How many miles do you need for a free flight?

One of the best perks of airline frequent flyer programs is the ability to redeem miles for free flights. But how many miles do you actually need to earn a free ticket? The answer depends on several factors, including the airline, cabin class, region, and peak versus off-peak dates. Generally speaking, domestic economy class awards start between 25,000-50,000 miles for a one-way ticket, while international business and first class awards can cost 100,000 miles or more.

Domestic Economy Class

For free flights within the continental U.S., most airlines will require between 25,000-50,000 miles each way in economy class. Here’s a quick rundown of major U.S. airlines:

  • American AAdvantage: 25,000-50,000 miles
  • Delta SkyMiles: 25,000-50,000 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 25,000-50,000 miles
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards: 25,000-50,000 miles
  • JetBlue TrueBlue: 25,000-50,000 miles
  • Alaska Mileage Plan: 25,000-50,000 miles

So if you want a free roundtrip domestic economy flight, you can expect to spend between 50,000-100,000 miles, depending on the airline.

International Economy Class

When it comes to free flights to international destinations in economy, you’ll generally need to budget at least 50,000-70,000 miles each way. On some peak dates and popular routes, it could be as high as 90,000 miles each way.

In general, you can expect to spend the following for international economy awards:

  • To Canada/Mexico/Caribbean: 50,000-70,000 miles
  • To Europe: 60,000-90,000 miles
  • To South America: 60,000-80,000 miles
  • To Asia: 70,000-90,000 miles
  • To Australia/New Zealand: 70,000-90,000 miles

So rounding up, plan on spending at minimum 100,000-180,000 miles for a free roundtrip to Europe, Asia or the South Pacific.

Domestic Business/First Class

If you want to fly in style and redeem your miles for domestic first or business class, you’ll need to budget the following on average:

  • Domestic business class: 50,000-80,000 miles each way
  • Domestic first class: 80,000-150,000 miles each way

Be aware that some airlines may tack on fuel surcharges and fees on top of the mileage requirement, so the actual number of miles needed could be higher.

International Business/First Class

Ready to splurge on an international luxury flight? Business and first class awards will cost you a pretty penny in frequent flyer miles. Here’s an estimate of how many you’ll need for popular regions:

  • To Canada/Mexico/Caribbean: 70,000-110,000 miles each way
  • To Europe: 100,000-160,000 miles each way
  • To South America: 100,000-140,000 miles each way
  • To Asia: 120,000-180,000 miles each way
  • To Australia/New Zealand: 120,000-180,000 miles each way

Some ultra long-haul first class flights to Asia and the Middle East can cost upwards of 250,000 miles each way.

Factors That Affect Mileage Requirements

As you can see, there’s a wide range in the number of miles needed for an award flight. Here are some key factors that determine how many miles are required:

  • Airline – Each airline sets their own award chart and mileage requirements.
  • Cabin class – First and business cost more miles than economy.
  • Region – Flights to distant regions like Asia and Oceania require more miles.
  • Peak vs. off-peak dates – Traveling during busy holiday periods costs more miles.
  • Partner awards vs. own airline – Booking with partner airlines may have different mileage rates.
  • One-way vs. roundtrip – Roundtrips tend to cost less miles per flight.

It’s always best to check your airline’s award chart calendar to see the exact rates for your desired dates and routes. Mileage prices can fluctuate significantly.

Tips for Earning Miles Fast

Now that you know approximately how many miles you need, here are some tips to start racking up miles quickly:

  • Get an airline co-branded credit card and earn sign-up bonus
  • Spend on the card and maximize bonus categories like dining, travel, etc
  • Shop through online portals and airline shopping partners
  • Book flights with the airline and choose mileage earning fares
  • Sign up for promotions and bonus offers
  • Transfer flexible points from cards like Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Buy miles during promotions or with credit card points

Focus your travel and spending on one airline to quickly build up a mileage balance.

