When should you spend miles?

Some good basic answers to basic questions.

Should you hoard your miles or “burn as you earn” instead?

    Scrambling to survive, many have imposed onerous new fees and higher award levels — despite the fact that mileage programs are a rare financial bright spot for most carriers. The Internet is now rife with angry screeds from irked collectors, with Delta’s SkyMiles members going so far as to start a formal group to agitate for improvements.


    Such blemishes in the programs’ structures could also play a role in determining how large a stash of miles you want to keep. A deteriorating asset is often best disposed of — and that might argue in favor of using miles even when you might get a low fare elsewhere.


    “This is like owning a stock whose value is declining and you know it’s going to keep declining, and you sit there and do nothing, like the deer in the headlights,” Winship said.

When should you burn your miles?

    Does your trip involve a Saturday night stay? Most of the big carriers demand a Saturday night stopover when it comes to pricing their tickets, and if your travel doesn’t accommodate that, the sticker price could shock.


    Also, can you afford the outlay if you choose to buy? If the ticket price will decimate your personal finances, using miles is clearly smarter.

    Another issue involves personal satisfaction, what Peterson termed “the aspirational effect.” It’s that warm glow you’ll get from sitting for free in a plane bound for the dream trip of a lifetime or seeing college friends in Chicago for the weekend only because you had miles.


    “If you can go to Hawaii for free, that feels like it’s worth a million dollars,” he said.

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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