When it comes to redeeming Membership Rewards points for domestic flights, there are five programs to consider:
- Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (Star Alliance)
- British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)
- Air France Flying Blue (SkyTeam)
- Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)
Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)
Aeroplan is probably the best all around program for getting access to domestic Star Alliance award space easily. Points transfer instantly from Membership Rewards to Aeroplan, and bookings can be made through their website. The domestic award chart looks as follows:
The short-haul awards only apply for Air Canada flights in select markets, so we’ll focus on the “long-haul” and Hawaii awards for the purposes of this analysis.
So for an award within the lower 48/Alaska/Canada, Aeroplan charges the following amounts:
- Economy class: 25,000 miles roundtrip/17,000 miles one way
- United two cabin first class and United business class: 50,000 miles roundtrip/34,000 miles one way
- United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 70,000 miles roundtrip/47,000 miles one way
And for an award to Hawaii, Aeroplan charges the following:
- Economy class: 45,000 miles roundtrip/30,000 miles one way
- United two cabin first class and United business class: 80,000 miles roundtrip/54,000 miles one way
- United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 110,000 miles roundtrip/74,000 miles one way
I realize it’s stupid and frustrating, but the reason that US Airways domestic first class is more expensive than United first class is because of the way they code their products. United codes their domestic two cabin first class award space as “I” class, which is the equivalent of business class, while US Airways codes their domestic first class award space as “O” class, which is the equivalent of international first class. As you can see on the ANA tool below, all US Airways space between Charlotte and Chicago is coded as first class, while United space is coded as business class.
It’s also worth noting that while Aeroplan allows one-way awards, they’re not a very good deal since they charge more than half of the roundtrip cost.
That being said, there are no close-in ticketing fees and no fuel surcharges for travel on United and US Airways, plus you can book online, so it’s definitely an easy way to book. And since Continental/United are no longer Membership Rewards transfer partners, this is the only way to easily book a domestic roundtrip on Star Alliance using Membership Rewards points.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (Star Alliance)
While KrisFlyer miles are extremely valuable for travel on Singapore Airlines, they’re also pretty useful for travel domestically on United and US Airways. Their award chart looks like this, in part:
That means they charge the following amounts for awards within the lower 48:
- Economy class: 25,000 miles roundtrip/12,500 miles one-way
- United two cabin first class and United business class: 40,000 miles roundtrip/20,000 miles one-way
- United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 60,000 miles roundtrip/30,000 miles one-way
And for an award to Hawaii, KrisFlyer charges the following:
- Economy class: 35,000 miles roundtrip/17,500 miles one-way
- United two cabin first class and United business class: 60,000 miles roundtrip/30,000 miles one-way
- United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 80,000 miles roundtrip/40,000 miles one-way
With the exception of a domestic coach award, Singapore is cheaper across the board than Aeroplan. But here’s the issue — Singapore partner awards have to be booked over the phone, and transfers from Membership Rewards to KrisFlyer take about a day, so they’re not instant like Aeroplan.
That being said, if you’re patient, you can’t beat 40,000 miles for a domestic business class award, 60,000 miles for a domestic three cabin first class award, and their Hawaii rates are the best for Star Alliance across the board.
British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)
British Airways’ award pricing is distance based. While they don’t publish an award chart, Iberia does publish one, and it’s pretty close to what British Airways charges:
So basically a one-way coach ticket of up to 650 flown miles costs 4,500 Avios, a one way of 651 to 1,151 miles costs 7,500 Avios, a one way of 1,152-2,000 miles costs 10,000 Avios, and a one-way of 2,001-3,000 miles costs 12,500 Avios.
Airline pricing is irrational and doesn’t typically correlate much to the distance traveled, which is what makes this award chart so awesome. Often a 300 mile flight will be more expensive than a 2,500 mile flight when paying cash, yet it’s substantially cheaper using British Airways Avios. It’s also worth keeping in mind that their pricing is on a per-segment basis, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it basically allows you unlimited stopovers, but it’s a bad thing because the cost of an award can add up when you have several segments.
But hands down the best values for any domestic coach awards can be found with British Airways. For example, a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Monterey on American is just 4,500 Avios.
Or a one way award from Los Angeles to Honolulu is just 12,500 miles.
And for those that live on the west coast, that’s really quite an amazing value — just 25,000 Avios for roundtrip economy for any nonstop between the west coast and Hawaii — no other program offers that kind of value. Keep in mind they also partner with Alaska, which opens up tons of award options to Hawaii.
Even Chicago to Los Angeles costs you 10,000 Avios one-way, compared to 12,500 miles in virtually any other program.
Executive Club charges 2x miles for business class and 3x miles for first class. So you do end up paying 3x miles for first class, which is quite a poor value, so I’ve always used Avios for coach domestically. That being said if you can get a route with a business class cabin (like New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancouver), that would be 2x miles.
One other great thing about British Airways is that they constantly have transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards, typically in the range of 30-50%. So if you think you would find Avios useful, I’d suggest transferring some points as a “reserve” the next time they have a promotion.
Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)
Look, let’s not beat around the bush. I’m mentioning Delta just in the interest of being thorough. Here’s their award chart:
Chances of finding “low” space are about the same as Gary Johnson winning the presidential election. But in some markets Delta is the best option, and it’s worth noting that they’re one of the few airlines that allows a stopover on a domestic award.
Air France Flying Blue (SkyTeam)
Air France’s only partner in North America is Delta, and the one useful thing about Flying Blue miles is that they allow one-way awards on Delta at half the cost of a roundtrip, while Delta doesn’t allow that for their own members. You can read more on that here.
British Airways offers the best value on short distance awards, and also on awards from the west coast to Hawaii. Aeroplan is the easiest for domestic roundtrip flights, and has access to Star Alliance award availability, which is usually the most readily available. Singapore Airlines offers savings over Aeroplan on awards to Hawaii and for premium cabin award space, though comes with booking challenges.