Why Redeeming Miles for Domestic US Travel Makes Sense

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I was going to write about the new value to be found in British Airways Avios points, but the (sometimes unkind) reaction to Mommy Points suggestion on using Avios points for domestic travel raises a far bigger issue.  Mommy Points says “yay” for domestic redemptions and so do I!

Why The Fuss?

Big Travel with Small Money doesn’t always mean first class award redemptions to exotic new lands and five star hotels.  Big Travel with Small Money also means saving money and traveling more often than you could otherwise do.

Read that again:  Saving money on airfare & traveling more often are as worthy goals (if not better) as flying on a 12 segment international first class itinerary which costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Use miles for domestic travel

2 Reasons Why We Redeemed Miles For Domestic US Travel

While I do like First Class international redemptions, I also like saving money and visiting family whom I otherwise wouldn’t see.  In October, Emily and I traveled for 3 out of 4 weekends and redeemed miles for 6 tickets in coach instead of paying cash for the airfare.  Next week, we’re visiting family for Thankgsiving and  used miles and points for the flights in coach.

That’s 8 tickets (in 2 months) which I didn’t have to spend money to buy!

But you say:

 “That’s a waste of your miles.”

“Don’t you know that miles and points are better used for international business and first class redemptions?  Your redemption cost per mile is much too low (~1 to 2 cents per mile) compared to redeeming for a $15,000 ticket to Bali (10+ cents per mile).”

“You of all people should know that you always buy tickets less than $250 instead of using miles”

“You’ve gone too far this time.  I’m taking your blog back!”

That’s true only if I had unlimited amounts of time to go on these long exotic journeys and unlimited amounts of money to buy $250 tickets each time I wanted to fly domestically or wanted Emily’s parents to take a domestic trip.

Emily and I both work, and we  don’t have a lot of spare time to go on more than 2 international vacations a year and with our student loans, we certainly don’t have the money to buy 8 domestic tickets.  And at ~$250 a ticket, that’s at least $2,000 saved!  This doesn’t include all the other domestic tickets which I’ve redeemed miles for in the past year.

Emily and I earn more miles than we can use in a year, so why not use some of those miles and points for domestic travel?

I redeemed miles for a domestic ticket when Emily had surgery and her mom visited her for a week while I went to work.  I redeemed miles to visit Emily’s grandma in Florida.  I redeemed miles to visit Emily’s other grandma in Ohio.  I redeemed miles for Emily’s family to visit us.  I redeemed miles to travel to Chicago to attend a friend’s wedding.

And I got LOTS of value from it.

Sure the “value” per mile redeemed was low.  But the memories and experiences were worth a lot more.  And we will always remember those memories when *gulp* some of the folks in those memories are no longer with us.

There’s more to life than a few hours in a first class cabin!

And as I’ve said before, it doesn’t really matter how you redeem your miles if you earned them from a credit card sign-up bonus for virtually no expense.

If you’re getting less than 1.5 cents per mile from your redemption, you are better off putting regular spending on a cash back card which offers 1.5% to 2% since you get the same value, but don’t have to hunt for award seats.

But spend miles earned from credit card sign-up bonuses as YOU want to spend them.  And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you have lots of miles and points, you may soon have more than enough miles to fly internationally in first class AND take many domestic coach trips as well.

Bottom Line:  If you earn your miles from credit card sign-up bonuses, it doesn’t matter how you spend your miles since all redemptions will give you a positive return. 

Spend your miles for what makes sense to YOU.  Sometimes that will be a multi-segment trip to 3 continents and sometimes it will be visiting family in South Dakota.

What is Big Travel with Small Money to you? 

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45 responses to “Why Redeeming Miles for Domestic US Travel Makes Sense

  1. I couldn’t agree more. My family has flown on 5 trips this year on free tickets (except for mine – have to keep the MQMs rolling in). For those of us who travel for work, we can’t spend the miles we earn (and get through CCs) every year. Use your miles and enjoy them!!

  2. Just posted in response to Mommy’s post on this and absolutely agree!

    Love the dig at Bali… there is a whole group of people who go to Bali not because they love the place but because they want somewhere – anywhere – they can go in CX’s F product. Well folks let me tell you that Bali has nothing you can’t get frankly in the Mayan Riveria in Mexico. Yes Bali is Australia’s Cancun. With a couple of young kids in tow, a cheap redemption down to Cancun is better for me than dropping hundreds of thousands of miles to have a bit of fun in the air at the capital letter and period of the vacation sentence 🙂

  3. Oh and one more thing and boy the traditional bloggers and FT crowd hate to hear this but this is one reason why Delta is so good. I have taken all my family on domestic trips on Delta with mileage redemptions and because I can gift my wife Silver status we have at times ALL been upgraded even on award tickets. Kudos!

