Can You Book Low Cost Carriers With Chase, Citi, or Amex Points?

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The rise of low-cost carriers (LCC’s) has had a massive impact on air travel over the last decade. What were once legacy carrier strongholds are now peppered with low-cost airlines offering heavily discounted fares.

Norwegian Boeing 737 Max
You can book low-cost carriers like Norwegian with rewards points via various travel portals.

A common complaint from award travelers is that many LCC's don’t participate in global reservations networks, airline alliances, or frequent flyer partnerships, making it difficult to book tickets with points or miles.

While the price of revenue tickets is low enough to justify paying cash, you can also use points and miles to book award flights on low-cost carriers. Some you can book directly through the respective travel portals, others need to be booked over the phone, and if all else fails, you can redeem points as a statement credit against tickets purchased directly from the airline.

Beware of Hidden Fees on Low-Cost Carriers

Before purchasing a ticket or redeeming points for an award flight on an LCC, remember the base ticket price isn’t likely to include any ‘extras’ like checked baggage, entertainment, or a meal. Services most of us take for granted on award flights. You'll need to select additional options, each with a price tag if you want even the most basic creature comforts flying low-cost airlines and the new ‘Basic Economy’ services offered by the legacy carriers.

Can You Transfer Flexible Rewards Points to Low-Cost Carriers?

Unless you consider JetBlue and Southwest discount airlines, then the answer is no. Southwest is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, and you can transfer points from Amex Membership Rewards to JetBlue at a ratio of 250:200. You can’t move points from Chase, Citi, or Amex to ultra-low-cost carriers like Allegiant and Spirit.

Outside of a few second-degree partners (can be booked as a partner award using transfer partner’s miles), the options to transfer flexible points to low-cost carriers are slim to none, and that isn’t a bad thing. Transferring points to airline and hotel partners is an excellent way of maximizing the value of rewards if you redeem those miles for premium cabin awards or free nights.

Book Low-Cost Carriers Through the Chase, Citi, and Amex Travel Portals

Fortunately, all three portals allow you to book one or more low-cost carriers, redeeming points for a fixed-value through their respective travel centers. Not all the airlines can be booked online; some require you to call in and book over the phone.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal

Despite Citi and Amex recently adding new partnerships, we still consider Chase Ultimate Rewards the best value flexible points for award travel, both from an earning and redeeming perspective. You can redeem UR points for a fixed-value through the travel portal with the redemption rate determined by the card you hold.

Low-Cost Carriers you can book with Chase Ultimate Rewards:

  • Book online: JetBlue, Pegasus, Spirit, WestJet
  • Book via phone: Allegiant, GOL, Norwegian

To book over the phone contact the Ultimate Rewards reservation center on 1-866-951-6592.

American Express Travel – Pay with Points

While Membership Rewards can be a little harder to come by than Citi or Chase points, if you pair up The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express with premium cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, you have a robust set of points earning cards that also offer top-tier travel benefits such as lounge access and elite status. And holding Amex Platinum card also gives you access to LCC’s via Amex Travel you wouldn’t have access to if you didn’t keep the card.

Low-Cost Carriers you can book with Amex Membership Rewards:

  • Book online: Flybe, JetBlue, WestJet
  • Book via phone: Southwest (only for Amex Platinum cardholders)

To book over the phone contact the American Express Travel on 1-800-297-3276.

Southwest Airlines Logo

Citi ThankYou® Rewards Center

With the recent addition of Avianca LifeMiles to Citi's roster of transfer partners, ThankYou Rewards points have become more valuable, another great reminder to diversify your rewards portfolio. Citi also lets you book travel on low-cost carriers via the ThankYou Service Center, but again, not all airlines can be booked online. Both the Citi Prestige® Card and the Citi Premier Card let you redeem points for 1.25¢ per piece through the travel portal, while the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card will only net you 1¢ per piece.

Low-Cost Carriers you can book with Citi ThankYou Rewards:

  • Book online: Flybe, JetBlue, WestJet
  • Book via phone: Air Asia, GOL, Pegasus, Southwest

To book over the phone contact the ThankYou Service Center on 1-800-842-6596.

Redeem Points as a Statement Credit for Tickets on ANY Low-Cost Carrier

Redeeming points as a statement credit may not represent the best value you can achieve for your hard earned rewards points. But if you can’t redeem points directly for tickets on an LCC, purchasing tickets directly with the carrier and redeeming points as a statement credit works as a ‘redemption of last resort.’

Chase Ultimate Rewards offer a distinctly better deal for this option than Amex or Citi, providing almost half a cent per point more in value for statement credit redemptions.

Erase the Cost of Low-Cost Carrier Tickets Using Fixed-Value Points & Cash Back

Tickets on low-cost carriers are the ideal redemption for fixed-value points and cash back, as you can wipe out the travel charge at a fixed rate. You can take advantage of the terrific signup bonuses on cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and provided the merchant codes as travel; you can redeem your points at a value of 1¢ per point towards the purchase.

The same goes for cash back cards which offer even greater flexibility, allowing you to redeem for any travel expense you can dream up.

Final Thoughts

Redeeming flexible points for low-cost carriers doesn’t typically offer the best redemption value for your points, nor is it as easy as redeeming for legacy and flag carriers you can book directly through the respective travel portals.

However, once you know the path offering the best value for your points, you can redeem Chase, Citi, and Amex points at a fixed-value for a number of discount airlines, potentially saving thousands of dollars in travel costs.

If you have experience redeeming Chase, Citi, or Amex points on low-cost carriers either domestic or international, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Can You Book Low Cost Carriers With Chase, Citi, or Amex Points?
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Comments

  • Lee Ann Bixler says:

    Great information on low cost carriers that is usually not discussed on other travel blogs. Thanks!

