Basic Steps to Book an Award Flight using Credit Card Points

1. First, set a goal for a destination you want to visit.

2. Figure out what Airlines fly to/from the airports you need to use.  For a quick check, you can look up the airports on Wikipedia and look for the “Airlines and Destinations” section.  This step helps minimize connections.

3. Learn about the Airline Alliances.  There are three major alliances, Oneworld, Skyteam, and Star Alliance with the airline members listed here.  Most major airlines in the world are a member of one of these. 

4. Learn which credit card points can transfer into each Airline mileage program.  The transfer partners for each credit card points program are listed here.

This is important because even if a particular credit card point doesn't transfer to the Airline you are hoping to fly, it may be a member of the same Airline Alliance of a credit card transfer partner airline. It’s usually possible to use the credit card transfer partner airline miles to book the flight you want on another airline in the same alliance. 

5.  Figure out how many airlines miles will be necessary to book the flight you want.  

Lets walk through an example to Tokyo Haneda (HND) from Los Angeles (LAX). 

Here are screenshots from the HND Wikipedia page for “Airlines and Destinations”. 

As you can see we have 5 Airline options that fly to LAX from HND and vice versa.  Of the 5 options we can transfer credit card points to 3 of them, All Nippon Airways, Delta, and United.  

Of course you can earn miles by actually flying and also if you have any of the individual airline credit cards, you can earn miles with spend, but being able to transfer Amex, Chase, or Citi credit card points gives you an additional way to get miles in the airline program you need to use. 

Let's look at how we can search for an award flight with each of these airlines.  We’ll organize these 5 options by Airline Alliance.

Oneworld - American Airlines and Japan Airlines 

Skyteam - Delta Air Lines 

Star Alliance - All Nippon Airways and United Airlines

We’ll take a deeper look at an economy roundtrip flight on All Nippon Airways (ANA).  You can use the same following research technique for the other airlines that fly this route as well.  

Looking at cash rates for an economy ticket from LAX to HND on ANA we can see that it costs $1,850.35 for a roundtrip ticket on these dates.

So how can we book an award flight for this itinerary to save some cash?  From my previous post we know that AMEX points can transfer to ANA. 

Searching the ANA website for an award ticket from LAX to HND we can see that it costs 55,000 ANA miles plus $532.85 for a roundtrip economy ticket on All Nippon Airways.

We can also search any of the other Star Alliance partner websites for this same flight on ANA metal, but since we can transfer Chase points to United let's search them.  Searching the United website we can see an award ticket for the exact same flights costs 115,400 United Miles plus $50.65 for a roundtrip economy ticket.

As you can see, the same flights on ANA metal are available on the United website because they are both part of the same Airline Alliance.  This gives us options when trying to decide what is the best deal for our own personal situations.  If you have AMEX points available to transfer you could use the ANA option or if you have Chase points available to transfer you could use the United option.  

A couple more airlines that we could transfer both AMEX and Chase points to are Air Canada and Singapore Airlines (you could also transfer Citi points to Singapore Airlines).  Since these 2 airlines are also part of Star Alliance, we should be able to see the same ANA award flights available on their websites. 

Searching the Air Canada website we can see that they have variable pricing.  We can pay only with points for 116,130 Air Canada Miles or we can pay with points and cash for a low of 60,000 Air Canada Miles plus CAD 927.20 (approx USD 700) or a few other options available depending on if we would like to spend more points or use more cash.

Searching the Singapore Airlines website we can see an award ticket for the exact same flights costs 119,000 Singapore Airlines Miles plus $532.85 for a roundtrip economy ticket.

So to wrap this up, if you wanted to book this award flight and wanted to use the least amount of points, booking though ANA is only 55,000 miles but you have to pay $532.85 in taxes and fees.  If you wanted to use the smallest amount of cash, Air Canada would be the one to choose for 116,130 points and zero cash.  

Another thing to consider is how much value you put on the difference of 61,130 points (116,130 minus 55,000) between ANA and Air Canada.  If we value AMEX points conservatively at $0.01 each, then 61,130 points are worth $611.30.  Just by this conservative value metric, it appears that although we have to pay points plus cash, booking with ANA is the best value since the additional cost of $532.85 is less than the cash value of 61,130 AMEX points.

Thinking about how much value your credit card points are worth will help you decide which options work best for you.  This is important to consider when calculating which airline award is actually the best value.  Of course, the option you choose will depend on your own personal situation and how you value your credit card points, but you should probably be trying to get more than $0.01 per point in value since you can usually cash them out for this amount.  

One more thing to consider, for ANA you can only book roundtrip award flights.  For most other airlines you can book one-way flights.  Booking one-way flights helps in creating an itinerary since finding award availability for a roundtrip flight for the dates you need could sometimes be troublesome, but if you can depart and return on different airlines it usually makes it a little easier to construct a trip.


Transfer times are available here.  You can't reverse a points transfer, so if an award flight isn't available, your points will still be stuck with that airline program.  Each airline has different points expiration policies, so please make a note to check that as well.  

At any rate, these options could still be better than paying $1,850.35 in cash to book the flight in our example.  I hope this posts helps you save some cash for your travel plans.

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