Spend Miles or Money?

Yesterday I was asked whether it was worth spending miles on a domestic roundtrip ticket, or saving them up for vacations later. Here were my thoughts:

  • Don’t bank your miles. Lots of folks see their miles as an account to use for unlimited travel in some far off future. Problem is, airlines control the creation of the currency and its redemption. Airlines regularly inflate the currency, and the raise the number of miles necessary for awards. Except for special award sales (like after September 11th, and possibly to come in the event of a war with Iraq), the number of points required for awards goes up and not down.
  • The best value for miles is international premium class travel. Of course, this all varies by person — some people don’t value business or first class at all beyond the travel that it entails. But certainly based on market price, international business class and first class awards are the best value. The next best value would be upgrades (buy a coach ticket, confirm an upgrade to a higher class of service). This is especially true when you are trying to requalify for elite status with an airline, because paid miles count for status and free tickets do not.
  • If you have plenty of miles, and you’re redeeming for a domestic ticket, consider spending a bit more for first class. Most airlines require 25,000 miles for a coach ticket and 40,000 miles for first class. I find the latter to be a much better value. Also, when 25,000 mile coach awards aren’t available (since they’re capacity controlled) an airline will suggest spending 40,000 miles for a coach award which is not capacity controlled. I find that for the same 40,000 miles first class awards are often available. Better to be in First for the same number of miles as coach. Airlines don’t usually suggest that option, and most people don’t know/think to ask.
  • If you are going to be going through a whole bunch of miles and want someone really knowledgeable to coordinate it all, the best service is http://www.awardplanner.com — they specialize in redeeming frequent flyer award travel, and charge I think $49 for a whole year of unlimited award redemption. (You can also sign up for a membership with 30,000 Hilton points instead of money.)

And then for good measure I pointed this person to several links on my website that could help them get them revenue travel for less money:

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 InsideFlyer.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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