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When wanderlust strikes, many look to credit card rewards programs to bring travel within reach. Still, airline fares can be costly, demanding thousands of valuable miles and rewards points from cardholders.
Many travel credit card programs reimburse consumers for flights at a specific rate, typically about 1 cent per mile. However, some cards, including the Citi Premier℠ Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, offer the option to transfer rewards miles to airline loyalty programs, so cardholders can spend in miles, not in dollars.
To help San Francisco Bay Area residents get the most value from their miles, NerdWallet crunched the data on the average cost for flights from San Francisco International Airport to 20 of the nation’s most popular destinations to find the routes where rewards miles are worth the most.
Keep in mind that these fares are a snapshot for departure dates from eight to 20 weeks in the future on Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. As well, the conversion might not be the same for all travel cards, airports or dates. But this could give you an idea of how to best use rewards programs.
Las Vegas is a winner. Using rewards programs to get to Las Vegas from SFO means your credit cards miles can be worth almost 4 cents each, which is far above the usual value. This, in addition to already low fares, makes Sin City a top travel option for those with a few thousand points. Cardholders can grab a one-way ticket to Las Vegas for as low as 2,000 miles.
Airports are as important as the destination. Sometimes flexibility pays off and that’s the case when choosing where to fly. When heading to Anaheim, California, the home of Disneyland, for example, it will cost 3,753 to 10,335 miles, on average, depending on the airport. For the best deals, look to Orange County’s John Wayne Airport over Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.
Heading East? Look outside New York. Despite being among the busiest hubs in the U.S., it’s difficult to squeeze extra value out of your credit card rewards on flights from San Francisco to New York’s airports. Instead, for better value, try Boston or the capital’s Washington Dulles International, where miles are worth, on average, 2.6 cents and 2.5 cents per mile respectively, for airlines we studied.
Best flights for the miles from SFO
In the table below, we ranked flights from SFO to the nation’s top 20 popular destinations by average value of rewards miles. The value of miles was found by dividing the average price by the average number of miles needed to book a flight. Scroll through the data to see details for 26 airports.
|City||Airport||Average miles needed on Southwest
|Average cost of a one-way ticket in fourth quarter of 2014||Average value of miles to fly on Southwest or United|
|Las Vegas, NV||LAS||3,362||11,875||$132.28||$0.0393|
|Los Angeles, CA||LAX||3,813||13,333||$130.23||$0.0341|
|San Diego, CA||SAN||4,393||13,333||$134.17||$0.0305|
|New York, NY||LGA||12,584||23,611||$295.97||$0.0235|
|New York, NY||JFK||No flight||16,667||$368.96||$0.0221|
|San Antonio, TX||SAT||12,659||15,278||$279.05||$0.0220|
|New Orleans, LA||MSY||12,317||15,278||$262.14||$0.0213|
|Chicago, IL||MDW||9,231||No flight||$193.39||$0.0210|
|New York, NY||EWR||16,490||18,056||$340.14||$0.0206|
|Miami, FL||MIA||No flight||16,071||$313.28||$0.0195|
|Dallas, TX||DAL||10,795||No flight||$207.07||$0.0192|
|Chicago, IL||ORD||No flight||15,278||$251.04||$0.0164|
NerdWallet looked at data for flights from SFO to the top 20 travel destinations within the U.S. by volume to find the best places for San Francisco Bay Area residents to use their credit card rewards miles. We collected data on the average one-way price of flights in the fourth quarter of 2014 from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the average number of miles needed to book a one-way ticket on selected dates in 2015’s fourth quarter on Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
We divided the number of miles required to book a flight by the average fare to determine the value of miles. Each route was then ranked by the average value of miles for that ticket.
The airlines were chosen to reflect the 1-to-1 point transfer options available for domestic carriers for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders.
Las Vegas, Nevada, image via iStock.