Best Airlines for Holiday Travel Using Travel Rewards

If you’ve been seeing Halloween decorations at the store, you should take this as a sign that the holiday travel season is just around the corner. Pay attention to the expensive flights! If you’re relying on points and miles to cover costs, you may want to consider whether booking award flights for the holidays is the best use of your travel rewards.

In NerdWallet’s annual analysis of airline mile values, holiday flights in December often don’t offer the highest per-mile value, compared to flights booked in either 180 days or 15 days from the date of departure. With flight prices up 43% over the last year, you’ll have to use up a lot more miles to pay for a flight, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data. If you’re a points and miles max, you’ll probably prefer to save your miles for a time of year when you might be able to get more value.

But if the fares are getting too expensive, you can choose to book award flights instead. The best airline for holiday award travel based on its points value is a four-way tie between American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and Frontier Airlines.

Here’s how we got to that conclusion, plus more advice on how to shop for holiday flights at Points.

1.4 cents per mile goal

NerdWallet examined nine major US airlines and analyzed the prices of nearly 600 domestic flights in 2022. In this analysis, holiday flights were defined as departing on 18 December and returning on 29 December. Out of the nine airlines examined, the agreement was signed for four airlines. The highest baseline price for miles spent on holiday flights, which was 1.4 cents per mile. If you fly American, Delta, Frontier or Southwest, you should aim to know about that by dividing the cash value by the number of miles.

For example, a $600 round-trip flight should cost about 42,857 miles (or less, if you can find an even better deal).

Here is a complete list of each airline’s ratings per mile when used for holiday flights.

– Alaska Airlines: 1.2 cents (Non-holiday rating: 1.2 cents).
– American Airlines: 1.4 cents (Non-holiday rating: 1.5 cents).
– Delta Air Lines: 1.4 cents (Non-holiday valuation: 1.5 cents).
– Frontier Airlines: 1.4 cents (non-holiday rating: 0.9 percent)
– Hawaiian Airlines 0.9 percent (non-holiday rating: 1 percent).
— JetBlue Airways: 1.3 cents (non-holiday valuation: 1.5 cents).
— Southwest Airlines: 1.4 cents (Non-holiday valuation: 1.5 cents)
– Spirit Airlines: 0.7 percent (Non-holiday rating: 0.8 percent).
– United Airlines: 1.1 cents (non-holiday valuation: 1.2 cents).

The Frontier presents a unique opportunity among the four front-runners.

For the most part, 1.4 cents is slightly below these airlines’ non-holiday ratings for miles; American, Delta, and Southwest miles usually equate to about 1.5 cents.

Frontier is the exception where it’s smart to redeem your miles during the holidays because the miles are worth more than usual. Frontier’s non-holiday valuation is 0.9 percent. However, this cost only considers the base fare – additional fees for seat selection or baggage may reduce your cost per point.

Avoid using miles when they are 1 st. be worth less than

This is a good rule of thumb at any time, but especially during the holidays. The valuation of less than 1 cent per mile is low, given that you can often redeem credit card points for cash back at the standard rate of 1 cent — and that’s less than travel credit cards that charge you their 1.25 at their rate. Allows to redeem through travel portals. cents or 1.5 cents each.

For vacations, you probably won’t want to book Air or Spirit flights with miles, which cost 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

If you don’t have enough miles

Data from NerdWallet shows that airline miles are usually worth slightly less when you use them to book holiday flights. This means you’ll probably spend more miles on holiday flights than on non-holiday flights. However, there are still some ways you can save on holiday travel.

Book tips for when flights are less expensive.

Most US airlines use dynamic rewards pricing, so if the cash value is low, the number of miles required to book will also be low. According to data from Google Flights, the average price of flights around Christmas usually drops from 20 to 88 days before departure.

transfer miles from credit card

The two airlines with the most valuable miles around the holidays are credit card transfer partners. If you have a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer your credit card points to Southwest. Cardholders who earn American Express Membership Rewards can transfer to Delta. These can be good options if booking with airline miles offers a better value than booking in a credit card issuer’s travel portal.

combine points and miles

This option will take a little more math to make sure you’re getting the best deal, but some airlines, such as Delta, allow you to book with cash and miles if you have enough to cover the full cost. Miles is not. Even if you’re not flying with Delta, consider other ways to unbundle your trip such as paying cash for a one-way flight and paying miles to return.

The value of your points and miles will depend on your redemption. Do the math and aim to get 1 cent to 1.4 cents per mile. If the price is less than that, pay cash for your holiday flight and save your miles for a month other than December.

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