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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 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).
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 1.1 cents each.
For Delta flights
So far, we’ve shown you how to fly on 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 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