The value of an airline mile will depend on the type of airline mile and how you choose to redeem it. Not all miles are created equal. Some frequent flyer programs such as Southwest Rapid Rewards and JetBlue TrueBlue points redeem their miles at a fixed value so that the cash price of the award flight determines the number of miles it will cost.
Other airline miles values will vary with each booking. For instance, if a flight costs 50,000 miles and the flight is $500, you’re getting 1 cent per mile in value. If the flight costs $1,000 for the same 50,000, you’re getting 2 cents per mile. The value of an airline mile will vary not only among redemption options, but with each redemption. As a general rule, a valuation of 1.5 to 2 cents per mile is decent for most types of airline miles.
If you want to get the best credit card to earn your preferred airline miles, check out these lists:
How To Use Airline Miles
While many strategies exist around maximizing redemption values, a few key pointers can help you consistently receive great value for your airline and credit card miles. The first is simple: do actually use them. Hoarding points is generally not a great strategy.
Saving up for a large redemption might be worthwhile. But if you have the points and can spend them on a flight you would otherwise pay cash for, it’s generally better to spend the points, since their value as a currency is typically limited to redemptions. You don’t actually own your airline miles and they cannot work for you like financial currencies can when invested.
Flights tend to be the most valuable redemptions, unless your frequent flyer program offers transfer to another loyalty program, in which case you may see more value in transferring miles to another currency. Hotels, rental cars and other travel may make a great second-most-valuable-redemption option depending on the program.
Cash redemption options are typically not as lucrative with airline cards, if available at all. Finally, shopping options and other merchandise or gift card redemptions tend to be the least valuable.
Airline miles are useful for obtaining absurdly-cheap fares every now and then, but too-strong a reliance on a single program can trap users within a single rewards system.
Pros and Cons of Airline Credit Cards
While airline credit cards offer plenty of value for the right user, several disadvantages mean they won’t be right for many travelers.
Pros of Airline Credit Cards
- Airline cards typically offer accelerated earning with a specific airline program
- Airline cards may offer airline-specific perks, such as no-extra-charge priority boarding, free checked bags and automatic upgrade or status qualification
- Premium airline cards offer great travel protections, lounge access and more
Cons of Airline Credit Cards
- Rewards earned with airline credit cards may typically only be redeemed for flights and upgrades with the specific airline
- Reward redemptions within airline programs are typically less flexible when it comes to additional reward redemption options such as cash back
- Some users may feel stuck within a specific loyalty program after a negative experience or series of negative experiences with a specific carrier, as switching carriers or flying with a less-expensive airline may not be an option after devoting time and energy to acquiring points within a specific program
Who Should Apply for an Airline Credit Card?
An airline card may be right for you if:
- You fly frequently with a specific airline, as airline cards typically provide bonus points or miles for each purchase made with the card.
- You want to take advantage of airline-specific benefits, such as priority boarding, discounts on checked baggage fees, or discounts on flight tickets.
- You want to take advantage of additional benefits, such as travel insurance, car rental discounts or access to airline-specific airport lounges.
- You want to save on foreign transaction fees, as many airline cards waive these fees.
- You’re looking to acquire a large number of a specific type of airline points from a welcome bonus.