The Best Airlines for Booking Holiday Travel With Reward Miles

Orlando, Florida, USA - December 2, 2013: A curved winglet with the Southwest.
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If you’re planning to travel for Thanksgiving or the winter holidays, brace yourself: Flight prices are skyrocketing.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, citing data from popular travel booking site Kayak, the average price for flights in late November is $468, an increase of 48% over 2021. Late December flights are even worse, coming in around $574 on average, up 52% from last holiday season.

Part of the reason for higher prices comes from incredible demand as more people become comfortable with travel again post-pandemic. Further, airline cuts have led to less flights on the daily schedule.

Given the hefty price tag, it might be time to start looking into using reward miles to book your holiday travel — and book now, according to experts who spoke with GOBankingRates. Said experts noted that October is the last window to take advantage before prices inch up even more.

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According to CBS News (using info from NerdWallet’s annual airline mile value analysis), you probably won’t get the absolute best return on miles during the holiday season, as these bookings usually necessitate more point usage for those peak season plans. But, still, if flight prices remain as high as they are, it might be worth using those points in order to avoid paying out of pocket.

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NerdWallet found that, when it comes to the best value regarding travel miles, there are four leading airlines that are in a tie for the top spot: American, Delta, Southwest and Frontier. All have a valuation of 1.4 cents during the holiday season (roughly Dec. 18-29). That means a $600 roundtrip flight would require about 42,857 miles to be spent with one of these top competitors.

That’s opposed to United, who offers a valuation of 1.1 cents per reward mile. In this scenario, a $600 roundtrip flight would require 54,600 miles to be used. Here’s how the top nine airlines in the U.S. rank regarding reward mile valuation, according to NerdWallet. The hub also includes additional data for international providers.

  • American Airlines: 1.4 cents.
  • Delta Air Lines: 1.4 cents.
  • Frontier Airlines: 1.4 cents.
  • Southwest Airlines: 1.4 cents.
  • JetBlue Airways: 1.3 cents.
  • Alaska Airlines: 1.2 cents.
  • United Airlines: 1.1 cents.
  • Hawaiian Airlines: 0.9 cents.
  • Spirit Airlines: 0.7 cents.
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If you’re a Frontier Airlines frequent flyer, you’ll want to use your rewards miles during the holiday season since they uniquely make their miles more valuable during this time of year than they do during non-holiday months, per CBS — a difference of 1.4 cents versus 0.9 cents. For the other airlines, their mile value is about 0.1 cents higher during non-holiday periods.

CBS also pointed out a few other tips for optimal flight booking using miles, such as never booking travel using rewards valued at less than 1 cent (credit cards with cash back options offer the same 1 cent back so it’s more advantageous to book with that method).

CBS also advised to use a combination of cash and miles if you want to avoid allocating all your miles to the holiday surge, or don’t have enough to complete the transaction. Another option: Book one-way flights, such as the departure, using miles and the arrival using cash.

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined GOBankingRates.com in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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