Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mile Reward Generosity Online - Summer & Fall 2014

Not all miles are created equal, and reward prices have seen dramatic
changes this  year, with nearly every major airline in the U.S. raising
the prices of many rewards.

About 90% of rewards are booked online according to our recent survey
of over 1,600 frequent flyer program members, so with the new award
prices in place, what are U.S. airline mile programs really charging for
awards online and how often are they making seats available at their
lowest advertised prices for reward travel for this Summer and the rest
of 2014? We regularly query reward availability online, and here’s a

Award Mile Availability

Mainland U.S. / Canada

Average Reward Price (Miles)

  • American: 37,696
  • Delta: 32,669
  • JetBlue: 23,065
  • Southwest: 20,969
  • United: 34,470
  • Typical airfare: $317
% of Days at Lowest Price Level

  • American: 55% (25,000)
  • Delta: 48% (25,000)
  • JetBlue: N/A
  • Southwest: N/A
  • United: 62% (20-25,000)
Cheapest Day

  • American: Tuesday (32,116)
  • Delta: Tuesday (28,463)
  • JetBlue: Tuesday (20,867)
  • Southwest: Wednesday (19,132)
  • United: Tuesday (30,898)
Most Expensive Day (% vs cheapest)

  • American: Sunday (45,692), +42%
  • Delta: Sunday (36,932), +30%
  • JetBlue: Sunday (26,115), +25%
  • Southwest: Sunday (23,221), +30%
  • United: Sunday (39,779), +29%


Average Reward Price (Miles)

  • American: 82,246
  • Delta: 65,463
  • United: 69,941
  • Typical airfare: $874
% of Days at Lowest Price Level

  • American: 20% (35-45,000)
  • Delta: 1% (45,000)
  • United: 37% (45,000)
Cheapest Day

  • American: Wednesday (73,031)
  • Delta: Tuesday (64,738)
  • United: Tuesday (68,653)
Most Expensive Day (% vs cheapest)

  • American: Saturday (101,625), +39%
  • Delta: Saturday (66,962), +3%
  • United: Saturday (78,459), +14%


Average Reward Price (Miles)

  • American: 77,049
  • Delta: 82,387
  • United: 84,797
  • Typical airfare: $1,125
% of Days at Lowest Price level 

  • American: 61% (40-60,000)
  • Delta: 34% (60,000)
  • United: 59% (60,000)
Cheapest Day 

  • American: Tuesday (63,066)
  • Delta: Tuesday (78,891)
  • United: Tuesday (76,634)
Most Expensive Day (% vs cheapest)

  • American: Friday (93,897), +49%
  • Delta: Saturday (86,438), +10%
  • United: Saturday (91,691), +20%


Average Reward Price (Miles)

  • American: 56,068
  • Delta: 56,660
  • JetBlue: 32,679
  • United: 52,693
  • Typical airfare: $572
% of Days at Lowest Price Level

  • American: 39% (25-35,000)
  • Delta: 9% (35,000)
  • JetBlue: N/A
  • United: 49% (35,000)
Cheapest Day

  • American: Tuesday (46,579)
  • Delta: Tuesday (54,931)
  • JetBlue: Tuesday (28,387)
  • United: Wednesday (47,917)
Most Expensive Day (% vs cheapest)

  • American: Sunday (69,630), +49%
  • Delta: Sunday (60,207), +10%
  • JetBlue: Sunday (26,115), +35%
  • United: Sunday (55,671), +17%


Average Reward Price (Miles)

  • American: 113,776
  • Delta: 125,277
  • United: 104,470
  • Typical airfare: $1,343
% of Days at Lowest Price Level

  • American: 46% (50-90,000)
  • Delta: 10% (70-85,000)
  • United: 64% (70-85,000)
Cheapest Day

  • American: Wednesday (103,437)
  • Delta: Tuesday (122,089)
  • United: Tuesday (95,318)
Most Expensive Day (% vs cheapest)

  • American: Friday (124,954), +21%
  • Delta: Saturday (126,736), +4%
  • United: Sunday (110,897), +16%

