Why You Should Fly First or Business Class When Redeeming Miles

Redeeming miles should be rewarding. Sure, it will cost fewer miles to fly economy when booking an award flight. But, do you really want to reward yourself with little legroom and an uncomfortable experience after saving up all of those points and miles for a bucket-list trip?

I didn’t think so. In this piece, we’ll explain the economics of why you should fly in First or Business Class when redeeming points and miles for flights.

How to Get the Best Value for Your Frequent Flyer Miles

It’s not only comfort that should sway you to book premium-class seats when flying using your frequent flyer miles, you’ll also get a much better value for your points and miles compared to booking economy class seats.

Comparing Cost in Cash and Miles

Let’s take a look at round-trip ANA flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo in 2022 for comparison. Cash tickets are always in flux, but I’ll use the current prices as a benchmark as they are fairly standard. And I’ll use either ANA’s mileage rates or the rate you can book the same flights through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, depending on which is cheaper.

  • Economy: ~$1,000 cash or 55k ANA miles
  • Premium Economy: ~$1,600 cash or 77k ANA miles
  • Business: ~$6,000 cash or 90k miles (either ANA or Virgin)
  • First: ~$19,000 cash or 110k Virgin miles

As you can see, the amount in cash increases astronomically compared to the increase in the number of miles required. A Business Class ticket is approximately 140% more than economy when booking with cash, but only around 50% more when booking with miles. And First Class shows an even greater difference with a cash ticket costing 180% more than economy, whereas it would only be about 66% more when booking with miles.

Of course, this will all vary depending on the route, airline, and available redemption opportunities, but you’ll see this trend pretty much across the board. And, oftentimes, if you compare the cash price of an economy ticket to the amount of miles required for redemption, plus taxes/fees charged by the airline, it generally comes out to be a better deal to book an economy ticket with cash rather than spend your miles.

Related: Why You Should Change Your Mentality About Frequent Flyer Miles, Points, and Credit Card Rewards

Long-Haul International Travel Provides the Best Value for Miles

If you’re an international traveler, you’ll want to spend your miles wisely. You’ll get the best value for your points by spending them on long-haul international flights that cross oceans. Domestic flights and short-haul international flights to places like Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean usually don’t provide the best value when redeeming credit card points or airline miles for flights. There are some exceptions, such as short nonstop flights on American Airlines or the coveted transcontinental flight in a lie-flat seat, but for the most part, you’ll find that cash tickets are relatively cheap to these destinations.

Let’s compare some fall 2021 round-trip Business Class flights from New York to Cancun, and New York to Madrid, as an example.

  • New York-JFK to Cancun, nonstop on American Airlines: $688 cash or 44k British Airways miles
  • New York-JFK to Madrid, nonstop on Iberia: $1,845 cash or 68k Iberia Plus Avios 

I’d say both are pretty great deals regardless of whether you’re paying cash or with points and miles. Especially since you can transfer either American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards to both British Airways and Iberia miles. Comparing the two, you’ll see that the cash ticket to Europe is about 90% more than the cash ticket to Cancun, whereas the mileage amount is only about 40% more. Again, this is merely one example and you’ll see varying levels of value depending on which routes you’re comparing, but you will generally find that using points and miles for longer flights presents better value.

Plus, the Business Class product on short flights pales in comparison to the experience you’ll get when flying long-haul Business Class overseas. Most seats on the shorter flights are just standard recliners with a wider seat and more legroom than what you’ll get in coach. On long-haul international flights, the difference in seats is much more distinct. Instead of the typical tightly-fit rows of economy, you can often enjoy a spacious, lie-flat seat when flying long-haul international Business Class. And you can sometimes even get your own suite.

Related: Upgrades - What You Need to Know

Reward Yourself to an Experience

In short, since you’ve taken the time and energy to earn all of those credit card points or airline miles, why not treat yourself to a luxurious experience? It will feel much more rewarding if you book that bucket-list trip in First or Business Class. Plus, it will help you enjoy your vacation a lot more as you’ll be able to get the rest you need on a long flight.

Related: The 11 Longest Flights in the World (And How to Book with Points and Miles)

If you don’t have enough miles to fly your entire party in a premium cabin, you could consider booking some seats in Business Class using your points and miles and then booking the rest with cash in economy. If you’re on the same flights, you could potentially swap seats for the outbound and inbound flights of a round-trip so everyone can enjoy a little luxury during your trip. If you’d like any help finding Business Class or First-Class deals using your points or miles, don’t hesitate to chat with us and we’ll get to work finding the best way to maximize your miles.

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