Best Mileage Credit Cards

One of the fastest ways to earn miles towards award flights is by getting an airline co-branded credit card. Here are some of the top options with large signup bonuses:

Card Signup Bonus Benefits
Chase United MileagePlus Card 70,000 miles Free first checked bag, priority boarding, 2 United Club passes per year
Delta SkyMiles Gold Card 70,000 miles Free first checked bag, priority boarding, discounted Delta Sky Club access
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card 50,000 miles 25% savings on in-flight food and drinks, preferred boarding
Alaska Airlines Visa Card 50,000 miles Free first checked bag, 50% off day passes to Alaska Lounges

In addition to big welcome bonuses, these cards earn 1-3x miles per $1 spent on Alaska, American, Delta, and United purchases. That all adds up quickly towards award flights!

Maximize a Credit Card for Miles

To get the most miles out of a credit card, be sure to:

  • Spend enough to earn the minimum for the signup bonus within 3 months of getting the card
  • Use for everyday purchases to earn bonus miles
  • Pay your balance in full each month to avoid interest
  • Take advantage of bonus category spending
  • Shop through the card’s bonus mileage portal
  • Use for flights on the airline to earn extra miles
  • Refer friends and family for more bonus miles

You can quickly rack up tens of thousands of miles or more each year by using an airline card strategically.

Maximizing a Frequent Flyer Account

Having an airline co-branded card is just one piece of earning miles quickly. Here are some other ways to build up your frequent flyer balance:

  • Book flights in mileage earning fare classes
  • Fly more frequently to earn tier status and bonus miles
  • Credit non-airline travel like hotels, car rentals, etc
  • Shop online through the airline portal
  • Transfer flexible points from hotel and bank loyalty programs
  • Purchase miles during promotions and sales
  • Take advantage of partnerships and bonus offers

Setting up accounts with major hotel chains can also help you earn airline miles on hotel stays. Partnerships are key so you can rack up miles in multiple ways.

Being Flexible Saves Miles

One of the best ways to reduce the number of miles required for an award is to be flexible with your travel plans. Consider flying on less popular days of the week, avoiding busy holiday periods, and looking at alternative regions.

For example, a Delta flight from Los Angeles to London will cost:

  • 70,000 miles if flying midweek in October
  • 150,000 miles if flying on July 4th weekend

Same route – but over double the miles when flying during peak summer season!

Being flexible by even 1 or 2 days can make a huge difference in the miles required for popular routes during busy times.

Buy or Transfer Miles

If you’re falling a bit short on miles for an award, most airlines give you options for buying or transferring additional miles into your account.

You can typically purchase miles for 1-5 cents each, with promotions sometimes offering up to a 100% bonus. Buying miles makes the most sense if you need just a small top up to your account. You can also transfer miles from flexible point programs like Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.

While buying miles isn’t the cheapest way to obtain them, it can be worthwhile to gain the last few thousand you need for a special trip or to take advantage of a limited-time award availability.

Using Miles for Non-Flight Awards

One creative way to maximize your miles is to use them for non-flight awards. Most airlines let you redeem miles for hotels, car rentals, gift cards, merchandise and more.

While the value per point is lower, it gives you opportunities to use miles when you may not have enough for a ticket or can’t take a trip. Consider using extra miles for:

  • Hotel stays with airline partners
  • Upgrades and amenities on paid flights
  • Magazine and newspaper subscriptions
  • Gift cards for everyday spending
  • Charitable donations through airline giving programs

Just make sure to compare the rates to get the best value from your hard-earned miles.


While every frequent flyer program is slightly different, you can expect to spend at minimum 25,000-50,000 miles each way for basic domestic economy awards, and 60,000-180,000 miles for international economy flights. First and business class awards cost significantly more.

The fastest way to earn miles is by getting an airline credit card, strategically spending on the card, and maximizing your frequent flyer account. Being flexible with dates also helps reduce the number of miles required.

With a mileage game plan, you’ll be jet setting around the world in no time enjoying free flights from all the rewards you’ve earned! Safe travels and happy flying.

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