South America

Average Reward Price (Miles)

  • American: 92,616
  • Delta: 87,275
  • United: 89,645
  • Typical airfare: $1,148
% of Days at Lowest Price Level

  • American: 31%
  • Delta: 4%
  • United: 36%
Cheapest Day

  • American: Wednesday (81,603)
  • Delta: Tuesday (85,046)
  • United: Tuesday (82,033)
Most Expensive Day (% vs cheapest)

  • American: Friday (106,339), +30%
  • Delta: Saturday (90,679), +3%
  • United: Saturday (95,739), +16%


Average Reward Price (Miles)

  • American: 75,000
  • Delta: 133,025
  • United: 149,023
  • Typical airfare: $1,912
% of Days at Lowest Price Level

  • American: 42%
  • Delta: 33%
  • United: 23%
Cheapest Day

  • American: N/A (all flights one price on partner airline)
  • Delta: Tuesday, 127,075
  • United: Tuesday, 126,238
Most Expensive Day (% vs cheapest)

  • American: N/A (all flights one price on partner airline)
  • Delta: Thursday, 138,154, +9%
  • United: Friday, 154,423, +22%

When is the worst day to use miles?

You will pay up on Sunday within the U.S. About 70%
of reward travel takes place within the mainland U.S. and for travel
here Sunday is the most expensive day of the week by far on American,
Delta, United, and US Airways, with reward flights costing 34% more on
average than the cheapest day of the week, Tuesday. It’s already an
in-demand day for airfare, with business travelers looking to get a head
start on the week, while leisure travelers and people using miles are
keen to maximize their weekend and avoid taking Monday off from work.
American charges the highest premium, thanks to its new award pricing
which added a 5th top price tier which is often in effect on Sundays.
Beach destinations in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean are
also tough on Sundays, with short flights  making returning on Sundays
popular to maximize weekends.

You will pay up on Friday or Saturday for many other regions.
When overnight flights are involved, business travelers tend to travel
on Sunday or Friday to get settled in a new location before the week
starts, and that makes Fridays and Saturdays particularly competitive if
you’re trying to use miles to Europe or Asia. Even Hawaii is
challenging on Saturday because people like to maximize vacation time
and minimize taking days off work. That means leaving on Saturday during
the day. And when returning many flights are overnight red-eyes, which
means departing late Saturday is the primary option for getting back
home before Monday morning.

worst best day use miles

Tips for getting the lowest reward prices

If you’re pressed for time and not able to make your schedule work
around the very best deals, there are still ways to make miles work for
you. You can read our get started guide for quick recommendations, in addition to these tips:

Earn transferable points. Not relying on a single
mileage program is the best way to improve your award flight chances.
The easiest way to do that is to earn points you can transfer to
multiple airline programs. For example Chase Ultimate Rewards points
can transfer to your United and Southwest mileage accounts among
others. American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest
are other large transferable points programs.

You can compare and rank dozens of cards using our CardFinder tool, where you can input your spending habits and where you want to fly.

Pick up the phone – especially with American / US Airways.
 While American generally fared well versus United and Delta in web
searches, it comes despite the handicap of having the biggest gaps in
partner options online, not displaying major partners like Cathay
Pacific, Japan Airlines, Iberia, and LAN on its website. US Airways
displays none. Instead, those flights must be requested and booked over
the phone. That means actual awards available to American AAdvantage
members are more generous than the results above indicate, particularly
to Asia and South America. Results within the U.S. and Mexico /
Caribbean / Central America are not influenced by this issue.

Unfortunately American does not prominently disclose that these
partners are missing during the process of searching for an award,
meaning many members pay more than they need to on American’s own
flights, thinking the website represents all available options. And
phone agents can often overlook options, particularly if you are still
dealing with US Airways miles, so spot checking availability on other
websites like or with a user account can be helpful. You can learn more about finding partner options on other sites here.

