How to Use Credit Card Points to Get a Better Deal Than Using Miles

If you’re willing to fly in economy class, it is possible to get better fares using points to book travel than it is to use your points to transfer to a mileage program.

In this post, I’ll highlight the strategy I use for finding the lowest possible fare when redeeming points.

How to Find the Lowest Possible Fares for Travel

1.  Subscribe to the Flight Deal newsletter.  

Each day, Flight Deal will send out a ‘mileage run’ worthy flight.  These are typically very low price flights from various cities across the US.

Instead of watching fare trends, you can just subscribe to this newsletter.  Now, when there is a good deal that you’re interested in, you can head over to ITA Matrix to get a clear idea of the best dates for your travel.

2.  Use ITA Matrix to find your best fares.

There’s a lot of good guides on using ITA Matrix, so I won’t repeat it all here.

See: How to Search Cheap Airfare with ITA Matrix

As an example, using ITA Matrix I was able to find flights from Chicago to Istanbul, Turkey for $525.

3.  Instead of paying the cash price, use you points.

After I’ve gathered the data from ITA Matrix and I know what cities and dates to search, I try to maximize the flights with a points based programs.

Points Options for travel savings:

a.  Ultimate Rewards = 25% discount

b.  Membership Rewards (Platinum card holders) = 20% discount

c.  ThankYou Rewards (Premier card holders) = 33% discount

As an example, when I head over to Ultimate Rewards, I can find flights for $393.75 or 39,375 points.  The benefit is that you’ll still be eligible to earn the 10,981 miles flown.

There’s not many cheaper ways to use miles to get to Europe.

How does 39,375 points compare to mileage based programs?

Off-peak you can use US Airways to fly to Europe for 30,000 miles (if you have the US Airways credit card).  Off-peak you can use American AAdvantage miles to fly to Europe for 40,000 miles.  A typical economy class ticket will otherwise cost 60,000.

There are benefits of using miles:

  1. You can depart from any city in the US.  In the case above, the fare is only available from Chicago.  That’s great for people who live in Chicago, but for the rest of us, we’ll also need to pay to get to Chicago.
  2. Better cancellation policy.  While you will pay a fee to cancel a milage based flight, it is almost certain to be less than a low fare revenue ticket.
  3. Flexibility with miles. With miles you can typically have an open jaw and even possibly a free stop over.  Of course, if you want to add on a free trip to Hawaii, that would definitely increase the value of your miles.


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