  4. Ditto!
    My brother has hit a rough patch recently (health, divorce, money) and I wanted to help him create some lasting memories with his 3 kids by treating them to Disneyworld. As a result of stumbling upon your blog my husband and I have amassed 200,000 Southwest points (and possibly enough for a companion pass, just depends on when my bonus posts, I already had 10,000!). Disney here we come! I can’t thank you enough Daraius. You’re changing lives.

  5. Love this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with conviction. 🙂

    I believe in researching, and listening to all the advice and tips that the experienced award travellers share, but ultimately, I have to make choices that makes the most sense to me and my family.

    For some of us, it’s treating ourselves to luxurious experiences, and for the rest of us, it’s flying to visit friends and family.

    And at this point, I need to say that no one choice is better or more superior than the other. It’s what suits the individual’s lifestyle and what makes him/her most satisfied, and we should respect one another’s choice.

    I am envious of those who can travel on CX F to Bali for the sake of trying out the CX F product, and I am glad that makes them happy. And I am also happy for those who redeem miles for domestic Y class tickets to visit friends and families. 🙂

    And I will continue to read the blogs of those who burn their miles for indulgent lifestyles, and those who save them for those treasured family visit. 🙂

  6. I am personally happy that most people used all their BA miles are talking about no plans to gain more in the future. I have a household account with 230k miles in it and only a few thousand dollars away from the Chase 30k spend award ticket. This may make my using these miles for a great trip in the future much easier.

  7. I’m reminded of a question that a European asked while we were at a Club Med in Spain: “Why do you come here when your own country has so much to see?”

  8. Thank you for writing this! This is one of the reasons I love your blog. So many blogs focus on first class travel overseas. But many people just aren’t going to do that. I wrote about how I, like Mommy Points, was actually happy with some of the changes. I’m traveling with my husband and 2 kids. We aren’t going to take trips in first class overseas. But I have family that lives in NC. The cost of the tickets have now gone from 25,000 miles round-trip to 9,000!

  9. Great job – especially bringing in that most of is have gotten these miles from insanely large credit card sign ups that cost virtually nothing out of pocket. There is no wrong way to redeem them as long as it makes sense for that traveler. Thanks, D.

  10. I remember reading a comment on a blog poking fun at people who, instead of traveling to exotic locales, visit national parks and take camping trips. Well, while I have done a fair amount of international travel, I love our national parks and think that a lot of bloggers overlook the treasures in our own backyards. Last summer, when I visited several national parks in the Southwest, I felt that I was often in the minority as an American! The hikers were predominantly French, German, Italian, and Spanish!

  11. Great analysis, Daraius. Personally, I would hesitate to assign much more “value” to my miles than the airline does in selling them to the public (which is usually in the range of 1-3 cpm). Suppose an international F ticket costs 10k dollars but only 100k miles, and 100k miles can be purchased outright for only $2500. Rather than value my miles at 10 cpm on this redemption, I would be more inclined to say that my flight was really worth at most $2500 — since that is the price that savvy cash buyers could pay by purchasing miles in advance.

    Granted, the airlines often complicate this in practice, by limiting the number of miles you can purchase in a year. But with huge signup bonuses so plentiful recently, I can’t actually use enough international F tickets to even exhaust the year’s bonus opportunities — never mind maxing out the opportunity to buy miles outright.

  12. When I first threw my hat into the mile accumulating game I was mostly only aware of FT and a few blogs that focused on non-domestic country hopping travel. And it was implied that anyone that would use miles on domestic travel was largely throwing them away. Given my current situation (baby, part time school, full-time jobs) I was gathering miles with the less-motivating thought that I would just sit on the miles for years until we could fly 1/2 way across the world. Since then I have come to realize that I could (and should) still use the miles for domestic travel. A couple flights a year for 3 people can run $1200 to $2000 domestically. And there is still good use in domestic travel in being able to fly to smaller airports ie…usually when going to Yellowstone/Grand Teton we fly to Salt Lake City then drive 5 hours to get there. Next year we’re using miles to fly with Denver stopover into Jackson Hole Airport (usually $500 – $1000 round trip from STL), and no long drive after we arrive and before we depart. There is plenty of value to be found in domestic coach travel via mile usage. While still saving some miles for a “dream trip” in the future.

  13. I am not sure how we got to Bali Bashing from the BA program changes, but as someone who will be going to Bali for the fourth time next year and who has been to the Cancun/Cozumel area many times the comparison does not hold- it’s absurd. Bali can be magic, if you let yourself be enveloped by the culture and the people. Or it can be a drunken party beach town, up to you. The closest similar experience near Cancun is Carnival on Cozumel and that is a very cool thing but rare to find in that area.

