This is Part II of the post Travel Hacking
So after accumulating hundreds of thousands of miles, you might be wondering what to do with them. The obvious answer would be to book a domestic flight to anywhere in the US using 25,000 miles and call it good. While that is useful, you won’t be getting the best value for your miles. There is of course nothing wrong with that. I have taken many free flights to visit family around the country. However, if you plan carefully you can get a much better deal.
Look at these examples:
Most recently, I booked a one-way flight for my mom from DFW to PDX in first class for 25K miles, ticket value: $737. Valuation: $0.03 per mile.
Marcel, on a trip to Peru and Panama used 55K miles, also in First Class with a ticket value of $3500. Valuation: $0.06.
I went to Las Vegas using 25K miles, with an economy ticket valued at $350. Valuation: $0.014 (very low!)
The guy we learned this from, took a multi-city trip worth $14,000+, all on first class for 120K miles. Valuation: $0.12! (This is the best one I have ever heard)
What is valuation: Most rewards programs give you a 1% benefit. With airline miles, you can get as much as 6% or $0.06 reward per mile, more once you become an expert.
Blackout Dates: These are pretty much gone nowadays. The only thing to keep in mind is like with any flight, availability varies. The earlier you book, the better.
Do miles expire? Yes but it is easy to keep your account active by filling out surveys, doing online shopping, etc.
You also get the best valuation when redeeming miles out of season. Currently you can get a RT economy ticket to Europe for only 40K miles. In the summer, that would go up to 60K miles. Sometimes they also go on sale. One time, I got a RT domestic ticket for only 17.5K miles. Unfortunately, the opposite applies on peak seasons – usually July/August. Sometimes only first class tickets are available. This is when having a LOT of miles becomes very helpful. However, if you book early enough, you should be able to find something reasonable.
How to Redeem Miles:
Log in to your account, either on AA.com, United.com or whatever program you are in. Select AAdvantage/Redeem Miles or Mileage Plus/Use Award Miles whichever one is applicable. You are also free to browse availability without logging in. The best part is you can put tickets on hold for 5 days while you are thinking about it or booking another ticket for someone else, either from another account or standard purchase.
Here is an example scenario: You have 100K miles for 2 travelers and want to go to Europe on Spring Break. In the spring, each ticket only costs 40K miles. Select the flight/s you want but be flexible. From DFW, British Airways flies non-stop to LHR (London). From DEN, you may need to go through Frankfurt Germany. BA is a partner airline of AA. Currently, their flights show up on AA.com. Your flight might end up with 40K DFW to LHR then a train ride to CDG Paris.
It also helps to plan your destination so you can strategize which airline/s you want to use so you can focus on that program. I use most of my miles to go to DFW so AA miles are useful. Marcel likes to go to Latin America so United miles work better for him. Each program has different partner airlines that is why it helps to know where you want to go.
Don’t forget to enjoy the amenities of the First Class Lounges at airports. My United credit card gives me this benefit even if I book on economy class. I also get free checked bags and many other perks.
I would love to answer your questions, just drop me a line. On my next article, I will write about other ways to earn miles.
For further reading, see the Cosmic Adventure blog.