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The current economic and travel shutdowns have many of us rethinking our lifestyles. One topic you might think about is which airline miles are best once we start traveling again. Knowing those now can help you jumpstart your account for when it is safe to travel. Here are some ideas for the best airline miles once the economy reopens.

airline miles once economy reopens
Miles from the largest US and international airlines can be your best option for airline miles once the economy reopens. Air Canada plane at MCO. Photo by Johnny Jet

Consider These Airline Miles First For Once Economy Reopens

You may focus on the largest airlines first. It makes sense as they can have more access to resources and financing to stay afloat. Having more routes and a larger fleet can also help them serve more destinations. Plus, the busier routes can offset underperforming routes. So, what are the best airline miles once the economy reopens?

Related: How to Keep Earning Points and Miles While in Quarantine

Delta Air Lines

You may consider Delta because of its large footprint for domestic flights. Being a 1:1 transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards is also an easy way to earn credit card points for award flights.

Delta Air Lines has been pioneering some of the elite status extensions and pandemic cancellation policies. In the past few weeks, other U.S. airlines have been amending policies after what Delta does.

Award flight prices with Delta can be hard to predict due to their variable pricing. Other airlines have been moving toward this method and ditching the award chart. Your flights may cost more with Delta, but this airline typically receives high marks in various industry surveys. For example, Delta has many satisfied customers and fewer delays than other carriers.

Delta wasn’t feeling the effects of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding before the coronavirus shutdowns either. We don’t know when the “Max” will return to the skies. This indefinite grounding is one less challenge Delta faces while building their flight plan for a post-coronavirus world.

In regards to international flights, SkyTeam alliance partners like Air France and Korean Air should weather the storm.

Related: Best Delta Air Lines credit cards

United Airlines

United Airlines is another excellent option as they are a cornerstone of the Star Alliance network. This airline also operates out of many smaller airports across the United States. If these flight options remain, United will continue to be the default airline to reach a major airport.

Like other legacy carriers, many flyers have a love-hate relationship with United Airlines. That sentiment still remains during the travel shutdowns as flyers are having trouble getting refunds on canceled flights.

United also has several co-brand credit cards that earn MileagePlus miles on all purchases. They are also an exclusive 1:1 transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Having a flexible card means you’ll have more options for airline miles once the economy reopens.

In regards to award flight pricing, United uses variable pricing like Delta. United can be a good option for international flights as you can avoid fuel surcharges. Their Polaris business class and transcontinental flights from New York to San Francisco can be good redemption options too.

Related: Best United Airlines credit cards

Alaska Airlines

Flying with a legacy carrier may not be your only option to travel the country. Alaska Airlines can be a good option when flying from the U.S. West Coast. We hope they continue to offer one of the best award flight routes to Hawaii, starting at 15,000 miles each way.

As Alaska is planning on joining the oneworld alliance, the airline is developing a partnership with American Airlines. Alaska can provide short-haul service and you can catch American-operated flights for long-haul travel.

Related: Alaska Airline Credit Card Review

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines (perhaps America’s favorite value airline) is another good option. There’s a lot to like about Southwest. First, their award flights generally cost less than legacy carriers on competitive routes. You can find award flights for less than 10,000 Rapid Rewards one-way when other airlines may charge at least 12,000.

Also, Southwest makes it easy to earn Rapid Rewards with the multiple co-brand Southwest credit cards for personal and business travel. Earning 100,000 Rapid Rewards in 2020 also qualifies you for the Southwest Companion Pass. This pass lets your travel companion fly for $5.60 each way on most flights for up to two years.

Your two free checked bags fly for free and Southwest doesn’t charge as many incidental fees as other airlines. These can be some of the best airline miles once the economy reopens.

Related: Credit Score Needed for Southwest Credit Card

British Airways

Most flights will likely be for domestic travel when the economy initially reopens. But international travel will eventually gain steam again too.

British Airways can be one of your best options to Europe if you don’t fly a US airline. Most British Airways flights go to London, but their Avios partners (Aer Lingus and Iberia) serve continental Europe. You can also use these miles to book partner flights on American and Alaska Airlines.

