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You’ve got miles and points and you have some destinations in mind, how do you actually begin your flight searches using your miles and points? There are a few different approaches you can take when starting your searches, but generally speaking, there are multiple ways to redeem your miles and points for flights – some are better than others and you should always seek to maximize them as much as possible.

some important key things to remember when planning your search:

  • if you are flying with a bigger family, can some of you fly separately and split up should there be no availability for all of you?
  • are you flexible with your destinations within the same region?
  • can you book a placeholder and wait until last minute for better availability?
  • are some of you okay to fly different cabins, depending on availability?
  • who actually has the miles/points and who will be using them?
  • does anyone need to buy a cash ticket to re-qualify for elite status?

there are more things you could consider, depending on your desired itinerary.

Redeem Airline Miles Directly for a Flight

If you have airline miles in one specific frequent flyer program, you can only redeem those points through that program/airline and cannot transfer them anywhere – but you can redeem through this program on partner airlines. For example, if you have Delta miles, you can’t transfer them anywhere but you can redeem them on Delta or any of their partner airlines.

When you have airline miles, check what airlines are partnering with that frequent flyer program and how you can best maximize your miles. Remember that not all redemptions are possible online and not all partner airlines are bookable directly on the website. Do your research and search all partner availability and try to put together a custom itinerary if that might be the best redemption.

Transferring Points from a Bank Program

The most valuable points in the miles and points world are those with bank programs which you can transfer to many airlines. Points like AMEX, Chase, Citi, Cap1, etc. are very valuable because they each have multiple airline and hotel partners that you can transfer your points to. If one airline has no availability, chances are another might.

If you have points with a bank program, you will want to check what available airline transfer partners there are and then check with each of those frequent flyer programs what redemptions are available. Remember that each airline program works differently and has different airline partners. So not only does the bank have multiple airline partners, each of those airline partners also has their own set of partner airlines on which you can redeem.

For example, you can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to Air Canada Aeroplan and then redeem your Aeroplan miles for travel on Lufthansa, for example. Each program is unique and has sweet spots and good redemption rates for some regions – therefore you can easily search online which airline frequent flyer programs are most useful for where you are planning to travel.

Transfers from bank programs are usually instant to airlines, but in a few cases they could take a few days. Remember to always have a back-up plan should a transfer not go through instantly or if availability gets booked up.

Redeem Bank Points for a Cash Flight Ticket

All bank points programs also have their own travel portal – so in addition to the ability of transferring your points to an airline or hotel, you can also redeem those points directly through the bank’s travel portal for flights, hotels, etc. Depending on the credit card you have, you could get more than 1 cent per point in value. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, 10,000 Chase points would get you $150 towards a flight booked through the travel portal.

Remember that when you book a flight through a bank’s travel portal and even if you use all of your bank points for that flight, it will still be seen as a cash ticket, which means:

  • you could earn miles for this flight, depending on your frequent flyer program and fare purchased
  • change and cancelation fees could apply, depending on the fare you purchased – remember that cash tickets are not as flexible as award tickets

If one of you in your traveling group needs elite credit to re-qualify, you could book a cash ticket for this person and check if the same exact flight has award availability – then you could book the same flight for the others.

Be sure to check if there are good cash fares available for your trip – if so, it might make more sense to redeem your bank points directly through a bank’s program for a cash ticket rather than transferring those to an airline for an award ticket.

All in All

Getting started with searches for your flights depends on what miles and points you have. If you only have airline miles, you will need to search directly with that airline and see what flights are available – remember to check their partners for availability. When you have transferable points from a bank program, you can either transfer them to multiple airlines and check availability with those airlines, or you can redeem them directly through a bank’s travel portal if there is a good deal on cash tickets. With miles and points, there isn’t a “one size fits all” strategy because everyone has different miles and points and different travel goals – there are many articles out there on which airline programs are best for what destinations.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.