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According to a recent CNBC article, only 52% of travelers fully understand how to redeem miles from airline loyalty programs.
I completely understand why folks give up on this hobby (or never get started). Because it can seem overwhelming with so many different airline award charts, credit cards, and frequent flyer programs.
But with little effort, there’s a simple way to save money on airfare. The trick is to collect airline miles or credit card points you can use with no blackout dates.
When it’s simple to use the rewards you earn, you’ll avoid lots of frustration and have the flexibility to travel when you want! This is an especially useful strategy if you’re flying during peak travel dates (like holidays).
5 Best Credit Card & Frequent Flyer Programs to Avoid Blackout Dates!
The best miles or points to collect to save money on flights will depend on your departure city and airline preferences. JetBlue points are great because the airline has no blackout dates for award flights. But if JetBlue doesn’t have many flights from your home airport, collecting their points might not be best for your personal situation.
That said, when you collect miles or points with these 5 programs, you’re essentially guaranteed to save money on airfare. Because you can use the miles or points to book airfare without worrying about blackout dates!
1. Capital One
|Card Name||Sign-Up Bonus|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||50,000 Capital One Venture miles (worth $500 in travel) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business||50,000 Capital One Spark miles (worth $500 in travel) after you spend $4,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
You can just pay for airfare (or other types of travel) with your Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business cards. Then, you can “erase” the charge by redeeming your miles.
Capital One miles are worth 1 cent each. This means 50,000 miles can save you $500 off flight costs!
I like that these cards have NO minimum redemption increment when redeeming miles, unless you’re using miles to partially pay for a travel purchase. In that case, the minimum is 2,500 miles ($25).
Even though Capital One miles are valuable, I typically recommend getting Chase cards first if you’re a beginner. Because Chase makes it harder to earn their valuable new cardmember sign-up bonuses if you get lots of cards with other banks first.
2. Chase Ultimate Rewards
|Card Name||Sign-Up Bonus|
|Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card||80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth $800 in cash back or $1,000 in travel) after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth $500 in cash back or $625 in travel) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth $500 in cash back or $750 in travel) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
Chase Ultimate Rewards is my favorite flexible rewards program. You usually get the most value for your Chase points by transferring them directly to airline and hotel partners to book award travel. But you also have the option to book airfare (plus hotels and rental cars) through the Chase travel portal.
Plus, when you book through the travel portal, you can use a combination of points and cash. So if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire flight cost, you can still redeem the points you have to save money.
Keep in mind, when you use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book travel through Chase, your points are worth different rates depending on which card they’re tied to. Here’s a handy chart as a reference:
|Chase Ultimate Rewards Card||How Much Are Points Worth Toward Travel?|
|Chase Freedom||1 cent|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1 cent|
|Chase Sapphire (no longer available)||1 cent|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||1.25 cents|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||1.5 cents|
|Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card||1 cent|
|Chase Ink Bold (no longer available)||1.25 cents|
|Chase Ink Plus (no longer available)||1.25 cents|
|Chase Ink Business Preferred||1.25 cents|
If you have more than one of these cards, your points will be worth more when you move them to the card account with the highest redemption rate!
For example, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can move points from other cards to their Sapphire Reserve account to make all points worth 1.5 cents each.
Remember, there are 4 low-cost airlines that do NOT show up on Chase’s travel portal: Southwest, Norwegian Air, Allegiant, and Gol. But you can still use points to book flights on these airlines by calling the Chase travel center at 866-951-6592.
3. Citi ThankYou
|Card Name||Sign-Up Bonus|
|Citi ThankYou® Premier Card||60,000 ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Citi Prestige® Card||Currently, no sign-up bonus|
Citi has a travel portal similar to Chase. So it’s easy to redeem Citi ThankYou points for airfare.
Folks with the Citi ThankYou Premier Card or Citi Prestige Card get 1.25 cents per point toward airfare when booking through the Citi travel portal. So a $100 flight costs 8,000 Citi ThankYou points ($100 flight / 1.25 cents per point).
Million Mile Secrets team member Scott used Citi ThankYou points to save $900 on Finnair airfare by booking through the Citi travel portal. He really liked how using points this way gave him the flexibility to travel when he wanted.
You can use a combination of points and cash when booking through the Citi travel portal. So if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire flight cost, you can still redeem the points you have to save money.
JetBlue has no blackout dates! As long as a seat is for sale, you can book using points. JetBlue points are worth ~1.4 cents each, so 10,000 JetBlue points can get you ~$140 worth of flights (10,000 points x 1.4 cents). And JetBlue is an AMEX Membership Rewards airline transfer partner!
Million Mile Secrets team member Keith recently redeemed JetBlue points for upcoming holiday travel to New York City. Redeeming points this way saved him ~$500. And it was incredibly easy to book an award flight, unlike other airlines with nearly no available award seats during peak travel dates.
Keep in mind, you must have enough JetBlue points to cover the entire fare. During a fare sale, you can book one-way JetBlue flights for as little as 2,600 JetBlue points!
|Card Name||Sign-Up Bonus|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card||40,000 Southwest points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card||60,000 Southwest points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card||40,000 Southwest points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card||40,000 Southwest points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
Many readers (and Million Mile Secrets team members) love Southwest because:
- There are no blackout dates on award flights
- Award flight prices are based on the cash cost of the flight
- You get 2 free checked bags on every flight
- You don’t pay change or cancel fees on paid or award flights
They also have the best deal in travel – the Southwest Companion Pass.
To book Southwest flights with points, you’ll pay 70 to 80 points per $1 of the base fare. So a $100 base fare requires 7,000 to 8,000 Southwest points. You can really stretch your Southwest points if you book during a fare sale.
If you haven’t had success saving money with miles & points, you might not be earning rewards with the right program.
It’s basically guaranteed you can save money if you collect miles or points with any of these 5 programs:
- Capital One
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi ThankYou
Because you can use these rewards to book airfare without blackout dates! This is ideal for folks who are not as flexible with travel dates or don’t want to bother with transferring points to airline partners.