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The rise of low-cost carriers (LCCs) 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.
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.
- Chase Freedom Flex℠, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, and Ink Business Cash® Credit Card – Points are worth 1¢ per point in the Chase Travel Portal
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card – Points are worth 1.25¢ per point in the Chase Travel Portal
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® – Points are worth 1.5¢ per point in the Chase Travel Portal
Low-Cost Carriers you can book with Chase Ultimate Rewards:
- Book online: JetBlue, Pegasus, 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 LCCs 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.
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. The Citi Premier® Card, Citi Prestige® Card, and Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card will only net you 1¢ per point.
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.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: 1¢ per point
- Amex Membership Rewards: 0.6¢ per point
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: 0.5¢ per point
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 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.
- Earn 100,000 Miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months; worth $600 in travel if redeemed for a fixed-value, or potentially much more when transferred to airline partners
- 2 Miles on every purchase
- Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® (up to $100)
- No foreign transaction fees
- $95 annual fee
- 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day.
The same goes for cash back cards which offer even greater flexibility, allowing you to redeem for any travel expense you can dream up.
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.
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