You’ve flown around the world, applied for few credit card signup bonuses, and even shopped online to get all those juicy miles that will translate into free flights and accommodation. But, like with any currency, miles have a value and that value changes depending on how and when you spend them. You don’t want to waste "money," right? Here I’ll give you seven tips on how spend those miles wisely and get the most value out of them.
As a general rule of thumb, you will try to earn the most miles as cheaply as possible (with inexpensive economy domestic and international flights or credit card purchases), but when redeeming, you will get the most value out of your miles when you use them for expensive, international, business and first class flights. These flights tend to come with high prices, so your miles will provide a bigger value than when using them for domestic or cheap flight redemptions.
I recommend searching for the airfare first and see where the price stands, then check how many miles are needed to redeem that same flight. While there’s no specific rule of thumb, most people try to at least get a value of $0.02 per mile used. If a flight costs $3,000 and you need to spend 100,000 miles on it, you know that the value of your miles is $0.03, which is more than good.
Normally, domestic flights don’t offer a good mile value, especially if they are under $300. Try to always focus your redemptions on international travel.
Try to book your award travel online to avoid booking fees imposed over the phone. But, when booking online is not an option –whether the flight is operated by an alliance partner or the site does not allow you to book it directly– calling the airline and explaining why you can’t book online almost always works to waive the fee.
Like all airfares, award redemptions vary according to seasons and peak dates. When searching online, you’ll probably notice that flying on one day will cost you 25,000 miles, but flying the next day will cost you 20,000 miles. Do you have the flexibility to leave on a different date? Sometimes changing dates can save you over 50% in miles.
Additionally, booking early is one of the best ways to get the most value. Airlines only offer a limited amount of seats at specific mile values. Once the inventory is gone for the cheapest mile redemptions, all you have available are either the expensive redemptions or none at all. Holiday or peak season award travel should be booked months in advance.
Sometimes, the best value is obtained when using your miles to upgrade instead of buying a business or first class ticket with miles. But, before you decide on upgrading with miles, make sure that the fare you paid for allows you to upgrade with miles.
It’s always good to diversify your miles with different alliances. You may have all your OneWorld alliance miles with American Airlines, but that doesn’t mean you have to fly with American to redeem your miles. That’s what the alliance is for. First, familiarize yourself with the airlines in the alliance and decide where you want to fly to. Then, if an alliance airline flies to your destination, go to your Airline of preference (where you have your miles) and search for award flights to the destination. Normally, they might show the alliance partner flights and the mile redemption cost, but sometimes they don’t. If they don’t come up, go to the alliance partner’s website and look for the desired flights there and the miles needed to redeem, then call your preferred airline and tell them the itinerary over the phone. They should be able to book it over the phone, even if the route does not appear on their site.
Also keep in mind that booking with alliance partners could sometimes be cheaper than flying with the airline where you have your miles. For example, I flew a few times from the US to Brazil using my United Airlines miles to redeem Copa Airlines flights since they were 20,000 miles per leg, instead of 35,000 with United.
This is where the pro frequent flyers are separated from the amateurs. As I mentioned in the previous point, not all awards are visible on all sites, so proper research is needed to find the cheapest and full availability of awards. Search multiple airline websites in all alliances, call the airlines to verify availability by phone, ask them for partner airline awards instead of theirs, and play with flexile dates. But, the biggest key to maximize your miles is understanding the relationship each partner has and how each values their miles. This is when you’ll understand how one airline is more beneficial for mile redemption over another (depending on the frequent flyer program you’re using).
Flights usually tend to be more expensive for last minute flights, so if there are cheap award seats available, you might still get a good value out of your miles. While sometimes there are cheap award seats for last minute flights, you have to take into consideration that some airlines charge a fee for last minute award redemption.
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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