Ever wondered about frequent flyer programs? These programs, created as a way to ensure customer loyalty, have since allowed travelers to fly around the world for very little money. You can earn airline miles in various ways, including through credit card welcome offers, air travel, spending on co-branded credit cards and more.
But at the end of the day, what are these miles actually worth? Below, we examine the value of each airline’s award miles and its valuation of 40,000 miles.
An overview of airline miles to dollars
Estimated value of 40,000 miles
Here, we’ll look closer at each airline — highlighting sweet spots where you could get even more value per point or mile than on average.
Although it isn’t one of the big three U.S. airlines, Alaska Airlines operates a comprehensive route network with more than 115 total destinations. In addition, due to its membership in Oneworld and a strong group of individual partnerships, you’ll find your miles redeemable with plenty of airlines, including American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Icelandair and more.
The cost to redeem your Alaska miles will depend on your carrier; you’ll find different rates hinging on whether you’re flying Alaska or one of its partners. Overall, we value Alaska Mileage Plan miles at 1.1 cents each, which means 40,000 miles will be equal to $440 worth of travel.
When flying with Alaska Airlines, you’ll pay a range of pricing depending on demand, distance and fare class.
For example, you can fly nonstop from San Francisco to Orlando for 12,500 miles on a low-demand day.
You can also flip the same flight, paying just 12,500 miles to return from Orlando. At these rates, you would be able to take three one-way flights across the country for 37,500 miles — with 2,500 miles left over.
However, you may find better results when flying with some of Alaska’s partners. For example, consider this one-way flight from San Francisco to Fiji, which will cost you 40,000 miles.
Eleven hours is a long time to spend on a plane, but it’s an excellent deal when you consider that the cash price for this flight is over $800.
Nerdy tip: You can often find better value redeeming your miles for premium cabins rather than economy.
American Airlines, also a member of Oneworld, is a popular airline with nearly 6,700 daily flights. American ties the cost of its flights to a semi-fixed award chart based on demand. We value American Airlines AAdvantage miles slightly higher than Alaska, at a rate of 1.2 cents each. This means that 40,000 miles with American will be equal to roughly $480 worth of travel.
Take a look at a San Jose to Orlando flight booked through American Airlines.
This flight contains a connection compared to Alaska’s nonstop option and departs from San Jose instead of San Francisco, but Bay Area-based travelers could be saving 6,000 miles on a cross-country flight. Return flights can also be found for as low as 6,500 miles, which means you can snag three round-trip flights for 39,000 miles.
Delta Air Lines
Delta is a member of Skyteam and therefore has access to flights with airlines such as Air France, AeroMexico, China Eastern and more. We value Delta SkyMiles at a rate of 1.3 cents each, which means 40,000 miles is worth about $520.
Nerdy tip: Delta is one of the only carriers to sell basic economy award tickets that come with fewer perks. For example, this ticket type doesn’t include advanced seat selection.
Delta ties its award rates pretty closely to the cash price of its tickets and demand. So, for example, a basic economy ticket will cost $138 in cash or 9,000 SkyMiles for a flight from San Francisco to Orlando.
A one-way flight from San Francisco to New York-John F. Kennedy or vice versa can be booked for as little as 6,000 miles or $102 in cash.
At this rate, you’ll be able to take three round-trip flights across the country with 4,000 miles to spare.
Famous for its low-cost fares, Frontier Airlines operates flights to over 100 different cities. You’ll be able to redeem your miles based on demand and a region-based award chart, with redemptions starting as low as 10,000 miles each way. We value Frontier miles at a rate of 0.7 cent each, which means 40,000 miles will be worth around $280.
One-way domestic U.S. flights — no matter where you go — will either cost you 10,000 miles, 20,000 miles or 22,500 miles, depending on the number of seats that are left.
Though you’ll have two connections on your Newark to San Francisco flight, you’re still redeeming just 10,000 miles. This means your 40,000 miles can stretch out to two round-trip tickets anywhere in the country.
More than 180+ days before travel: Free.
Between 21-179 days before travel: $15.
Between 7-20 days before travel: $50.
Fewer than six days before travel: $75.
