If your travel goals include mostly domestic travel, and you are traveling as a family and need to book multiple seats, then your travel rewards earning strategy is likely very different from someone who’s looking for aspirational redemptions in first or business class.

Let’s look at a few ways of maximizing your points redemptions and dive into the credit card strategy for domestic travelers. We’ll look at using transferable currencies, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points because they offer much better flexibility and many more redemption options than airline miles.

Best Ways to Book Domestic Economy Flights Using Ultimate Rewards Points

There are a couple of ways to book domestic economy flights with Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Namely, you can use the Chase Travel Portal, use Pay Yourself Back or transfer credit card points to partner airlines.

Chase Travel Portal

Why should you use the Chase Travel Portal? One of the main reasons to use the portal is the ability to book any flight you want, for as many people as you want. You don’t need to hunt for the elusive award space, especially when booking travel for multiple travelers.  

The price in points is tied to the ticket’s cash price. When redeeming the Ultimate Rewards points through the portal, their value will depend on which card you have. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the points are worth 1.5c/each. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, the points are worth 1.25c/each.

This could be especially beneficial if you come across a great fare sale. However, it’s always a good practice to compare the price in points you find in the portal to the award prices on one of Chase’s partner airlines (more on this later).  

Chase Pay Yourself Back

Pay Yourself Back is a new and limited time feature. In short, you can’t pay yourself back for travel expenses, but you can pay yourself back for other things, such as grocery store purchases.

Compared to the regular cashout option at 1 cent/point, this feature maximizes the value of Ultimate Rewards points by 25% to 50%. When using Pay Yourself Back, the points can be redeemed at an increased value of 1.25 cent/point or 1.50 cent/point, depending on the card. Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred and Chase Freedom Flex card holders receive 25% more value on certain redemptions, while Sapphire Reserve cardholders receive 50% more value on select purchases.

If you have a Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve, you can pay yourself back for groceries, home improvement store purchases and dining.

Other cards, such as the Ink Business Preferred and the Chase Freedom Flex have other categories eligible for the Pay Yourself Back feature. You can then use the money you saved on groceries or dining to purchase the flights.

Best Chase Airline Transfer Partners for Domestic Economy Tickets

Familiarizing yourself with how to run award searches for easy domestic itineraries on partner airlines is a good practice for when/if you need to book more complicated awards.

Chase has 10 airline partners but not all of them are super useful for booking domestic award tickets. And what’s particularly great about some partners is the ability to use the miles of one airline to fly on another. For example, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways and book short domestic flights on American Airlines for just 5,000 miles.

Here are the airline transfer partners that offer the best redemptions for domestic economy tickets:  

  • United Airlines
  • British Airlines for redemption on American Airlines
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue for redemption on Delta
  • Southwest

The points transfer 1:1 and the transfer is usually instant.

Southwest Companion Pass

One of the best deals in the world of travel rewards is the Southwest Companion Pass which allows you to book one ticket with Southwest points (or cash) and, if there’s an available seat on the flight, get the second ticket for free (plus taxes).

If you live near a city with good Southwest coverage (and reasonable cash fares) and can take advantage of the Companion Pass a few times a year, this is a great deal. If you don’t have well-priced Southwest flights out of your home airport that meet your travel needs, it’s perfectly fine to skip this.

Best Chase Credit Cards for Domestic Economy Travelers

One of the most commonly recommended cards for beginners is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It doesn’t matter what your travel goals are because if you are just starting on your travel rewards journey, it’s an excellent card to start with.

Why should you get this card? It comes with a very generous welcome bonus and the Ultimate Rewards points are easy to use via the Chase portal or by transferring to partners.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.

LEARN MORE 

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a higher annual fee, but you can redeem the points through the portal at a higher rate.

For a small business owner, the Ink Business Preferred is an excellent choice. The card has solid bonus categories including travel where you can earn 3X on purchases. The points can be transferred to the airline partners or redeemed through the travel portal. You can also combine the points earned with this card with any number of other Ultimate Rewards earning cards, including personal cards.

You do need to have one premium card (a card with an annual fee) in order to be able to redeem Ultimate Rewards points for travel, but the no-fee cards, such as the Chase Freedom Flex or the Chase Ink Business Cash® Credit Card, have excellent earning rates, usually better than the premium cards.

So you can put the majority of your spend on one of those no-fee cards to earn points in the bonus categories and then combine all the points under one premium card. For example, if you maximized the Chase Freedom Flex 5X quarterly bonus category and spent $1,500, you’d have earned 7,500 Ultimate Rewards points. After you combined these points with the points earned with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you could redeem them for $112.50 worth of travel.  

Southwest has a few co-branded credit cards that come with sizable welcome bonuses. And it’s possible to earn the Companion Pass by strategically opening just two cards, such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card.

Best American Express Airline Transfer Partners for Domestic Economy Tickets

Membership Rewards points are one of our favorite transferable currencies because they are fairly easy to accumulate and because Amex has some excellent airline transfer partners.

