Whether you have an airline credit card or a general travel card, you can use your hard-earned points or miles to book award tickets. How many miles for a free flight, however, depends on the type of credit card you have and whether your card offers bonus value on travel redemptions.
How to Get Free Plane Tickets With Your Credit Card
Many credit card rewards programs allow you to use your points or miles for a variety of redemptions, including booking free airline tickets. If you have a card that offers this option, you may have one or more ways you can do it.
Book directly with a card. With some general travel credit cards, you simply use your card to book the flight you want. Then you can use your points or miles to get a statement credit against the purchase.
This option gives you flexibility to pick the right flight for you based on cost and any other preferences. Also, you can earn miles from the rewards program of the airline you choose.
However, you’ll typically only get 1 cent per point or mile with this option, limiting the value compared with other options.
Book using an issuer travel portal. Some card issuers have their own travel portal that allows you to use your credit card points or miles to book a flight, so you don’t need to pay out of pocket first.
If you book this way, you’ll typically be able to compare prices among several airlines. But your points may have a set value, typically between 1 and 1.5 cents apiece, depending on which card you have.
Transfer points to an airline program. A handful of credit card rewards programs allow you to transfer your points to an airline partner and book directly with the airline.
With this option, you can compare how many miles you need for a free flight through multiple programs, although doing so will require more legwork because you’ll need to compare itineraries from each program.
“Some cards allow you the option to send your points to over a dozen travel partners,” says Jon Nickel-D’Andrea, blogger at No Mas Coach, a resource for flying first class. “If one airline is sold out, it’s possible that another one of their partners will have space.”
If you’re redeeming your credit card points this way, Lee Huffman, author of travel website Bald Thoughts, recommends being as flexible as possible.
“If your schedule allows, be open to flying out of alternative airports or moving your travel days forward or back a couple of days,” he says. “Being flexible is the key to getting huge savings when booking flights.”
How Many Points Do You Need for a Roundtrip Flight?
If you’re interested in learning how to get free plane tickets with your credit card rewards, here’s what to expect from each of the major credit card rewards programs, based on U.S. News research.
American Express Membership Rewards. The Membership Rewards program allows you to book flights directly through AmEx or by transferring your rewards to one of the card issuer’s airline partners.
If you book through AmEx, your points are worth 1 cent apiece on travel redemptions. That means if a flight costs $500, you’ll need 50,000 points to book.
The only exception is if you have The Business Platinum Card from American Express, which gives you 35% of your points back when you use them to book a first- or business-class ticket on any airline or any cabin with an airline of your choice. With this arrangement, your points are worth 1.54 cents apiece.
You can also transfer points to several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, mostly at a 1-to-1 ratio. Based on U.S. News research, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles are worth 5.29 cents apiece on average.
Capital One Miles. If you have a Capital One travel credit card, you can use your rewards to book flights in any of the three possible ways.
If you book through Capital One or use your card to book and redeem rewards as a statement credit, each mile is worth 1 cent each. So if the cash price of the fare is $250, you’d need 25,000 miles to book.
Alternatively, you can transfer your miles to one of the card issuer’s airline partners at a 2-to-1.5 or 2-to-1 ratio, depending on the airline. For example, you could transfer 25,000 Capital One miles to 12,500 JetBlue points, which are worth 1.22 cents apiece, based on U.S. News research. While that’s more than what you’d get booking through Capital One, you lose value in the transfer, trading $250 in miles for $152.50 in points.
Other airlines may provide more value, but you’ll want to run the numbers to make sure you come out ahead with a transfer.
[Read: Best Airline Credit Cards.]
Chase Ultimate Rewards. Chase allows you to book flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform, regardless of which card you have that earns the bank’s proprietary rewards points.
With most cards, you’ll get 1 cent per point in value. But if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you’ll get 1.25 cents per point on flights and other travel booked through Chase. And if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each.
If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, a $1,000 flight would only require 66,667 points. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you’d need 80,000 points.
If you have one of these three cards, you can also transfer your points to one of Chase’s airline or hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio. For example, United Airlines MileagePlus miles are worth 1.69 cents each on average, giving you the chance to get more value than if you were to book through Chase. Domestic flights on United start at 20,000 miles roundtrip.
Citi ThankYou Rewards. If you have a card that earns ThankYou Rewards, you’ll typically get 1 cent per point when booking a flight. That means a $750 flight would cost 75,000 points. If you have the Citi Premier Card, however, you’ll get 25% more value when using points to book flights, so a $750 flight would cost you 60,000 points.
If you want to maximize the value of your points, you can transfer them to one of many airlines at a 1:1 ratio, though JetBlue offers a 1-to-0.8 ratio if you don’t have one of the bank’s travel credit cards.
Each airline partner has its own minimum for how many points you need to book a flight. Depending on how you redeem your points, you could get more than the standard 1 or 1.25 cents per point for them.
[Read: Best Hotel Credit Cards.]
How to Make the Most of Your Credit Card Points With Free Flights
Your credit card may have one or more ways you can use your rewards to book award tickets. Some rewards programs may require different amounts of points to book free flights based on your choices.
If you have a general travel card with a flat redemption value, such as 1 cent per point, the number of points required is tied to the cash price of the fare.
But if you can transfer your rewards to other frequent flyer programs, the points you need may depend on several factors.
“Flexible points cards are great because you have options when booking your flight,” Huffman says. “Sometimes one airline may charge a higher price than another for the same or similar ticket. In that situation, transferring to another airline is a better choice.”
To make the most of your credit card points, consider a rewards program that offers transfer partners. When you’re ready to book a flight, calculate sample bookings with the card issuer and some of its partner airlines to see how many points you need. Then compare them and choose the one with the lowest point total.
It’s especially important to go through this process if you’re traveling internationally. While the credit cards remind you that you can get $500 for your points, says Nickel-D’Andrea, your 50,000 points, when transferred to a partner, may be enough to get you from the United States to Asia or Europe in business class, a journey arguably worth more than double or triple that amount.
This process can take time, but the more points you can save, the faster you’ll be able to take your next trip.
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How Many Credit Card Miles Do I Need to Book a Free Flight? originally appeared on usnews.com