How do I redeem my miles, and what can I get for them?

Q: How do I redeem my miles, and what can I get for them?

A: Frequent flyer programs have different procedures for redeeming miles. Some issue certificates that entitle the holder to a free flight; others simply issue tickets, with no intervening certificate. Most airlines now allow members to redeem online, as well as over the phone or in person.

All of the major airlines offer free flights and upgrades on the host airline and on program partner airlines. The miles required for select award categories are typically as follows:

  • Free round-trip coach ticket within the continental U.S. - 25,000 miles
  • Free round-trip first-class ticket within the continental U.S. - 45,000 miles
  • Round-trip one-class upgrade within the continental U.S. - 30,000 miles
  • Free round-trip coach ticket between the U.S. and Europe - 50,000 miles
  • Free round-trip first class ticket between the U.S. and Europe - 100,000 miles
  • Round-trip one-class upgrade between the U.S. and Europe - 50,000 miles
  • Free round-trip coach ticket between the U.S. and Asia - 60,000 miles
  • Free round-trip first class ticket between the U.S. and Asia - 120,000 miles
  • Round-trip one-class upgrade between the U.S. and Asia - 50,000 miles

Levels shown are for capacity- and date-controlled awards, often called Saver awards. Unrestricted or less restricted awards (Standard) are available for more miles, typically at twice the Saver levels.

In addition, some airlines offer reduced Saver awards during off-peak times, usually for only 20,000 miles.

Low-cost or smaller carriers, such as Southwest, JetBlue, and AirTran, have very different redemption levels, with awards based on the number of flights taken, rather than miles flown.

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