The best ways to pay for flights

This post aims to answer: When regular airline mile awards aren’t available or do not provide the best value, what is the best way to pay for your flights?

best ways to pay for flights

Deciding how to pay

Suppose you found a flight that you want to pay for rather than booking as an award flight (see: When is an award flight a good deal?).  What is your best option?  I’ve listed below a number of options that you might want to consider.  Read through these “IF… THEN” conditions to find a recommendation that applies to your situation.  These are sorted in order of the options I think are best if you meet the “if” criteria.  I do recommend, though, that you use your own judgment to decide how best to pay.  Also note that while I cover only a few points options here, many others exist that may be worth considering.

IF:

  • Your flight is a British Airways operated flight originating in the US, AND
  • You can afford to pay out of pocket, AND
  • You have a qualifying Chase Signature Visa card you can pay with

THEN:

IF:

  • Your flight is a British Airways operated flight or a British Airways codeshare operated by AA or Iberia, AND
  • It originates in the US with a destination in the UK or beyond, AND
  • It is a business class flight, AND
  • You can afford to pay out of pocket, OR
  • You have enough points in a program that pays you back for travel expenses (e.g. Arrival Plus card, Capital One Venture Rewards, etc.)

THEN:

IF:

  • You have a big enough stash of US Bank FlexPerks points, AND
  • The price of the flight is close to, but not over, the upper range of one of the FlexPerks award price ranges (e.g. close to $400, $600, $800, $1000, $1400, $2000, $3000, $4500, $7000, 10000)

THEN:

IF:

  • Your flight is operated by American Airlines, AND
  • You have a big enough stash of Citi ThankYou points, AND
  • You have the Citi Prestige card, AND
  • You can find the same best fares found elsewhere on the ThankYou.com website

THEN:

  • Book your flight with points through ThankYou.com (the Prestige card gives you 1.6 cents per point value towards AA flights)

IF:

  • Your flight is operated by American Airlines, AND
  • You have a big enough stash of Citi ThankYou points, AND
  • You have a friend with the Citi Prestige card who is willing to book the flight for you, AND
  • You can find the same best fares found elsewhere on the ThankYou.com website

THEN:

  • Share the required points with your friend and have them book the flight for you.

IF:

  • You have the Citi Premier or Prestige card, AND
  • The flight you want is not operated by American Airlines, AND
  • You can find the same best fares found elsewhere on the ThankYou.com website, AND
  • You have enough ThankYou points to cover the cost, AND
  • You value ThankYou points at less than or equal to 1.33 cents each (Prestige) or 1.25 cents each (Premier)

THEN:

  • Book your flight with points through ThankYou.com.  Note: The ability to use ThankYou Rewards points on AA flights for 1.6 cents each or to partners such as  Singapore Airlines, etc. can be extremely valuable so think twice before using your points to buy flights for less that 1.6 cents per point value.

IF:

  • You have the American Express Business Platinum card, AND
  • The flight you want is operated by the carrier you selected for your Platinum card account, AND
  • You can find the same best fares found elsewhere on the amextravel website, AND
  • You have enough Membership Rewards points to cover the cost, AND
  • You value Membership Rewards points at less than or equal to 1.43 cents each

THEN:

  • Use your Membership Rewards points to pay for the flight.  With the Business Platinum card you should get a 30% points rebate.  Note: The ability to transfer Membership Rewards points to partners such as Aeroplan, ANA, Singapore Airlines, etc. can be extremely valuable so please think twice before using your points to buy flights.

IF:

  • You have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold, AND
  • You can find the same best fares found elsewhere on the Chase Ultimate Rewards website, AND
  • You have enough Ultimate Rewards points to cover the cost, AND
  • You value Ultimate Rewards points at less than or equal to 1.25 cents each

THEN:

  • Book your flight with points through Chase Ultimate Rewards.  Note: Personally I highly value the ability to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to partners such as Hyatt, United, Southwest, etc. so I would never use my points to buy a flight.

IF:

  • You can afford to pay out of pocket, AND
  • You prefer to earn points rather than spend points (or, you don’t have enough points to spend)

THEN:

  • Use CashBackMonitor to find the best portal rewards for online booking sites such as Orbitz and Expedia
  • Click through the best portal option to an online travel agency in order to earn extra points.  For example, the BarclayCard RewardsBoost portal currently offers 2 points per dollar for purchases made through Orbitz.
  • Make sure to enroll in the online travel agency’s rewards program if you haven’t already (you can find some signup offers here) so that you can earn even more rewards.
  • Pay with a credit card that offers extra rewards for flights.  Examples include Citi Premier or Prestige: 3X; Chase Sapphire Preferred 2X; US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards 2X; etc.

Last updated on February 9th, 2016

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Lantean
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Lantean

uh, my mind is spinning… maybe a flow chart would help?

NoonRadar
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Greg, when you have some down time, another thing that would be helpful is a guide post of sorts with basic general flight/travel info beyond the specifics of a particular award program. For instance certain months of the year when international flights are cheaper, some info for intra-continental flights/travel (like within Europe, Asia) etc.

Though maybe on the periphery of the blog’s scope, something like that I think would be a nice added value both for the blog and for us readers.

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Linda KT
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Linda KT

Would love an update for this post. For an AA status challenge, would love to figure the best ways to pay for those flights. Currently I have Ultimate Rewards (Ink and Freedom only), Membership Rewards (Personal Platinum), Thank you points, Flexperks, Merrill Plus, and Arrival plus along with the Ritz Carlton which can give me the $100 discount on 2 round trips.