    As someone who doesn’t get upset or excited by mileage program changes mostly what we have right now are editorials one way or the other, what I am hoping to get soon from this blog and TPG’S and any other source is how to use BA points in detail. I am having trouble with that. From the west coast is seems like everything goes through DFW and it may be, in fact, that Cozumel and Cancun are among the few viable choices. From Seattle, what are my options?

    Another consideration is allocation. Do I understand that you and Mommy are mostly talking about using BA points in AA metal? A lot of us have 105K on BA and 155K on AA from the recent bonus round, so future point acquisition probably should be for something with more international access, perhaps United.

    So masters of small money travel, please point me at the route maps, booking tools, and flight schedules for using BA miles for short hops from Seattle. I’m sure they are there but I can’t seem to find them.

  14. IMHO miles is just like money — a different kind of currency maybe. How much you money worths is decided by how you spend it and has nothing to do with how you earn it. Not understanding that is the reason for all the stories we heard about lottery winners ending up poor again. The same logic applies to all the credit card signup miles.

    Redeeming miles should be no different than shopping with money — buy something because you need/want it, not just because it’s a ‘deal’ or ‘steal’. Not understanding that is the reason I got all the junk at home and the reason some people got nothing but bragging right from their tiring bali trips.

    I value my AA miles at 2c and skypesos at 1.2c. So I won’t spend 135K AA to Asia when I don’t want to spend $2700 for that trip, first class or not, regardless how the geniuses at AA decide to price that ticket. For the same reason, I won’t use 25000 for a $200 ticket and will be happy to pay cash for it instead. It’s the real ‘cpm’ that matters.

  15. 100% agree, well said, we use miles both for international premium travel when we can and for visiting family or having family visit us.
    This “hobby” has plenty of room for both “high-flying” F rewards and good old friends and family trips. Let’s all count ourselves fortunate for these opportunities.

  16. Completely agree. My mom had knee surgery and I was able to go see her for only $5. Then my Pastors wife needed to get home for a death. She did not have the money for the plane ticket, again, was able to use miles and purchase the ticket for $5. It is well worth using the miles for flight within the US.

    • @Chris B – I agree! I earned over a hundred thousand miles a year when I was traveling on work, but just couldn’t redeem them all. And this was without the credit card bonuses. Much better to use the miles with family than to let them accumulate.

      @Phil – I wasn’t making a dig at Bali. I may be there next year! I used that as an example, just because it is a common redemption. I do understand there are parts of Bali that may be tacky, but there are also quiet secluded places to visit there. Just like, say, in Ibiza. Glad to know that Delta works for you! I used Delta to visit San Fransisco last year with Emily’s dad and I’m planning some international redemptions with it too.

      @dp -Sorry to hear about your brother. But those memories will last forever! I just read the Southwest may not grant both the bonuses on the business and personal card, but I’ll no for sure in December when my statement is supposed to close. I’ll keep everyone posted. Have a great trip to Disneyworld.

      @Denise – One option is not necessarily better than the other. And you can use miles for both luxurious travel as well as domestic travel. I don’t see why it has to be one or the other!

      @Aiden – The companion pass is a great use of BA miles, and I’ll be using it for a trip next year!

      @Miles – I had an English colleague ask me the same question. He said that we have a whole continent to explore, but why don’t we take advantage of it. But I think that’s true of most folks – you never explore your own country since you can do that later.

      @Mary – I agree with you that being able to take trips for 9K miles instead of 25K miles is a huge improvement for some folks.

      @Mommy Points – I agree with you that you should do what makes sense for you to do!

      @Nick – You’re right -there are some absolutely gorgeous places to visit in the US! I remember sitting in front of the Grand Canyon and being awestruck by how beautiful it looked while the sun was setting and Emily was next to me.

      @anon – Exactly! As a former accountant, I can’t value the price of the ticket based on the market value (what the airlines sell), but value it, like you, on what it would cost if I really had to buy miles from the airlines.

      @EricT – Using miles for hard-to-get-to places in the US can save a lot of money as you point out! If you earn the miles from credit card sign up bonuses, it doesn’t matter how you spend the miles.

      @Brian(J) – No Bali bashing was intended. I’m actually planning a trip there next year! I agree that most places are what you make of it. You may be able to use Avios to fly on Alaska Air. Mommy Points and I are talking about using BA miles for travel on AA. Sure, you shouldn’t acquire more BA miles, unless they meet your needs, but the miles you have could be put to good use. It makes more sense to use other airline miles for international travel.