Avoid travel on Sundays. This is a prime day for
business travelers getting a running start on their week, and airlines
hold back the cheapest mileage seats as a result. While deals can be
found if you look hard enough, you’re least likely to find a good
mileage deal on a Sunday, particularly with American AAdvantage which
recently introduced 5 levels of award prices.

Try earning with a smaller program. Alaska
Airlines MileagePlan miles can be more rewarding to you even if you
never step on an Alaska flight. Thanks to partnerships with American and
Delta you can earn and use miles on both American and Delta flights, as
well as many international partner airlines.

All reward seats available at the lowest mileage prices on American
and Delta flights are available to Alaska MileagePlan members. This will
give you the kind of flexibility you can enjoy from transferable
points. A caveat is you can only fly one partner each direction of an
award, so for example you can’t fly American Airlines to connect to a
Delta flight.

Consider a ‘double miles card.’ If you are simply
traveling within the U.S. and earn few miles from actual flying, a basic
‘double miles’ card that can be used to buy tickets on any airline may
be a better value than airline miles. Travelers who are very flexible or
who want an ‘emergency fund’ for last minute expensive fares can find
better deals with airline miles. But those who aren’t flexible, plan
ahead, and don’t fly to expensive destinations will generally find
better value in cash for travel options, which avoid airline prices
which can result in 1 cent or less per mile in value.

Regional results

Mainland U.S. / Canada. If your only goal is simple
domestic travel and you plan ahead, consider a program like Southwest
that bases the price of awards on the cash price of tickets, rather than
a fixed award chart. You’ll generally pay fewer miles, and you can
often earn miles just as quickly if you primarily earn on the ground via
card spending and other options.

The big global programs like American, Delta, and United offer
lucrative international awards appealing to their most frequent fliers
so they can get away with less attractive pricing for domestic rewards.
United is the most generous among the global carriers for domestic
flights, making entry level reward seats available 62% of the time.

‘Double miles’ cards
that let you buy a ticket on any airline and earn miles from spending
at a 2%+ cash back rate also tend to provide better value than the
global carriers for many domestic flights.

The strength of global carriers lies in sometimes reasonable reward
prices for last-minute tickets, which can be very expensive when paid in
cash and the flexibility to use miles for expensive international
flights. You can’t do that with ‘double miles’ points from a bank or
Southwest miles.

More savvy point earners may find good value in smaller programs like
British Airways Avios which allows redemption on American, Alaska, and
US Airways for as few as 9,000 points round-trip,
though with more expensive pricing for connecting flights. Alaska
Airlines is also a good compromise with the ability to earn and use
miles on both American and Delta.

Hawaii. This is a challenging destination to use the most popular mile programs, as prices reflect high demand for rewards.

While United tends to make the most seats available for the lowest
priced awards, American AAdvantage members have the option of using
Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines flights which often have generous

However most of these flights operate from non-hub West Coast cities,
and finding a combination of connecting flights with availability at
the lowest mileage level can be challenging if you are not living on the
West Coast. Delta keeps its average prices reasonable despite almost no
availability at its lowest mileage prices by offering the vast majority
of its flights at its mid-tier mileage level of 65,000 miles.

British Airways Avios also offers access to Alaska Airlines and
American Airlines flights from the West Coast for 25,000 miles
roundtrip. Chalk this up as another win for Chase Ultimate Rewards
points, which transfer to British Airways in addition to Southwest and
United, and also give you the option to fly Hawaiian Airlines flights with good availability for 30,000 miles.

Mexico / Caribbean. Flights to Mexico and Central
America are most  accessible with United MileagePlus thanks to an
extensive network of its own and partners Copa Airlines and Avianca /
Taca with good reward seat availability.

Caribbean flights are tough rewards in general, but American / US
Airways and United are least challenging if you are looking for rewards
at the lowest advertised prices.

Later this year Southwest will become a stronger option to the
Caribbean as its program is fully merged with AirTran, letting you take
advantage of flights to the most popular destinations at attractive
prices with few restrictions. We’d start saving there.

