Thanks to credit card offers and frequent travel you may be sitting on a LOT of frequent flyers miles, but that doesn’t always mean you should use them up quickly. Here are some tips on effective collection and use of frequent flyer programs and miles:
Collect more frequent flyer miles:
I’m amazed how many people don’t take advantage of frequent flyer programs, which will save a frequent traveler *tens of thousands* of dollars over a lifetime. So the first tip is USE THESE PROGRAMS! Second tip is DON’T LET MILES EXPIRE!. That usually involves simply spending a bit with credit card linked to your miles program, buying or gifting a few miles through the program, and other cheap approaches. Even at the low valuation of a penny a mile, losing 25000 miles is like losing $250 cash and is often easily avoided.
Travel is NOT the easiest way to get miles. Credit Card sign ups with flyer miles programs are increasingly generous, so it’s not uncommon to get 50,000 or even more miles for a simple credit card sign up, often using cards sponsored by United Airlines, Delta Airlines, US Airways, British Airways, and more. Although using these and other credit cards will often allow you to collect a few miles, a good trick if your record keeping is good is to cancel the cards after a year (before the fee kicks in) and then sign up again with the new offers that will come your way soon. Depending on your credit and other factors, you can get hundreds of thousands of extra miles by simply signing up with different cards via different airlines over the course of a few years. The best online resource I’ve found to help with this is The Points Guy. Tips there are very helpful and he’s usually got the best offers current credit card offers highlighted and explained.
Using your miles wisely:
I like to assign a value to my miles to help compare offers. I generally use a penny per mile but that may be somewhat low for most people. I’d say .02 per mile would be on the high side. For example if I can use 25,000 miles for a round trip but the ticket would cost me $350 I’d tend to use miles. On the other hand if I’d need to use 50,000 miles for that $350 trip I’ll pay for the ticket.
Miles values will vary for different people since people have different levels of comfort (first class upgrades can be relatively cheap using miles vs cash), flexibility (more flexibility means your miles will be a lot easier to use), inconvenience (miles are often somewhat trickier to use compared to booking a paid flight) and the fact that people’s time differs in value (for example if you value your time at minimum wage and can spend more time looking for deals the miles may be worth *more* to you than if you value your time at, say, $50+ per hour.
To get an idea of how many miles you’ll get for various trips, use the mileage calculator at Airport City Codes - just enter your two airports and add up the miles from different legs of the journey.