      @bgiagg – I couldn’t agree with you more! Use miles and points to buy what you need, and everyones needs are going to be different.

      @Dan – We really are extremely lucky to be able to take off and go wherever we want. And as you say, we can use miles for both international and domestic travel!

      @Len Williams– Thanks! Can’t wait to see your new website when it is live.

      @David Gutierrez – You can’t put a price to being home with mom when she needed you!

      @Drymartini – Give it a few more months and you could have enough miles to do both international and domestic flights! But do whatever fits your needs.

      @Ken – Snowboarding sounds fun and the bonding with your brother will be great! Enjoy the cake!

      @Rapid Travel Chai
      – Ha! That is so true!

      @IPBrian – I never thought that I’d be in a position to be able to travel where ever I wanted to go, but not have the time to do it! That’s why we started taking more weekend trips.

  17. me and my wife fly domestic. Even with our credit card bonuses, we plan to fly domestic (quantity over quality i suppose, as we plan to stretch the miles to cover as many international destinations we can).

    If miles grew on trees, i wouldnt worry about these issues. but since we are late in the game (essentially starting the mileage game since sep 2011), we want to maximise the value of these miles (not for premium cabins but rather on number of trips).

    so from those perspectives, whatever makes most sense will work.

  18. This is a great post. I’m usung miles to fly my brother out to visit us in Denver and then taking him snowboarding for the weekend. He’s been working 80+ hour weeks lately and needs a vacation to keep him sane.

    We can’t go home for Xmas due to no award availability, but we’re probably going to fly back to NC where we got married last year and see some friends
    (and food) we miss, plus we get a free cake on our first anniversary from our baker 🙂 We still need to get some SW cards, but I’ve got 3 Chase cards already and I’m waiting for the rumored mega bonus in early 2012 for Chase.

  19. Great, sensible post. Bragging rights do not contribute to bank accounts.

  20. I am with you on this 100%, while I would love to spend all my time in International first class sipping on Krug, I am more interested in traveling more frequently and saving my hard earned dollars. At this point, its harder for me to get time off work than it is to go somewhere. I could travel to the ends of the earth with miles and points, I just need the time. 🙂

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  22. I was in a position last year needing a last minute ticket that was way out of my price tolerance, so burned miles on a United standard award. I have absolutely no regrets.

    Great post, as always.

  23. After reading all I can for the past 7 months about miles and points, I really like the phrases “do what makes sense for you” or “do what you value the most.” Not everyone has the time or ability to take an F trip around the world and get the most “value” for their points and miles. I wish I did – that would be a dream. In my case I knew I wanted to get back to Asia, where I grew up. I do not have the ability to pay for a complete trip like this out of pocket. With our 200K BA miles, my wife and I can get to Asia for significantly less than one coach ticket across the ocean. That’s affordable for me. I chose business class because I’m 6’ 8” and sitting that long crammed in coach is something I want to avoid.

    Great – we get to Asia, but where do we stay? Hotels can cost a premium in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, and as grad student, I can’t afford that. We don’t need the most luxurious accomodations, so redeeming MR points for HI or CP stays is something I value. Sure I could use my 100K MR bonus points for another premium flight or even two nights at a fancy IC property, but I value staying for free and I can do that for 4 nights at an HI or CP.

    In a couple years, we’ll do this all over again with our AA miles, but this time for my wife’s first trip to Europe. In between, I forsee a couple domestic redemptions to the east coast to visit family.

    I don’t know what my long-term future holds, but I know that by using miles and points for what makes sense to me gets us 2 weeks next year in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore (flights and hotels) for about $1100 out of pocket. I can save $100 a month for a year to cover the travel expense for a trip that I would never have dreamed I’d be taking.

    Deal.

  24. Awesome post! Thank you 🙂

  25. Case in point. I signed up for the Radisson 50,000 point giveaway only to realize there are no Radissons in St. Louis where I live. I found a great rate at the Radisson O’Hare airport for next Tuesday. My preferred carrier, AA wants over $350.00 for the flight or 25,000 miles. But I was just able to score a RT from BA for 9,000 miles. Quite a good return (4 cents or so) per mile.

  26. I just can’t understand anyone redeeming award travel for domestic travel. Period. I can’t think of anything more boring. That’s why I wouldn’t bother with Southwest points.
    Why would anyone want to go *more often* to a place that is boring to begin with? Granny really means that much?
    Ugh–all these “I want to be reunited with my family” comments are too much like a sappy Hallmark movie. Maybe there is a reason all these family obsessed travelers are so cash poor that they need domestic flight redemptions.

