Frugal Confessions — Live a VIP Life on an Average Paycheck

How Many Frequent Flyer Miles Do You Need to Earn a Free Flight?


Updated as of 09/09/2015

My husband and I did something incredible last Thanksgiving, or at least incredible to us: we scored airfare to Michigan at an 85% discount over the holidays. Our family gathering was really nice, and even more so because we were able to get around Michigan’s very expensive airline market. For us to fly there and back from Houston would have cost an astounding $1400. To give you a bit of perspective, you can almost fly two people to Dublin and back for that same price.

How We Scored Airfare at an 85% Discount

When my uncle and aunt decided to host Thanksgiving at their home last year and I learned that nearly everyone would be joining in on the festivities, I knew that we wanted to go. Instead of saying “no” to what we wanted, I decided to look for (much) cheaper alternatives. Southwest Airlines had previously sent us several offers for two roundtrip tickets by opening up a credit card with them, paying the $99 annual fee, and making one purchase. I took them up on their offer several months in advance in order to receive the frequent flyer miles in time (Southwest is running a similar deal now, though you have to make $2,000 in purchases in the first three months for the tickets. Note: this is not an affiliate link). Even with this strategy, the free roundtrip ticket offer only covered $800. So on top of this we liquidated all of Paul’s frequent flyer miles he had accumulated last year from traveling for business. Problem solved! We ended up paying $20 in security fees, plus the $99 in annual fees for the credit card.


How Many Frequent Flyer Miles Do You Need?

Frequent Flyer mile programs can really save a lot of money, especially if you love to travel like we do (but choke when you see airfare prices). Tweet this! However, not all frequent flyer programs are created equal. Below is a comparison of baggage fees and how many frequent flyer miles you need for each of the major frequent flyer mile programs.


Note: Frequent flyer mile programs are sometimes tedious and difficult to compare. Feel free to share in the comments anything that should be added to the chart.

How Many Frequent Flyer Miles to Fly

Program Cheapest Free Ticket Redemption Point (Roundtrip, Continental U.S., and Alaska/Canada where available) Baggage Fees (up to 50 lbs. per bag)
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 25,000 award miles
Click here for how to earn mileage rewards
1st Bag: $25, 2nd Bag: $25
American Airlines AAdvantage 20,000 award miles
Click here for how to earn mileage rewards
1st Bag: $25, 2nd Bag: $35
United MileagePlus 20,000 award miles
Click here for how to earn mileage rewards
1st Bag: $25, 2nd Bag: $35 has a calculator to figure out baggage fees for your individual flight
JetBlue TrueBlue 20,000 award points
Click here for how to earn mileage rewards
1st Bag: $25, 2nd Bag: $35
Delta SkyMiles 25,000 award miles
Click here for how to earn mileage rewards
1st Bag: $25, 2nd Bag: $35
Southwest Rapid Rewards 10 points per dollar of fare charge* (Anytime fares)
Click here for how to earn mileage rewards
1st Bag: Free, 2nd Bag: Free

Typically you will get the most bang for your buck if you use one airline frequent flyer program exclusively so that you can save up enough miles and get those free trips (versus spreading your dollars and frequent flyer miles around to several different programs). While I have had a free flight on American Airline and have some miles in my Delta account, we generally stick with Southwest.

Which frequent flyer program(s) work best for you?

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