  • When redeeming fixed value points, can you use online travel sites to book instead of the airline? Some sites appear cheaper than direct airline bookings.

    • It depends on the program.

      So for example, you can redeem Barclaycard Arrival miles or Capital One Rewards on any website. But for Ultimate Rewards, as an example, to get the max value, you’d need to book through their travel portal — otherwise, they’d process the points deduction as a statement credit.

  • HSBC has a couple of new Premier account credit cards that let you redeem rewards for a statement credit for travel purchase.. One has no annual fee, provides a TSA fee rebate, $100 airline purchase (in flight, lounge, seat upgrade, ect.) annual credit, free Boingo WIFI and $50 annual UBER/LYFT credit;

    • I have to amend my earlier post; The free HSBC Premier card does not include the $100 annual airline incidentals rebate.

  • Thanks for digging into this. Great.

  • I prefer paying cash when travelling with low cost airlines.

  • Thanks for the info.

  • Speaking of Norwegian, always be sure to check prices on their actual Norway version of the website – I was able to save probably 15 or 20% on my last booking compared to the US site. Just be sure you’re booking with a card that has no foreign transaction fee…

  • I like norwegian air, they are a great airline to fly.

  • If you fly in Europe it’s also worth noting that you can use avios to book seats on Flybe and Vueling.

  • It would be a waste of miles on these redemptions.

  • SUCH a valuable post. Often times, we hear the same news (“Blah blah blah 5/24″…), but this actually helps me out a bit. Well done!

  • Thanks, this is the first time I’ve seen an article with this info. And good timing, since I am considering a Norwegian Air booking.

  • Richard Blundell says:

    Really useful. Thanks.

  • This is great, I can’t wait to try some of these strategies thank you

  • I thought for a moment there the answer was no.

  • i love southwest recently, flexible cancellation and always high availability on redeeming flights.

  • Never been a fan of the low cost carriers………..Although I’m sure this will be helpful for others……..

  • I still dislike it when Southwest is considered a low cost carrier. It is often more expensive than legacy carriers.

  • I did not realize you could book low cost carriers with Ultimate Rewards points. thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • This is definitely good information, especially about the lesser known LCCs. However, it’s definitely buyer-beware with LCCs. More than just their fees for bags, if anything goes wrong (weather, mechanical, etc) there are usually fewer options with a LCC. I always factor that into my equation when considering booking with them — paid or points tickets.

  • Speaking of Low Cost Carriers, I have flown Air Asia several times, with many good experiences. They operate mainly in SE Asia and have their own rewards program, but I have not taken the trouble to accrue points with them. Wondering if anyone here has experience with their program and how well it works.

  • great info.
    thanks and happy new year!

  • Another excellent post. The next time that I get any significant Citi ThankYou or Chase points, I’ll look to using them for a JetBlue flight.

  • Actually, a good card that lets you redeem for statement credits toward travel, or just redeem for cash is the BAnk of America Premium Rewards card, which I think is worth the $95 annual fee. There is a $500 equivalent sign up bonus with $3000 spend in the first 3 monthes, an annual $100 airline expense credit, TSA Precheck or Global Entry fee rebate, and 2% rebate on dining and travel purchases and 1.5% on all other purchases. But, if you have other money at Bank of America, including Merrill Lynch, you can get Preferred status and the credit card rebate is enhanced by up to 75%, making it the card offering the highest reward for everyday spending I’m aware of (except for when cards have quarterly category offers, or some cards with high rebates for certain categories, like the AMEX with 6% on groceries, the BankAmericard with 2% (plus up to 75% more with preferred status) on groceries and warehouse clubs, or PenFed 5 points on gas, for example).

  • Very useful, thanks. By the way, how much is a MR point worth when redeeming with Amex Pay with Points (for someone who doesn’t have the Business Platinum card)?

  • I would pay cash and save points for other purposes.

  • Wow, I didn’t know Chase points had different values depending on the card you earned them with! Good to know for sure.

  • I have done that a few times.

  • Using MR rewards through the business platinum amex is a good way to purchase discount flyers

  • There is just something about LLC that concerns me and that has to do with their maintenance reliability. I just won’t fly them. Probably their maintenance inspections come out just fine, but I’ll never know if they do or don’t. I just feel better overall staying with the legacies.

    • You know, so many people hold this belief, and it just isn’t true at all! LCCs are low-cost because they don’t offer perks, not because they compromise safety. In fact, LCCs have a greater incentive towards safety than the legacy carriers do – legacies can handle the financial and reputational hit that comes with a fatal crash, but for a LCC a crash would be the kiss of death for the airline. LCCs also keep costs down by using newer airplanes that are more fuel efficient and require less maintenance, which also helps keep them safer.

      Keep flying the legacies if you want, but know that you’re paying more and not any safer than you would be on a LCC. I understand not wanting to deal with the extra fees on Spirit or Frontier, but they’re both perfectly safe airlines.

  • Lately Southwest has been more expensive than other carriers for the flights I have taken.

    • The ‘Low Cost Carriers’ have been very good at positioning themselves in the market so that many people believe they are always the cheapest. It can however sometimes be the case that the legacy carriers can be cheaper. People though don’t always check the price of the legacy carriers because the assume that they will be more expensive

    • Yea Southwest is known as a LCC but it’s definitely not the cheapest.

  • I just don’t see me using the LCC since once I add up all the extras I have to pay for I’m at the price say for American. Maybe one day when I really need to go somewhere but do not have a 22in carry on. I’m short so I don’t have to worry about any legroom.

    I don’t consider Southwest a LCC. I keep seeing all these specials for Southwest but I haven’t seen a low cost for trips that I want to go on. Maybe I’d see better costs if I was elsewhere for their flights.

  • ThankYou portal shows (some) Frontier flights.

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