  27. Naomi: Wow. Just wow.

  28. +1 … Thank you very much for a very nice post. From another angle, some people wants to travel international when they are young and in good health, and then travel within the US when they are getting older…

  29. I think flying to uncompetitive domestic airports (where the cash fares are very high) is a great use of miles if that’s where you need to go. But if you’re redeeming for domestic roundtrips that would cost under $250 in cash, it’s pretty hard to justify participating in things like USAir Grand Slam. And it doesn’t really make sense to redeem miles to save a little money now if it’s likely you could redeem them to save a lot of money later (on a trip you would take regardless).

  30. I went to the Chicago Do and many said that it would be wise to redeem the BA miles before Avios. I travel alot domestically (have a companion pass with WN). I didn’t redeem any of my 190k BA miles before Avios and am glad that I didn’t. There are very good opportunities for domestic travel now (esp for me, DFW). So many have bashed redeeming miles for domestic travel. Thanks Darius for this post and to Mommy Points for hers, too. I’ve always redeemed how I wanted to. And I always redeem for great value… value to me.

  31. Using miles for domestic travel only makes financial sense when used for obscure pricey routes, or for last-minute redemptions. Otherwise, it is much better to wait for price war sales or just keep an eye on the mileage runners who are always publishing rock bottom prices. Plus, you earn miles on the ticket so that should be factored into the math.

  32. I think the bottom line is that whatever works for each individual is best for that individual. I havent used miles for domestic travel but when I go to Chicago next year, I can assure you I will use BA pts @9K RT. Going from MIA to AUA @ 15K is a steal……………

    • @Darren – Last minute tickets are a great way to save money! I’ve used miles for a standard award as well.

      @thrashsoundly – You bet it is a deal! Thanks for sharing.

      @CU – Glad you liked it.

      @biblioman – 9,000 points for a short flight is a steal. My redemption to Chicago are now 9K instead of 25K and I’ve thrilled!

      @Naomi– Not cash poor, but miles and points rich! I have enough to do both.

      @Nguyen-That’s a very interesting angle to look at it from.

      @Anon256 – You’re right that you have to look at the cost of acquiring the miles, but for some folks it makes more sense to save cash now versus in the future.

      @Jeff C.- The value to you is all that matters.

      @DBest – But sometimes you just don’t have the cash for flights so the choice is either using miles or not traveling.

      @JohnnieD – I’ll be using 9K BA points for next year’s DO as well!

  33. I’m always amazed how willing people are to fly overseas when the taxes alone, even with points, amount to $400+ per ticket. That is most of my entire vacation budget. As a short person who flies infrequently and has limited vacation opportunities (and as a property investor who depends on a strong credit score and cannot apply for every credit card offer that tempts me), I’m much more interested in traveling as much as I can with as little time as possible being spent on an airplane, regardless of the class of service. Even though we have enough miles to fly buisiness class, my wife and I are flying to Paris on the AA off-peak 40k round trip coach + $98 in taxes, Also, we will be using 5000 priority points + $60 to stay at the holiday inn instead of 50,000 points to stay at the Vendome. Then we will be using the rest of our points most likely somewhere in the US or Canada next year, with our kids, with an extra $10 in taxes, still an unbelieveable bargain in my opinion.

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  35. ZZD: If you start a business and start getting business credit cards I believe only your business credit is affected and not your personal credit score.

  36. @Ken, You are correct if one owns property through an LLC or other type of corporation entity. In my case it was better to purchase them directly as a sole proprietorship, so my personal credit is used. Thus I need to sit on my hands every time Dairius makes me salivate with a new 50k offer.

  37. Or so I am led to believe!

  38. Pingback: Redemptions in coach make sense, at least to me! - UnRoadWarrior

  39. Hi there, longtime reader, first time writer. Can you tell me how I go about booking american airlines flights using BA miles, even though they don’t show flight availability online?

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  41. Hi,
    I have 56,000 miles, my husband has 20,xxx miles on his Sapphire card.
    I need to book 2 domestic flights using the miles and 1 ticket cost 39000 miles approximately through Chase mall via United airline.
    I’ve never reserved a flight using miles or through Chase mall and still confused.
    My questions are
    1. Can I combine two account mileage into one so I can buy 2 tickets using the same card? This way I can make sure we both gets the same flight. If I can’t combine, what is the best way to get flight using our mileage?
    If I can transfer, do I get the transfer credit right away? I need to book the flight in a day as the travel date is near.

    2. When I went to United website, the same flight award cost 100,000 miles plus $172.40 fee for 2 tickets. So in this case, it is NOT worth transferring mileage directly to United.com and purchase thru them, right?
    Please help.
    Thank you.