Why I’m Spending My Miles

My approach to award travel this year is very different than in years past. I used to act almost as though miles for accumulating, but that I pretended they couldn’t be redeemed. Ever. I built up some very big mileage balances.

This year, I’m taking a radically different approach.

My business trips are on paid tickets and I earn mileage for those. All but one of my personal trips that have been booked since Thanksgiving of last year have been award tickets.

Two things play into the decision.

First, given the uncertainty surrounding the major carriers, I’d rather keep my money and spend my miles. I know that Randy Petersen, who is far more expert about these things than I, says not to change redemption patterns because the miles will survive (he’s a bit more nuanced than that, but I think it’s his general position). However, I’ve decided that I want to spend my miles because I simply don’t know what the future holds. An airline may liquidate and take its miles with it. Or it simply may give out massive mileage bonuses in an attempt to lure business, and follow that with major hikes in the redemption prices for awards. For the first time I’m viewing U.S. dollars as less inflationary than miles. So I’m redeeming now.

But what about my elite status? My work trips will likely eek out my status for the year, without supplementing those travels with base mileage earning personal trips. And if not, I can always take my business to another carrier next year which will reward my past status and future spending.

The second thing that drive my decision to burn miles for tickets is the increase in upgrade prices at United, my primary carrier. The spread between a paid ticket with a confirmed mileage upgrade and a simple free premium cabin ticket has shrunk.

Take the example of a domestic roundtrip ticket. I can spend dollars and upgrade roundtrip for 30,000 miles. Or I can spend 40,000 miles for a first class ticket with no money.

That award ticket doesn’t earn miles, of course. A roundtrip to the West Coast might cost $400 and I’ll earn 10,000 miles (with my elite mileage bonus). So the net upgrade cost on top of the dollars is 20,000 miles (30,000 miles to upgrade minus 10,000 miles earned). For 20,000 miles more I can save $400. Personally, I’ll take that deal.

Back when the roundtrip upgrade cost 10,000 miles less I would have paid for the ticket.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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