Membership Rewards points are usually discussed in the context of booking international business and first class awards, but if that’s not your goal, don’t dismiss Amex outright.  

Here are the airline transfer partners that offer the best redemptions for domestic economy tickets:  

  • British Airlines for redemption on American Airlines
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue for redemption on Delta
  • Avianca Lifemiles for redemption on United
  • Delta

As you can see, there’s quite a bit of overlap with Chase Ultimate Rewards partners (and Citi and Capital One, but more on that later), so if you are well diversified among various transferable currencies, you can accumulate a nice stash of points, enough to book domestic travel for the whole family, even if you have a very large family!

And here’s the icing on the cake: Amex regularly runs transfer bonuses to some of its transfer partners. So if you come across a transfer bonus, you’ll be able to book your flights at 20%-40% discount, depending on the bonus.

The points transfer is usually instant and the points transfer 1:1.

Best American Express Cards for Domestic Economy Flights

American Express has a number of excellent cards that come with substantial welcome offers. The Platinum Card® from American Express is a luxury card that comes with great benefits that help offset the annual fee and it earns 5X on airfare purchased directly with the airlines or through Amex Travel.

And who’s to say that domestic economy travel has to be completely luxury-free? The card comes with Priority Pass membership that you can use to get into a number of airport lounges where you can relax away from the crowds or have a pre-flight drink.

The American Express Green card earns 3X on travel, restaurants and transit, so if you spend a lot in these categories, you’ll have enough points for a few domestic flights in no time.

And for a small business owner there’s The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. It’s one of our favorite cards and it doesn’t even have an annual fee. It earns 2X on all purchases up to $50,000 a year. So if your business spends quite a bit in unbonused categories, this should be your go-to card. If you max it out every year, just think how many trips you can book with 100,000 Membership Rewards points!  

Best Capital One Airline Transfer Partners for Domestic Economy Tickets

Capital One used to have cash back only types of cards. They might have called them miles, but in reality, the cards were only useful for “erasing” your travel expenses. However, in 2018 Capital One added a number of transfer partner airlines and the points became much more useful practically overnight.

The most useful airline partners for domestic economy flights are:

  • Air France Flying Blue for redemption on Delta
  • Avianca Lifemiles for redemption on United
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer for redemption on United
  • JetBlue TrueBlue

Capital One miles transfer to Air France, Avianca and JetBlue at 2:1.5 and the transfer is usually instant. Singapore is an exception, and its miles transfer 2:1 and the transfer usually takes one to two days.

Best Capital One Cards for Domestic Economy Flights

The Capital One Venture Rewards card comes with a sizable welcome bonus and earns unlimited 2X on all purchases. The miles can be redeemed to “erase” travel purchases at 1 cent a point rate, essentially acting as cash back, or you can transfer them to an airline partner.

There are no bonus categories to keep track and the simple redemption structure is quite flexible. The simplicity comes at a price though, because there’s no way to accelerate earning by strategically spending in the bonus categories like you can do with a number of Chase or Amex cards.

For the small business owner, there’s the Capital One Spark Miles for Business. Similar to the consumer version, the card earns 2X on everything with one exception. The card earns 5Xon hotel and rental car bookings made through Capital One Travel.                         

Best Citi Airline Transfer Partners for Domestic Economy Tickets

Citi also has a couple of airline transfer partners that could be extremely useful when booking domestic economy trips:

  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue for redemption on Delta
  • Avianca Lifemiles for redemption on United
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer for redemption on United
  • Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles for redemption on United
  • JetBlue TrueBlue

ThankYou points transfer to partners 1:1 and the transfer is usually instant with the exception of Turkish Airlines (1-2 days). And just like Amex, Citi also periodically runs transfer bonuses when you transfer Citi ThankYou points to one of the airline partners. For example, just recently Citi ran a 25% transfer bonus to Avianca Lifemiles.

Similarly to Chase’s travel portal redemptions, you can redeem Citi ThankYou points through Citi’s travel center. If you’re redeeming points earned with the Citi Premier® Card, then each point is worth 1.25 cents for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises.  

Best Citi Cards for Domestic Economy Flights

Talk about simplicity! The Citi® Double Cash Card earns 2% cash back on everything. You’ll earn 2% cash back on all purchases – 1% when you buy and another 1% when you pay. If you have one of Citi’s premium cards that earn ThankYou points, you can convert the cashback rewards into ThankYou points and transfer those to the partner airline or use them to buy travel through Citi’s travel center.  

The Citi Premier® Card comes with a nice welcome bonus and has quite a few 3X categories, including travel and groceries. So if your family spends a lot in these categories, you’ll be able to accumulate enough points to take a whole family on vacation very quickly.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, domestic economy travelers have many options for booking award tickets. All major card issuers have a couple of excellent options and so many transfer partners overlap.

If you want to take advantage of Chase’s Pay Yourself Back limited time feature, you’d better do it sooner rather than later. The feature might go away completely at the end of April or the Pay Yourself Back categories might change to far less useful categories.

Travel well,

Anna