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card lets you earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios to help you hit the skies. Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Plus, earn an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $20,000 on your purchases within your first year of account opening. British Airways is an American Express and Chase 1:1 transfer partner.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines can be your best option for flying to Asia. Their Singapore Suites class is one of the best first-class experiences if you can find space. Plus, you have some flexibility with redeeming your miles on partner flights. For instance, you can use KrisFlyer miles for Alaska Airlines or Star Alliance flights.

One thing to keep in mind is that Singapore KrisFlyer miles expire three years from the month you earn them. Singapore is a transfer partner with the “big 4” credit card programs: American Express, Chase, Citi, and Capital One. You can tactically transfer your credit card points to your KrisFlyer account shortly before booking award flights.

Related: How to Redeem Singapore KrisFlyer Miles

Are Only the “Mega Airlines” Safe?

We don’t have a clear prediction when the travel industry will return to normal. But we can expect fewer routes than usual for the foreseeable future.  Some bankrupt airlines who were in trouble before the pandemic may not come back. For instance, Air Italy and Flybe shuttered right before the travel shutdowns arrived.

We saw mergers after the 2008 Great Recession as Delta acquired Northwest. A few years later, American Airlines bought US Airways and Alaska Airlines absorbed Virgin America. We may see another round of consolidation in the coming months (or years).

Governments around the world are offering bailouts to keep airlines flying. The current United States bailout helps prevent job layoffs through September. Airlines may adjust their operations starting October 1, 2020.

You should focus your efforts on the largest airlines first as they are more likely to stay in business. A mountain of frequent flyers is no good for a defunct airline. Maybe you already have airline elite status with some of these carriers and can enjoy other benefits.

Summary of the Best Airline Miles Once Economy Reopens

We’re still waiting to see what airline capacity is going to look like once travel shutdowns lift and the economy reopens. The summer travel season can give us insight as the first shelter in place orders end. Focusing on earning miles with the largest airlines can be a good option for now. Hopefully, you can find some good award flight prices along the way.

FAQs

What are the best airline miles for domestic travel?

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards are probably the best airline miles for domestic award flights. One reason why is that Southwest award flights usually cost less than the legacy carriers like American, Delta, and United. For example, you can fly one-way from California to Honolulu for between 9,000 miles and 18,000 miles. The same flight on American Airlines can cost 22,500 miles.

Your first two checked bags also fly for free on Southwest. For discount airlines, Southwest tends to serve more destinations than JetBlue and Alaska Airlines–its two largest competitors. You can also easily earn Southwest Rapid Rewards on personal and business purchases.

What are the best airline miles for international travel?

The best airline miles overall for international travel are “Star Alliance miles.” United MileagePlus miles can be your best bet as you can usually avoid fuel surcharges when flying to Europe or Asia.

Another top choice can be Avianca LifeMiles. The reason why is that Aviance is a 1:1 transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Although award space can be limited, Avianca waives on the fuel surcharge on Star Alliance partner flights like Lufthansa.

There are two Aviance LifeMiles credit cards with easy signup bonuses to earn:

Do airline miles expire?

Yes and no. These US airlines miles do not expire:

  • Delta Air Lines
  • United Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines

American Airlines miles expire after 24 months of account inactivity.

Miles from international airlines are more likely to expire. These frequent flyer miles typically expire between 18 months and 36 months of account inactivity:

  • Air France: 24 months
  • Avianca LifeMiles: 12 months
  • Avios (British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus): 36 months
  • Cathay Pacific: 36 months
  • Emirates: 36 months
  • Etihad: 18 months
  • Qantas: 18 months
  • Singapore Airlines: 36 months

In most cases, you can earn or redeem miles to renew your remaining balance. Two notable exceptions are Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles that have a hard 36-month expiration policy. Other international airlines may have similar policies with firm expiration rates. The best airline miles once the economy reopens are for airlines that make sense for you.

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Josh Patoka
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