Frequent flyer (FF) miles can be an IgoUgo member’s--or any traveler’s--conundrum: their potential value toward a free ticket makes it sensible to collect them, but if they sit unused, what’s the point? Plus, booking that free ticket using miles can be difficult, as navigating blackout dates and tiered mileage calendars can drastically water down their worth. So what’s a savvy traveler to do? A few IgoUgo members have some new suggestions.
The amount of reward trips travelers take has been dropping drastically, and with airlines pressured to fill flights with paying passengers, getting the free ticket you want using miles is more challenging than ever. American now allows frequent fliers to use miles to book car rentals and hotel stays online; Delta just expanded its FF merchandise to include Godiva chocolates, laptops, or gift cards to stores like Gap; and both United and Delta offer options of using miles plus cash to book travel.
But is receiving an item like a free box of chocolates worth cashing in those precious miles? It depends. To get the most bang for your buck, whip out a calculator and divide the price of the item by how many miles you’d spend for the same thing. So, using 25,000 miles for a $350 plane ticket would value your miles at $1.40 each. In contrast, United lists a KitchenAid 10-piece porcelain cookware set (valued at $150) for 24,800 miles, or just 0.6 cents per mile. The winner? In this scenario, the ticket—but only if you can find a deal that good. When it costs 50,000 miles to redeem the same ticket, the trip is now worth 0.7 per mile. IgoUgo member tezana says, “I figure the miles are worth slightly less than 3 cents each,” in her story Frequent Flyer miles vs. Money. But she does advise cashing in miles for last minute trips. “It’s cheaper to use an award certificate to get an emergency flight than to pay 'day of' prices,” she notes.
Of course, if your travel plans are flexible and you’re as lucky as anbhc, your FF points may stretch even further – as he describes in his Israel vacation journal. “I saved up 50,000 frequent flyer miles for a free trip to Israel. The flight was overbooked so I voluntarily gave up my seat--and TWA gave me the last seat on the next flight, plus a free roundtrip economy ticket anywhere in the world that TWA flies.” Impressive--perhaps those good deals are why TWA is no longer in business.
Find a cheap flight to anywhere, FF miles or not!
Posted by SpecialK3883 (Kelly L. Phillips)
Comment by MilwVon on November 10, 2010
Yikes . . . using miles for merchandise? I cannot think of a worse way to spend them. Sure the airlines are a royal PITA when trying to use miles for flights, but people need to be just a bit flexible and long-range in their planning.
I never pay for flights to Alaska, which I've been fortunate to score R/T tickets at just the 25k level for coach.
The TWA story isn't necessarily an exception, as I've been lucky enough to score a bump on a "free ticket" on Delta (and formerly NWA).
My best frequent flier miles use was the 100k "free" miles with British Airways through their Chase VISA offer about a year ago. That along with some moderate use (less than $10k in six months), a bonus along the way for another 10k in miles and the purchase of around 19k miles from B/A . . . and I'm flying to Kenya with their "miles and cash" program for about 145k miles and $2,100 (total) cash . . . in WT+ (their "premium economy") to Africa . . . and FC home! I priced out the ticket on their website and it would have cost me nearly $11,000 cash w/o the miles part of the deal.
Then again, with the economy in the dumpster, maybe the days of my free trips to Alaska are soon to be over. I sure hope not!