I rarely use miles for domestic travel. And most of the time I recommend strongly against it. Spending for a saver award, 25,000 miles roundtrip, you’re rarely going to get better than 2 cents a point in value. Any time tickets are more expensive are you even going to find saver availability?
There are a few foreign programs where spending miles makes sense domestically. For instance it’s no longer possible to spend just 4500 points for a British Airways award less than 650 miles on American or Alaska Airlines. I used to book the US Airways Shuttle DC – New York all the time for 4500 points each way. Not it’s 7500 points minimum for 1150 mile flights, which can still be a good deal. Flying American’s domestic first class is 15,000 points one way non-stop on these shorter routes.
However one of the really good values is Star Alliance member Avianca’s LifeMiles frequent flyer chart for US domestic travel. And United sometimes even has good availability when fares are expensive too.
I needed to go from Austin – Washington DC at the last minute, and here’s what I found on United’s website for non-stops. Ouch.
American, United, and Delta all had one way tickets priced between $400 and $440. Still not what I’d be willing to pay out of pocket.
The crazy thing is that United had domestic first class saver award space. Still I didn’t want to spend 25,000 United miles one-way, even though it wouldn’t be a terrible redemption considering the ticket price.
Fortunately since saver space was available I could use miles from one of United’s partners too. This is a United States 1 – United States 2 award from Avianca’s LifeMiles.
So just 15,000 miles one way instead of 25,000 miles. But it gets better.
LifeMiles lets you redeem cash and points, buying points at a discount at time of redemption which doesn’t count against the maximum number of miles you can buy in a year. This one way ticket would cost me all-in $176.49 and 6000 miles.
Even at 1.5 cents per each of those 6000 miles (I actually bought them for around 1.4 cents apiece) that’s $90, or an all-in cost of $266.49. That’s not cheap for a one-way ticket but at the last minute I was able to buy a $769 first class ticket for $267. That’s $500 savings thanks to LifeMiles and their new domestic US award pricing.
Put another way my 6000 miles saved me $592.51, or 10 cents per mile. 10 cents a mile is admirable for an international premium cabin redemption (and harder and harder to do most days). This was domestic.