How many miles does it take for a free airline ticket?

Many frequent flyers aim to earn enough miles for a free flight through airline loyalty programs. The number of miles needed for a free ticket varies based on the airline, ticket price, and seat class. Generally, economy class tickets require fewer miles than business or first class. Domestic flights also tend to have lower mileage requirements than international flights. Most airlines use a zone-based award chart, with different mileage levels for different regions.

Quick answers

Here are some quick answers to common questions about miles needed for a free airline ticket:

  • For domestic economy flights in the U.S., between 25,000-50,000 miles are generally needed for a free roundtrip ticket.
  • For short-haul international economy flights to destinations like Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, or Central America, expect 30,000-80,000 miles for a free roundtrip.
  • A free domestic business class ticket typically requires 50,000-100,000 miles for a roundtrip flight.
  • International business class awards range from 80,000-150,000+ miles depending on the region. Long-haul flights tend to require the most miles.
  • First class awards are the most expensive. Domestic first awards can be 100,000-150,000+ miles, while international first class is usually 150,000-250,000+ miles roundtrip.

Domestic U.S. Flights

When it comes to free domestic flights within the continental U.S., most airlines have similar mileage requirements in their programs. Here are some estimates for popular routes:

Economy Class

For shorter flights under 500 miles, expect to pay 12,500-25,000 miles each way in economy. For example, a roundtrip between New York and Washington D.C would be 25,000-50,000 miles.

On longer routes like coast-to-coast, the standard rates are usually 25,000 miles each way for a total of 50,000 miles roundtrip. Rates are similar for routes like Los Angeles to New York, Seattle to Miami, or Chicago to Orlando.

During peak travel periods like summer or holidays, some airlines may charge more miles for economy awards. Delta and United have “premium” economy rates that can be 30,000-35,000 miles each way.

Business Class

Most airlines require 50,000 miles each way for domestic business class flights, making the total 100,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket. American AAdvantage is an exception with variable rates from 32,500 to 50,000 miles depending on factors like peak dates.

Some carriers also offer “premium economy” awards separate from business class. For example, Delta requires 40,000-50,000 miles each way for Comfort+ awards.

First Class

Domestic first class awards typically range from 50,000 to 75,000 miles each way based on the airline. This makes first class awards 100,000 to 150,000 miles for a roundtrip. American AAdvantage has variable first class rates from 40,000 to 60,000 miles per segment.

Keep in mind that availability for first class awards is often extremely limited, especially on popular routes. You may need to book far in advance. Upgrades are an alternative for using miles to fly in first class.

Short-Haul International Flights

For short flights to nearby international destinations like Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, and Central America, here are the typical economy class requirements:

  • Canada: 25,000-35,000 miles each way
  • Mexico: 30,000-40,000 miles each way
  • Caribbean: 35,000-50,000 miles each way
  • Central America: 40,000-60,000 miles each way

So a roundtrip flight to Cancun from the U.S. would be around 60,000-80,000 miles in economy. Toronto to New York could be 50,000-70,000 roundtrip.

Business class awards on these short haul routes are typically 60,000 to 80,000 miles each way. First class is usually 75,000 to 100,000+ miles per segment.

Medium and Long-Haul International Flights

For medium to long-haul international flights, especially to Europe, South America, Asia and the South Pacific, higher mileage rates apply.

Economy Class

From the U.S. to Europe, expect to pay 60,000-80,000 miles each way in economy or 120,000-160,000 roundtrip. There are some exceptions like United charging only 30,000 miles each way to Iceland.

Reaching South America will take around 60,000-90,000 miles each way in economy depending on the specific destination. Flying to Asia can be 80,000-110,000 miles each way.

The South Pacific tends to be the most expensive region for U.S. flyers, with rates from 90,000-120,000 miles each way. This covers places like Australia, New Zealand, and the surrounding islands.

Business Class

International business class awards have more variance but tend to price from 100,000-200,000+ miles for a roundtrip ticket.

  • Europe: 100,000-150,000 miles roundtrip
  • South America: 120,000-180,000 miles roundtrip
  • Asia: 140,000-220,000+ miles roundtrip
  • South Pacific: 160,000-240,000+ miles roundtrip

Routes to the Middle East, India, and Africa can also top 200,000 miles roundtrip in business class.

First Class

International first class awards are the most expensive. Expect to pay at least 150,000 miles each way between the U.S. and Europe/South America. Asia, the South Pacific, and other regions often price over 200,000 miles each way.

Few airlines have first class cabins remaining. Where available, you’ll generally need 200,000+ miles for a simple one-way first award to many long-haul destinations.

Sweet Spots for Saving Miles

While the mileage costs above are typical, there are ways to get better value for your miles and reduce the cost of awards. Here are some tips:

  • Book partner airline awards – Programs like United MileagePlus and American AAdvantage allow booking partners for potentially lower rates.
  • Transfer points from flexible programs – Points from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou can transfer to airline miles at a 1:1 ratio. Their cards frequently offer signup bonuses.
  • Utilize “saver” awards – Most airlines designate certain seats as “saver” awards pricing fewer miles.
  • Be flexible on dates and routes – Avoiding peak travel dates can lower mileage rates on some airlines.
  • Look for sales – Many programs offer award sales or discounted promo awards.
  • Book one-way awards – Using one-way awards can reduce fuel surcharges versus roundtrips.

Monitoring mileage rates and being flexible are key to saving on award flights. Signing up for credit cards that earn flexible points is also a smart strategy.

Non-Airline Ways to Get Reward Flights

Besides airline programs, there are other travel rewards programs that let you redeem points for free flights. Options include:

  • Credit card rewards – Points from Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards can transfer to multiple airline partners.
  • Hotel rewards – Programs like World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors allow redeeming points for airline tickets.
  • Flexible travel points – Capital One Venture X, Chase Sapphire Reserve earn flexible rewards bookable for travel purchases.
  • OTAs – Online agencies like Priceline offer rewards programs with airline tickets as options.

The advantage of these programs is they provide alternatives for earning and redeeming points. You aren’t tied to just one airline. Credit cards tend to offer the most lucrative flexibility and bonuses.


While every airline’s mileage program has its own award chart, generally expect to pay 25,000-50,000 miles for a free domestic economy ticket and 60,000-110,000+ miles for an international economy award. Moving up to business and first class requires significantly more miles. Being flexible on booking and utilizing point transfers from credit cards or hotels can help reduce the cost. With some strategic planning, those free flights are within closer reach.

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