The Secret to Getting Free Flights AND Frequent Flyer Miles

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Are you tired of collecting the miles you need for a flight only to not be able to find an open award seat?

When you pay for flights with bank points (or cash back) you can book almost any flight with no blackout dates.  And you will earn frequent flyer miles, and elite status credit.

When you pay for flights with bank points you’ll still earn frequent flyer miles. (Photo by 06photo/Shutterstock)

Million Mile Secrets reader Tom asked:

I want to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal or the AMEX Membership Rewards travel center to buy American Airlines flights with points.  Will I earn American Airlines miles AND move toward loyalty status like a cash buyer?

You will, Tom!

Lots of folks want to double-dip with free flights while earning elite status credit.  There are plenty of credit card points you can use to pay for flights with points.

I’ll explain your options!

Pay for Flights With Points

When you pay for flights with bank points, it works a lot like cash back.  Except you’ll often get a better redemption rate.  This is a great option if you can’t find award seats because there are no blackout dates when you pay with points.

All of the major transferable points programs have a pay with points option.  And many non-transferable points have one as well.  But depending on the flight, paying with points isn’t always the best deal!

1.   Chase Ultimate Rewards

You can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for flights through the Chase travel portal.  What your points are worth depends on which Chase credit card you have.

You can redeem points towards flights at a rate of:

  • 1 cent per point with the Chase Freedom®, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card & Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
  • 1.25 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card & Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
  • 1.5 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card

The information for Chase Freedom has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

This where it gets tricky. Cheaper flights will require fewer points if you book through Chase. But for more expensive flights, you’ll likely be better off transferring to an airline for an award.

For example, both American Airlines and United Airlines charge 12,500 miles for a one-way saver-level award from Chicago to Miami. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Business Preferred you could redeem points for the same flights at almost half what it would cost for the award flight!

The Secret To Getting Free Flights AND Frequent Flyer Miles
You Can Save Points on Cheap Flights by Paying With Points

If you’re looking to book a more expensive flight, then you’d be better off transferring points to book your flights unless you can’t find an award seat.  Or if you’re close to earning elite status with an airline, you might want to pay with points.

Always run the numbers and do what is best for your situation!

2.    AMEX Membership Rewards

You can redeem AMEX Membership Rewards points for 1 cent per point towards airfare.  You’ll need at least 5,000 points to make a redemption through the AMEX travel site.

AMEX Membership Rewards has lots of great transfer partners that can get you Big Travel with Small Money.  So redeeming AMEX Membership Rewards points at a rate of 1 cent per point is usually NOT your best option, because there are so many other less valuable points that offer the same 1 cent per point value.

Did you know that if you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express card you will receive a 35% rebate on points redeemed for certain airfare (up to 500,000 in points back per calendar year)?

3. Citi ThankYou Points

You can use any amount of points to book your flights at 1.25 cents per point through the ThankYou Travel Center when you have:

  • Citi Prestige® Card (after September 1, 2019, ThankYou points associated with a Citi Prestige card will only be worth 1 cent each toward airfare)
  • Citi Premier® Card

Paying for airfare with Citi ThankYou points is can be a good deal on cheaper flights. Usually, domestic round-trip awards cost 25,000 miles. So if the price of your flight is less than ~$312 you can book it with fewer points if you pay with your Citi ThankYou points directly (~$312 / 1.25 cents = 25,000 points).

Domestic round-trip Business Class seats are usually 50,000 miles, and can cost $1,000+.  But redeeming 50,000 points at 1.25 cents per point would only get you $625 worth of airfare (50,000 X 1.25 cents = $625).  So for expensive Business Class or First Class flights it’s usually better to transfer your points to an airline and book an award.

The information for the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

4. Paying With Other Bank Points

I prefer to use my valuable flexible points with their transfer partners.  So whenever possible I would pay with these other credit card points first, because they have a set value and you can NOT transfer them to airlines for award flights.

  • US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card points are worth 1.5 cents per point towards travel expenses

Bottom Line

Folks love getting free flights with points and miles.  But when you book award tickets with airline miles, you will NOT earn frequent flyer miles or status with the airline.

However, many banks offer the option to pay for your flights with points or cash back. When you do this, you can get a free flight AND earn frequent flyer miles at the same time!

Each bank has different values for redeeming their points, and there are certain situations where paying with points is NOT the best option. this is often the case with more expensive flights.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Million Mile Secrets features a team of points and miles experts who have traveled to over 80 countries and have used 60+ credit cards responsibly to accumulate loyalty points and travel the world on the cheap! The Million Mile Secrets team has been featured on The Points Guy, TIME, Yahoo Finance and many other leading points & miles media outlets.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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