April 17, 2014

Get a Free Flight With Airline Miles Credit Cards

One good way to cash in a promotional bonus from a credit card is to get a card affiliated with an airlines mileage program.   I've had one or two of these cards in years past and they can be a good deal if you have a good use for the miles.   I looked up and compared the credit cards offered through five of the major airlines.  United, Southwest, Alaska, Delta and American

Each card gives you 25,000 or 30,000 in miles.   Most will require you to spend $1000 in the first 3 months and then waive the annual fee in the first year.  Alaskas card is different in those respects and gives you the 25k miles up front but does not waive the $75 annual fee.    The Delta card is an American Express card, AA is Mastercard  and the others are through Visa.

United Southwest Alaska Delta AA
miles 30,000 25,000 25,000 30,000 30,000
annual fee 0/$95 0/$99 $75 0/$95 0/$95
spend $1,000 $1,000
$1,000 $1,000
time 3 month 3 month
3month 3 month
extras 1 free bag n/a $118 companion tick $50 bonus 1 free bag

What are the points worth?

United :  A roundtrip saver flight in the continental USA is 20-25k points. 
Southwest : They do not have a fixed amount for a flight but the points cost depends on the flight and has a rough relationship to the dollar value.   Points are worth around 1-1.7¢ of airfare each.    I can book a couple short flights for the 25k points.
Alaska :   A roundtrip continental USA flight is 25k /40k. 
Delta : The cheapest saver flights for continental USA are 12.5k points each way, so minimum spend for a flight is 25k.  From what little I've seen of it Delta points seems harder to use.
AA : roundtrip flights  start at 25k

So generally the miles bonuses are worth a round trip in the USA.    However how much thats actually worth to you depends on where you want to fly and how much tickets usually cost.      For example looking at Alaska flight costs for me range from $138 to $385 if comparing major city destinations on Farecompare.com    But they have more limited destinations.   Looking at United I see costs ranging from $130 all the way up to $1300.  However that $1300 ticket is pretty extreme and more typical costly tickets are in the $600 range.    If you live in a bigger city the tickets are not going to be worth as much.   If you live in a more remote city like Bismark, ND then tickets could easily be worth $700.

Annual fees

A big downside to all these cards are the annual fees that kick in at least in the second year.   Paying $75-99 a year is generally not worthwhile unless one of the perks of the card justifies it.   Free bags on United alone might pay for their annual fee and the $118 companion ticket on Alaska might justify their $75 fee.    Most people are likely better off cancelling the ticket within a year to avoid these fees.


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