinental flight.

You’ll usually be better off crediting cheap fares on longer flights to a Oneworld partner like British Airways. For example, on that $24.10 flight from Chicago to Newark discussed earlier, my friend earned 179 Avios for his 719-mile flight. If he had credited his flight to American Airlines, he would have earned less than 100 AAdvantage miles.

Here’s a look at how many miles you’ll earn with partners without elite status:

Airline Program Miles Earned
British Airways Executive Club 25%
Finnair Plus 25%
Iberia Plus 25%

This is even more apparent on long-haul flights. You can currently book Miami (MIA) to Los Angeles (LAX) for $75 one-way in American Airlines basic economy as of the time of writing. The actual fare before taxes is $64. So you’d earn 320 AAdvantage miles, without factoring in elite status.

This flight is 2,342 miles long, meaning that you’d earn 585 Avios when crediting your flight to British Airways or Iberia. This is a nice bonus and — unless you have AAdvantage status — you’re far better off crediting to a partner.

Long story short: do the math before deciding where to credit your American basic economy flights. On expensive last-minute flights, you’re best off crediting to American. That said, you’ll come out ahead when crediting cheap long-haul flights to a partner like British Airways or Iberia.

Related: How to redeem the Citi AAdvantage Card’s $125 flight discount

British Airlines basic economy

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

British Airways books basic economy fares into the O fare class. These flights earn 25% of the miles flown, so a 3,451-mile flight from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR) would earn 863 Avios on a basic economy fare. That’s without factoring in British Airways elite status bonuses.

Interestingly enough, British Airways basic economy tickets earn the same 25% miles flown on nearly all of the airlines’ Oneworld partners. So if you’re flying on one of these tickets and prefer Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, consider crediting your ticket there for 863 Alaska miles instead.

Related: Here’s why you should care about British Airways Avios

Delta Air Lines basic economy

(Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katherine Fan/The Points Guy)

Delta books its basic economy tickets into the E fare class. Like American, Delta awards 5 miles per dollar spent on the ticket’s fare, meaning the flight’s cost before taxes. Thankfully, Delta awards full Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM). That’s massively beneficial for those chasing Delta elite status.

You can credit Delta basic economy tickets to most SkyTeam partners and some Delta airline partners. The earning rate varies between 10% miles earned and 50% miles earned depending on the partner you choose.

Airline Program Miles Earned
Aeromexico Club Premier 25%
Air Europa Club 25%
Alitalia MilleMiglia 50%
China Airlines Dynasty Flyer 25%
China Eastern Eastern Miles 50%
Air France/KLM Flying Blue 20%
Korean Air SkyPass 70%
LATAM Pass 25%
Middle East Airlines Cedar Miles 25%
Vietnam Airlines Golden Lotus Plus 10%
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 25%
Virgin Australia Velocity 50%

 

Again, you’ll want to compare your flight’s price and length before choosing where to credit your miles. I recently found a flight from New York (LGA) to Atlanta (ATL) that was $58.10, with a fare of $48. This means you’d earn 240 SkyMiles if you don’t have elite status.

On the other hand, you’d earn 70% miles flown when crediting to Korean Airlines SkyPass. New York to Atlanta is 761 miles one-way, meaning you’d earn 533 miles on your flight. This is pretty good, considering Korean Airlines SkyPass is one of the more difficult miles to earn.

On the other hand, if you credit your flight to Air France/KLM Flying Blue, you’d only earn 152 miles on your flight. This is less than Delta’s earning, so I don’t recommend this option unless you’re on a longer flight.

Related: Your complete guide to earning and redeeming Delta SkyMiles

United Airlines basic economy

(Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

United has some of the most rigid basic economy restrictions of all the major U.S. airlines. Unlike other carriers, you can’t bring a full-size carryon bag on most flights, which is especially disappointing for budget travelers.

Like other airlines, though, United awards 5 miles per dollar spent on basic economy fares before taxes and fees. In the example below, you’ll see we can book a Newark to Chicago one-way ticket for $36 in basic economy, but the fare is only $25. This means you’d earn 125 miles on the flight.

United basic economy fares book into the N fare class. These credit at 50% to several different Star Alliance partners, which can be extremely useful depending on how long your flight is. Here’s a look at the airlines you can credit to:

Airline Program Miles Earned
Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus 50%
Aer Lingus Aer Club 50%
Air Canada Aeroplan 50%
Air India Flying Returns 50%
Asiana Club 50%
Azul Airlines, TudoAzul 50%
COPA Airlines ConnectMiles 50%
Miles & More 25%
South African Airways Voyager 50%
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles 50%

 

If you credited the same Newark to Chicago flight to Air Canada Aeroplan or one of United’s other 50% partners, you’d earn 359 miles on the same 719-mile flight. This is far better than crediting the cheap flight to MileagePlus.

I recommend U.S.-based travelers credit United basic economy flights to Air Canada Aeroplan or Asiana Club. You can transfer Aeroplan miles from American Express Membership Rewards and Capital One Rewards to easily top-up for awards. Plus, a new Aeroplan is launching in November 2020, which offers interesting features like family points sharing.

Asiana Club, on the other hand, is an exciting program with low redemption rates. For example, you can use 40,000 miles to fly one-way from the U.S. to Europe in business class on any Star Alliance carrier. At the same time, these points are tough to earn, so crediting all your United flights to Asiana could be a way to slowly work toward an award ticket.

Related: How to maximize the United MileagePlus program

Virgin Atlantic basic economy

Virgin Atlantic A350 Economy LHR-JFK (9 of 11)
(Photo by Jean Arnas/ The Points Guy UK)

Finally, we have Virgin Atlantic. The London-based carrier introduced its version of basic economy — Economy Light — in 2018. These fares offer lower pricing but you’ll forgo checked luggage and free seat selection. Further, you’ll earn 25% miles flown when credited to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

These tickets are booked into the T fare class, which earns 25%-30% miles flown on Virgin Atlantic’s various partners. Here’s a look:

Airline Program Miles Earned
ANA Mileage Club 30%
Delta SkyMiles 25%
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles 25%
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 25%
Virgin Australia Velocity  25%

 

A flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to London clocks in at 5,456 miles one-way. You’d earn 1,364 Virgin Atlantic miles on this flight, which isn’t terrible for a long flight. These are worth $21.80, according to TPG’s most recent valuation.

On the other hand, you can earn 30% of the miles flown if you credit to ANA Mileage Club. This yields 1,637 on your ticket, which is worth $22.92. Additionally, ANA Mileage Club offers excellent redemptions and miles are easily earned by transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards.

Related: Unlock incredible value with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Bottom line

Knowing where to credit your basic economy flights is an essential skill for any frequent traveler. Depending on how often you fly these fares, crediting to the right airline can give you some serious bonus points.

That said, always do the math before you decide where to credit your miles. Short and expensive flights are usually best credited to one of the “big three” carriers. On the other hand, crediting a cheap and long flight to a partner that awards 25% or more miles earned can be an excellent way to earn more miles.

However, keep in mind that you should only credit to airlines whose miles you’ll actually use. There’s no sense in crediting to an airline if you’ll never earn enough points to redeem them. Try and consolidate your points as much as possible so that you have the chance to redeem them for a high-value award ticket.

Featured photo by Jean Arnas/ The Points Guy UK

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