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For points and miles collectors, it’s easy to stick to the airline loyalty programs you know. After all, it can be hard enough to figure out the ins and outs of just a few of these programs, let alone dozens. However, when it comes to award flights, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way in saving you points and miles.
These domestic sweet spots for non-major airline loyalty programs shouldn’t be ignored. Here's a collection of oft-overlooked ways to book domestic flights with points that you might not know about, including which points you can transfer to these secondary mileage programs to book these deals.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
For American Airlines flights
British Airways Avios
British Airways Avios can be a great way to book nonstop American Airlines award flights for cheap. Unlike the region-based award charts that other airlines use, British Airways uses a distance-based award chart. That means that you’re going to get the most value out of short but otherwise expensive flights.
For example, the standard rate for American Airlines MileSAAver awards* between the U.S. and the Caribbean is 15,000 AAdvantage miles. However, searches of British Airways award flights have shown you can fly on routes up to 1,150 miles in distance for just 9,000 Avios. One example of maximizing this range is by flying between Charlotte (CLT) and Cancun (CUN):
This exact same flight is currently going for $548 one-way, meaning you’re getting more than 5.8 cents per Avios on this redemption.
One of our favorite British Airways redemptions is flying lie-flat business class products within the U.S. for 16,500 Avios vs. the standard MileSAAver rate of 25,000 AAdvantage miles.
For example, a flight between Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Miami (MIA) clocks in at just under the 1,150-mile limit. Even better, American often uses internationally configured aircraft on this route during meal times. That means you can relax in an international business class and be served a hot meal for just 16,500 Avios.
You can also use just 13,000 Avios to fly between the western U.S. mainland and Hawaii. However, due to British Airways’ distance-based award chart, this pricing isn’t typically available for departure airports based further east.
British Airways prices award flights based on every flight you take. If your itinerary requires a connection, British Airways will charge miles for each leg. That means its usefulness is really limited to nonstop flights.
You don’t need to fly British Airways to earn Avios to book these awards, either. Instead, you can transfer points to the British Airways Executive Club from American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Chase Ultimate Rewards® (1:1) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).
*American recently announced the discontinuation of MileSAAver and AAnytime fares along with updates to its elite status program for 2023. See what's changing.
American Airlines’ Spain-based partner Iberia is another Oneworld partner that will let you book domestic American Airlines award flights for cheap. As with British Airways, Iberia Plus is a distance-based award chart, but there are some key differences.
While British Airways charges per segment, Iberia’s award pricing is based on the combined flight distance for the entire trip. That makes it a go-to for those who don’t live in American Airlines hubs and who will likely need to book a connecting itinerary.
The downside with Iberia is that you can’t book one-way awards on American Airlines. The award chart pricing is for a round-trip, and a one-way award doesn’t price at half the stated miles.
Those living in American Airlines hubs can take advantage of this award chart to book weekend getaways to nearby destinations that might be too far to drive to. For example, travelers in Charlotte can fly to Savannah, a four-hour drive away, for just 11,000 Iberia miles round-trip.
Flights of up to 500 miles each direction — such as the busy route between Los Angeles and San Francisco — cost just 12,000 Avios round-trip:
Iberia Plus can be really useful for itineraries that require one stop. For example, there are no nonstop itineraries between Austin, Texas, and Huntsville, Alabama. Booking a round-trip American Airlines MileSAAver award on this route would cost 25,000 AAdvantage miles. British Airways charges 30,000 Avios for the four-segment trip. However, Iberia Plus charges just 17,000 Avios round-trip:
You can transfer points to Iberia Plus from American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Chase Ultimate Rewards® (1:1) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).
For United Airlines flights
United’s Star Alliance partner Avianca recently changed its award chart from a zone-based chart to a city-pair chart. While this update made it harder to figure out how much a particular flight would cost, it now allows domestic redemption options as cheap as 6,500 miles each way.
Unfortunately, we’ve not found a conclusive rhyme or reason to the award prices for particular routes. So, it’s worth doing a quick check of the LifeMiles price before booking an award flight through United.
Avianca LifeMiles is known for its frequent promotions for buying miles, when you can find deals to buy miles for as little as 1.1 cents each. LifeMiles is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Capital One Miles (4:3), Citi ThankYou Points (1:1), and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).
Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values Avianca LifeMiles at 1.2 cents each.
The programs that we have looked at so far require checking the distance or the specific price of a route. However, there’s one program that prices all award flights within the U.S. at one price — including Hawaii. You can book United award flights through its Star Alliance partner Turkish Airlines for just 7,500 “Miles&Smiles” miles each way in economy or 12,500 miles one-way in business class.
Because this includes Hawaii, that means you can book an award flight from the East Coast of the U.S. to Hawaii for just 7,500 miles each way:
You can book nonstop flights on United’s lie-flat business class product from coast to coast for just 12,500 miles each way as well. Just note that saver award availability on these premium routes can be very hard to find.
You’re able to book some awards online, but the process can be buggy. So, you may need to call a Turkish Airlines ticketing office to book certain awards.
The other downside of this program is that it has a limited number of transfer partners. You can only transfer points from Citi ThankYou Points (1:1) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points) to Turkish Miles&Smiles.
Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values Turkish Airlines miles at 1.4 cents each.
For Delta flights
So far, we’ve shown you how to fly on American Airlines and United for drastically fewer miles through its partners. Unfortunately, Delta doesn’t have as lucrative of a partner for booking domestic flights.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club does have its sweet spots for Delta flyers though.
While 25,000 miles round-trip for domestic flights in economy isn’t especially good, the fact that Flying Club includes Canada and Alaska in this rate is nice. That opens opportunities such as flying almost eight hours between Atlanta (ATL) and Anchorage (ANC) for just 12,500 miles and $5.60 in taxes each way.
Even better, you can fly that same flight in business class for just 22,500 miles and $5.60 in taxes each way. The 22,500-mile rate applies to all Delta domestic business class flights, including transcontinental flights in lie-flat business class. However, availability on these premium routes can be very hard to find.
For reference, Delta charges nearly three times the amount of miles for this exact flight.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Chase Ultimate Rewards® (1:1), Citi ThankYou Points (1:1), and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points).
Flying Club’s downside is the same as with British Airways: Flying Club charges miles per segment. So, as with British Airways, you’re going to only want to utilize the program when looking to book a nonstop Delta flight.
Don’t forget credit card points
Last but not least, keep in mind that you can use bank and credit card points to book cheap flights for fewer points than you’d pay through any airline program.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can redeem Ultimate Rewards® points at 1.5 cents per point toward paid travel. At this rate, you can book an especially inexpensive flight for just a few thousand points. We were even able to find a flight from Dallas to Boston for 2,140 points and $32.10 in fees.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card customers can also redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards® for paid travel at a redemption rate of 1.25 cents per point. This means that same flight from Dallas to Boston will only put you back 2,568 points and $32.10.
Similarly, Citi Premier® Card members can redeem ThankYou Points at a rate of 1.25 cents each toward paid flights now through April 10, 2021.
The bottom line
There are several options to book domestic award flights for fewer miles than American, United or Delta might charge through their own mileage programs. All of these programs are partners of at least two transferrable point programs, making these deals accessible without needing to earn miles directly in these secondary programs.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card