Using your frequent flyer miles for flying is not always the best choice. Almost every time I make my reservation with miles, I get the feeling that airlines are trying to punish me. They would rather carry me half a way around the world than let me fly directly. It looks like their goal is to get me so exhausted, I would never think of flying for free again. They do not treat me any better in case of trip interruption. If rescheduling is required, I am always at the end of the line, behind those who paid with money. Additionally, when paying with miles I am not taking advantage of great travel protection that is offered by credit cards, therefore I prefer to pay with my cards and then erase charges with their points or cash back. I often end up using miles for other travel expenses instead of flying. Fortunately, all major airlines allow to use their miles in variety of ways.
Here are my strategies on how to make the most out of your miles:
1. Use miles to purchase a travel package. Quite often it is a cheaper solution than paying for your flight and hotel separately. Also, you will be offered better routes for your flight.
2. Use miles to pay for your lodging. Let’s say, you are flying to Europe and you would have to pay $1000 for your ticket. You also need accommodation for five nights, at $200 per night. Instead of flying with your points, use them to make your hotel reservations and buy your airline ticket with a credit card. This way, you will be treated by your airline like a regular paying customers, and you will get travel protection provided by your credit card.
3. Make last minute changes to your itinerary. This is my recent experience. Instead of paying $750 for a regular ticket, I used 25000 miles. My returned flight was supposed to start at 8 PM and required four stops-travel time 14 hours! That was lot for an overnight domestic flight. Two days before the flight, I called my airline and ask them to find a better route. They checked available seats and they found a day flight with “only” three stops! I had to pay $100 for making this change. Instead of spending $750, I spent $100 – still a good deal and a descent connection.
4. Look for the longest flight. If time is not an issue, a bad looking route can add extra destinations to your travel. For instance, American Airlines charges 60000 miles for a round trip to your chosen destination in Europe (during the peak season), no matter how many stops. I was looking to fly from Philadelphia to island of Zakhyntos, Greece. At first, all possible itineraries looked bad, but then I noticed some interesting cities that could be my stopovers. I chose worst possible options time wise – 38 hours one way! I was able to get a stopover in Barcelona on my way out and also in Vienna on my way back. This kind of ticket, if purchased with money, would cost around $3000. (Of course there is an added cost of hotel accommodation for two nights, but I got it covered with Delta frequent flyer miles.)
5. Check out your airline’s gift cards. You can purchase them with miles. Money you saved can be put aside toward buying your future flight. For example, Southwest Airlines offers great variety of restaurant gift cards. Buy the cards with miles and use them every time you go out. Let’s say you go out every two weeks, and your bill is $50. In twenty six weeks you will save $1300. That could cover a roundtrip ticket to Europe or three domestically.
6. Make your car reservation. This is a very good option for using your miles. When looking at available cars, do not assume that the top rows, economy cars, are always least expensive. Scroll down and look at other types of cars. Once in while, you might find some incredible offers. Last summer, I rented Dodge Durango for a week with only 25000 United Airlines miles. This kind of rental normally costs around $500 per week.
7. Do not to waste your miles on cheap flights. For example, I will not pay 60000 miles for a round trip to Las Vegas, if I can buy a ticket for $300. Instead, I will use these miles to fly to Europe, to avoid paying $1200.
8. Do not let your miles expire. If you have a credit card associated with your airline, one purchase can keep your miles active for at least one more year. If you do not have a card, go to your airline’s website and use their shopping mall for a small purchase. Again, that will keep your miles active. If your are no longer interested in keeping your miles, use them to buy a gift card or make any kind of purchase. Clean your account – this is your money!
9. Do not transfer or buy miles. Buying or transferring miles makes sense only when you are very close to getting your ticket. There are huge costs associated with it! You are better off simply buying a ticket.
10. Buy one way tickets. Remember, you are not obligated to fly the same airline both ways. If you do not have enough points for a round trip, you can use points from one airline for your departure flight and from another airline for your arrival flight.