Advertiser Disclosure

Which Airline Credit Card Is Best for Domestic Award Travel?

Dec. 6, 2019
Airline Credit Cards, Reward Optimization, Travel
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

When it comes to redeeming points and miles, not everyone wants or needs to book an Instagram-worthy trip abroad. Sometimes miles are best put to use for a domestic trip to visit family, take the kids to Disney World or attend a TV fan convention (guilty).

If you’re looking to stock up on airline miles for domestic award redemptions, then you’ll want to learn more about some big welcome bonuses on these airline credit cards and see how far they can take you.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is a great rewards program for domestic travel, especially if you have a penchant for booking at the last minute. That’s because the airline doesn’t impose close-in booking fees. With the welcome bonus from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, you could book quite a few domestic award flights: Get 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.

Domestic flights on Alaska Airlines start as low as 5,000 miles each way for economy tickets under 700 miles. That means the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card welcome bonus could cover upwards of four round-trip economy class tickets within the United States.

If you’re redeeming Alaska miles for a domestic economy class ticket on American Airlines, the redemption rate is 12,500 miles regardless of distance. That means you can still get at least one round-trip economy class ticket with the 40,000-mile welcome bonus with miles left over. However, if you’re traveling a distance under 2,100 miles on Alaska Airlines, you might score a better deal.

» Learn more: Alaska Airlines Credit Card review: Well worth $75 a year

American Airlines

The welcome bonus from the AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard® can go a long way in covering domestic airfare. Earn up to 75,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles: Earn 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. Earn 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card.. With 75,000 miles, you could book three or more round-trip economy class tickets within the U.S. and Canada.

If you’re traveling to Alaska, tickets price out slightly higher at 15,000 miles each way, so the welcome bonus from this card would only cover two round-trip tickets with 15,000 miles left over. The good news: If you’re booking a domestic flight with a distance of 500 miles or less, you could need as little as 7,500 miles each way. In this case, the 75,000-mile welcome bonus from the AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard® would cover five such round-trip tickets.

If you’re saving up miles for Hawaii, you can book an off-peak award for just 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way.Put $5,000 worth of spending on you card and you’ll have enough for two round-trip tickets to Hawaii. Here are the off-peak dates:

  • Dec. 29, 2019, to March 12, 2020.
  • Aug. 11, 2020, to Nov. 18, 2020.
  • Nov. 24, 2020, to Dec. 10, 2020.

British Airways

British Airways Avios are great for booking some American Airlines flights for less. British Airways doesn’t publish an award chart and has seemingly removed its mileage calculator, so figuring out how many miles you need is a matter of searching. One good option to take advantage of is the airline’s 11,000-mile award tickets between San Francisco and Chicago. The same flight costs 12,500 miles using AAdvantage miles.

With the welcome bonus from the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, you could cover four round-trip tickets on this route: Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 on your purchases within your first year of account opening..

» Learn more: British Airways Visa review: Big bonus, terrible surcharges

Frontier Airlines

If you live in a Frontier Airlines hub city, you might want to consider applying for a Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®. The card actually has a pretty substantial welcome bonus when you take into consideration that award flights start at just 10,000 miles each way: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee.

If you can manage to book Value awards, this bonus can be worth upwards of two round-trip economy class tickets within the U.S.

» Learn more: Frontier Airlines Card review: Potential boon for budget flyers

Hawaiian Airlines

The welcome bonus from the The Hawaiian Airlines® Business MasterCard® is pretty solid, if you redeem it right: Earn 60,000 after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, and earn an additional 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card.

What does that translate to in terms of (almost) free flights? A discounted award between the West Coast and Hawaii costs just 17,500 miles each way. So this bonus could cover two round-trip tickets. Departing from the East Coast, you’ll need at least 26,250 miles each way, meaning this bonus would cover one round-trip ticket with some miles left over. Want to splurge on first class? A seat departing from either coast to Hawaii starts at 40,000 miles each way.

If you’re a resident of Hawaii, you might get lots of value out of this card by using miles for intra-island flights, which start at 7,500 miles each way.

JetBlue

Not only does JetBlue provide a great flying experience in economy class, but their fare-based redemption rates can also work out favorably. The JetBlue Business Card currently has this offer: Earn 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and earn 10,000 points when a purchase is made on an employee card in the first 90 days.. Those miles can go a long way if you’re flexible and able to book travel in advance.

For example, programs like American Airline charge 25,000 miles for a round-trip flight between San Francisco and New York. Not bad, but we can do better. The Best Fare Finder is a great way to find the lowest fare on any given route. We were able to find plenty of dates with 7,900-point economy class fares between San Francisco and New York throughout the year. That brings the round-trip fare to just 15,800 miles, which isn’t that much more than a one-way fare using AAdvantage miles.

With the welcome bonus from the JetBlue Business Card, you could almost cover round-trip airfare for four people on this route.

Southwest Airlines

Similar to JetBlue, Southwest has a fare-based redemption program. You’ll score a better deal on Wanna Get Away fares when they’re cheap than when they’re expensive. That means if you’re strategic and utilize the Low Fare Calendar, your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card welcome bonus can be used for multiple round-trip flights: Earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

For example, if you’ve got a family trip to Disney World in the works, you could book a one-way ticket between Washington-Dulles and Orlando for as few as 4,281 Rapid Rewards points when we checked. That’s just 8,562 points round-trip, which means the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card welcome bonus could cover round-trip airfare for up to eight people.

Southwest has a lot of great deals like this, which is why this credit card is such a terrific value for those looking for (almost) free domestic flights. It’s also worth noting that this welcome bonus counts toward the points requirement for earning the Southwest Companion Pass.

» Learn more: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business credit card

United Airlines

United has implemented dynamic award pricing, rendering redemption rates less predictable than they once were. The good news is that you can still put the welcome bonus from the  United℠ Business Card to good use if you’re flexible with your travel dates.

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 2020, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best airline credit card for you
United Explorer Business card: Rewards, perks make up for fee
Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies

About the author