Europe. While American and its partners have the
most seats at the lowest advertised mileage price, they come with a
catch: taxes and fuel surcharges that amount to about $700 on Trans
Atlantic flights using American’s biggest partner, British Airways.

So we recommend Economy Class reward seekers to focus on United
MileagePlus as a first choice for travel to Europe, with similar overall
availability at its entry level 60,000 mile level thanks to partners
Lufthansa and Air Canada, but with no fuel surcharges.

Alaska Airlines also has excellent availability thanks to access to
American, British Airways, Delta, and Air France / KLM, with better
access to Air France than its SkyTeam partner Delta.

Alaska miles have some caveats though. They are more difficult to
earn for the half of consumers who earn more miles on the ground than
air, and you can only fly one partner airline each direction of an award
(other airlines let you mix partners). But if you’re a frequent
American or Delta flyer you may want to consider banking to Alaska to
take advantage of its wider partner network for using miles.

Asia. American and United are both strong options to
Asia and offer you good value. While not prominently disclosed when
using American’s website to book, AAdvantage members also have access to
Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific flights to North and Southeast Asia
using AAdvantage miles by calling in, which means the results above
would score closer to United. They also have access to Central Asia via
Qatar Airways, Etihad, and Royal Jordanian airlines not available on the
American Airlines website. US Airways members have the same options.

For members who want to stick to online booking, United and its
partners have generous availability to most of Asia. However a major
partner, Singapore Airlines, is not available for online booking.

South America. United MileagePlus is a strong option
to popular northern South America destinations like Colombia and Peru,
thanks to its partners Avianca and Copa Airlines.

For Southern South America, all of the U.S. carriers are challenging, though we recommend considering American AAdvantage miles due to AAdvantage’s partnership with TAM Airlines to Brazil and LAN to Chile.

LAN and TAM flights are not available online and must be booked over
the phone. Delta’s partner Aerolineas Argentinas offers service to the
United States that may be an option for members for 60,000 miles
roundtrip, but also must be booked over the phone.

Australia. With Australia’s flag carrier part of
American’s One World alliance, AAdvantage miles (and until the merger is
complete, US Airways Dividend Miles) are the most reliable for Economy
Class travel to Australia. Delta is also a strong contender if you are
able to get to Los Angeles, where partner Virgin Australia has good
availability of reward seats, but Delta’s 100,000 mile entry level price
is the highest of the major programs.


  • looked at award data for 5 U.S. frequent flier
    programs, which cover about 90% of U.S. airline mile program membership
    (American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, United MileagePlus, Southwest
    Rapid Rewards, and JetBlue TruBlue. Searches via AAdvantage covered US
    Airways flights, with award charts recently re calibrated, though select
    US Airways rewards remain priced differently during the merger
  • 7 major award regions were examined, representing over 97% of
    desired award travel according to a recent survey of 1,600 program
  • Data was collected from airline websites for a pair of travelers
    with partner options included. Reward calendars were not relied upon;
    several hundred thousand route / date pair queries were made.
  • Airfare data represents the average of lowest available airfares on
    the days in the study for 7 day roundtrips. Southwest fares are not
    included in third party distribution systems, and are thus not part of
    the airfare averages.
  • Identical origin / destination pairs were used for all airlines when
    possible. Southwest and JetBlue do not serve all destinations served by
    the global airlines, and a subset was used for their results.
  • Airports covered represent approximately 50% of U.S. airline
    passenger traffic, and for non-U.S. destinations they include gateways
    to countries that represent over 50% of travel to the 7 major award
    regions chosen.
  • Averages factor multiple award price subregions within regions such as Asia and South America.
  • Availability not shown on host airline websites is not included in
    this data in the interest of replicating the experience of typical
    consumers and promoting better transparency on airline websites.
  • Data covers April 15, 2014 – December 31, 2014, and the lowest priced option on each day was chosen.
  • Data reflects new pricing imposed by American and Southwest as well
    as the exit of US Airways from Star Alliance and entry into OneWorld,
    with availability reflected in American AAdvantage searches.

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