This industry is primarily focused on aspirational type of travel. To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with redeeming miles and points only on fancy hotels/first-class seats, or chasing after showers in the sky. If that’s your thing, who am I to judge?
Few years ago I’ve encouraged my in-laws to splurge on upfront seats for their Boston-Dublin flight. The cost was an extra 12,500 Avios compared to economy redemption (it’s more now), so it made sense, at least in my opinion.
RIP Avios business-class deal of the century
I also recently splurged on business seats from Tahiti to New Zealand, since the upcharge on the 6-hour flight was 15,000 extra miles per person. The deal was irresistible even for a cheapskate like myself.
That said, for many families, especially those who are just starting out in this hobby, redeeming miles on business seats is simply not an option. It’s all they can do to just get enough points for economy tickets. Well, the good news is, finding four seats on the same flight in coach is way easier than in business. So, here are a few things you should be aware of:
1) If you like to keep it simple, Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue programs will probably be your best bet.
With Southwest you don’t have to worry about award availability, bags fly free, and you can cancel and redeposit your points with no penalty. It doesn’t get much better than that when it comes to family travel! Southwest also has some very good deals, especially if you book early.
They operate flights to Caribbean and Mexico (and soon Hawaii), though coverage isn’t as extensive as that of legacy airlines. I’ve written about Southwest before here and here You can currently get approximately 1.4 cents per point on Wanna Get Away fares, sometimes more.
You might also want to investigate Jet Blue program which is very similar to Southwest model. Coverage isn’t as good, but they have a decent presence in Caribbean. The value you get per point varies between 1.1 and 1.8 cents, depending on the route.
Southwest Rapid Rewards points transfer 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Jet Blue points transfer 250:200 from Citi Thank You program and Amex Membership Rewards. MR program occasionally has transfer bonuses.
2) Don’t automatically dismiss Spirit program due to bad publicity.
Folks in the miles and points hobby LOVE to hate on Spirit. Honestly, some of it is well deserved. They have a reputation for occasionally canceling flights and stranding passengers overnight, charging for everything under the sun, and the list goes on.
Still, there is plenty of value to be had as long as you learn the rules of the game and get their co-branded credit card. See my comparison between Southwest Rapid Rewards and Free Spirit.
Spirit is an excellent program for off-season getaways due to 2,500 miles pricing one-way. That’s what my cousin-in-law paid to fly to St. Thomas from Fort Lauderdale. Spirit has just announced a huge expansion from Orlando, which is big news for folks like myself.
My advice is to stick to non-stop flights to avoid potential issues, and get travel insurance that offers trip delay benefit. Think about it. Spirit is staying in business somehow and is quite profitable. If every single passenger had something horrible happen to them, surely there would be a negative impact on their bottom line. I flew Spirit last year and had zero issues.
3) Consider traditional airline programs that have cheap (ish) fixed redemption options.
Obviously, when you are looking to redeem miles for a family of 4 (or more), you need to find a way to stretch your stash. The biggest player in this niche market is Avios (British Airways) program. Some of their redemptions are downright horrible, and come with huge fuel surcharges. There are few exceptions, though.
For a family living near American or Alaska Airlines hubs (or who plan on flying there), this program can offer some good deals, starting at 7,500 miles one-way. I’ve mentioned their “sweet spot” redemptions on quite a few occasions, see my post here
Avios program lets you pull miles for family members into one household account, which can come in handy when you are short a few thousand miles. Be aware that BA.com website has been buggy lately and doesn’t seem to display AA award seats even when sAAver level is available via AA.com. You may need to refresh the website a few times or call in.
People love to hate Delta, but with some flexibility, a family can get decent value out of this program. Delta no longer publishes its award chart but some short, non-stop routes will cost you only 5,000 to 7,500 miles one-way. Delta also has sales on certain routes now and again.
Avianca program has recently changed its award chart, and certain United-operated routes within US now cost only 7,500 miles one-way. While Avianca can be a pain to deal with, this is cheaper than redeeming miles through United. Plus, there are no close-in booking fees.
4) If you are looking to fly to Alaska and Hawaii, very often you will do better by focusing on foreign frequent flyer programs.
I’ve written a post on ways you can get to Alaska in economy. Most of the time, you will end up paying 25,000 miles roundtrip, except if you live on the west coast and can utilize Avios program. I also wrote about some ways you can get to Hawaii by transferring to Air France and Singapore KrisFlyer programs. Note that Air France now uses variable pricing, but the rate is usually cheaper than one you can get via Delta.
If you are wiling to navigate the maze that is Korean Sky Pass and are able to find low-tier award seats on Delta (a partner), you can potentially fly to Hawaii for only 25,000 miles roundtrip. Remember, this award has to price out at 45,000 miles roundtrip on Delta’s own website, though it won’t hurt to call Korean Sky Pass and see what the agent finds on their end.
It’s a challenging redemption that has many caveats, but could work for those willing to go the extra mile, figuratively speaking. One of my readers has shared her experience in this post.
5) It’s always best to invest in flexible points programs rather than individual miles.
I’ve written several posts with a breakdown of all four major programs. While each has its pros and cons, my favorite is Chase Ultimate Rewards. But all are good programs to consider, especially when it comes to credit card sign-up bonuses.
6) If you are looking for a specific mileage redemption between cities A and B, there are free tools to quickly calculate the cost.
You can see various award chart prices by plugging in your airport codes on this calculator on Travel Codex. It’s not accurate 100% of the time, but I really like how simple it is to use. You might also want to check out FlyerMiler tool.
7) Large families should at least consider airline programs with mild fuel surcharges.
It can be extremely difficult to find 5 award seats (or more) on the same international flight. I wrote a post on some programs you should look into if you are planning to fly to Europe.
Sometimes airlines have sales on certain types of awards, like the one Air France is running at the moment:
However, before you burn miles, make sure to first look into low-cost carriers like WOWAir and Norwegian It could be worth it to purchase a separate positioning ticket in case they don’t fly from your home airport.
8) Don’t forget to always check revenue options and be on a lookout for mistake fares.
If the revenue price is right, consider just paying with cash/flexible points instead of redeeming miles. Few years ago I helped my husband’s relatives book tickets to South Africa for only $360 roundtrip. There are websites dedicated to finding these deals, and I strongly recommend you subscribe to receive alerts.
Some good ones are TheFlightDeal, SecretFlying and Airfarewatchdog Obviously, don’t go crazy and book every good deal that pops up. But if you just want to take your family somewhere on the cheap, a mistake fare could be the ticket, pun intended.
P.S. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on a specific redemption or route. Find the list of credit card bonuses that you can use toward your award or revenue tickets on this page. If you are new to this hobby, you may want to start with Chase-issued cards, specifically Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.