Although Hawaiian Airlines isn’t a member of any airline alliance, it does have a few different partnerships, including those with JetBlue and Japan Airlines. When redeeming your HawaiianMiles, you’ll be using a region-based award chart with varying price levels based on demand. Inter-island flights, for example, can run as low as 7,500 miles but as much as 20,000.
We value HawaiianMiles at a flat 1 cent each, so 40,000 miles will be equal to $400 in flights.
Flights to Hawaii from the West Coast start at 20,000 miles each way, as you can see on this trip from San Diego to Honolulu.
That means you could book a round-trip flight between the West Coast and Hawaii using your entire 40,000 miles.
JetBlue is a growing airline with services throughout North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Europe (London). The airline ties its award flights directly to the cost of a cash ticket, which means you aren’t likely to find any “sweet spots” when redeeming your miles. Still, you can get pretty decent value from them; we consider TrueBlue points to be worth 1.5 cents each, so 40,000 points will be valued at $600.
The trick for finding good redemptions with JetBlue is locating inexpensive cash flights and using your points to pay for them. For example, consider a flight from New York-JFK to the Bahamas. It’s $122 in cash or 6,900 points.
Return trips can be even cheaper, costing as few as 5,700 points.
In this case, you would be able to fly round-trip from New York-JFK to the Bahamas three times, with a remainder of 2,200 miles.
Renowned for allowing two free checked bags and never charging change fees, Southwest has been steadily growing its market for years. Like JetBlue, Southwest ties the amount of Rapid Rewards points you’ll need for an award flight to its cash cost. NerdWallet found Southwest points to be valued at 1.4 cents each, making 40,000 points worth roughly $560 in flights.
To find the best redemption rates for your points, you’ll want to check out inexpensive fares. Fortunately, Southwest has a Low Fare Calendar that will display an entire month’s worth of flights at once.
In this example, from Los Angeles-LAX to Los Cabos, you’ll find the cheapest rates for just 2,822 points. Return flights can be had for the same amount, but note that the higher taxes and fees.
At the lowest rates, you can fly round-trip between Cabo and Los Angeles seven times for a total of 39,508 points.
Another low-cost carrier, Spirit revamped its rewards program in early 2021 to offer new benefits, such as points pooling with family members and points that don’t expire. We value Spirit points at 1.1 cents each; 40,000 miles will be worth around $440 in value.
As with Southwest and JetBlue, Spirit operates on a fare-based redemption system, which means the cost of your award ticket will depend on cash rates. You may also get better value on some redemptions than others.
Here’s an excellent example with a one-way flight from Denver to Las Vegas.
Fares for this flight vary from at least $25, with standard rates costing more than Saver$ Club fares. However, many of these flights can be redeemed for just 2,500 points, even the $50 fare.
Redemptions for Spirit start at a base of 2,500 points one-way. At this rate, you’ll be able to take eight round-trip flights and completely use your 40,000 points.
Like Frontier, however, Spirit may charge you a redemption fee based on when you’re booking your flight:
Less than 28 days to departure: $50.
At least 28 days before departure: Free.
United is a member of Star Alliance, which contains more than two dozen members, including Air Canada, Avianca, Lufthansa, All Nippon Airways and more. Like many other airlines, United charges dynamic pricing for its award fights. We value United MileagePlus miles at 1 cent each, so your 40,000 miles will be worth roughly $400.
United operates an extensive network of flights, and combined with its robust alliances, redeeming United miles is easy. Although these aren’t the most valuable miles, you can still find some pretty decent award flights, including this one-way option from Denver to London-Heathrow for 30,000 miles.
You can see from the above example that redemption rates indeed are dynamic; one nonstop flight will cost 30,000 miles while the other is 50,000.
Other good options for United miles include short-haul flights, where awards can drop as low as 6,500 miles.
By choosing the flexible dates option while searching for an award flight, you can see the best rates for your miles in a calendar view. But assuming you travel on those 6,500-mile flights, you can get three round-trip flights with your 40,000 miles, which will cost 39,000 miles.
If you’re looking to use 40,000 miles
Not all airline miles are created equal. The best way to figure out what options are suitable for you will depend on where you live and the type of travel you prefer. Regardless, 40,000 miles is a good chunk of miles and can get you far — no matter where you’re going or which airline you’re flying.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for: