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.
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.
American Airlines Mileage donation program here: http://joinus.aa.com/miles-for-kids-in-need-aadvantage-miles-donate is both a great cause and a good way to make sure your miles don’t expire unused. Donations will extend your expiration date – usually to 18 months from the date of donation. The minimum donation is only 1000 miles so this is probably the “cheapest” way to extend miles as the donation only “costs” you 1000 miles – a value of about $10-$15 depending on your flying and mileage program habits. My personal rule of thumb *used to be* to use money when the cost of the ticket was LESS THAN a penny per mile used, but this has been complicated by the fact that I have a lot of miles now from credit card offers, ticket have become very expensive, miles tickets are HARD to get, etc. I’m now inclined use miles whenever possible simply to avoid losing them.
In any case, be SURE to check your miles expiration if you have more than about 5000 miles in your account. Fewer than that and it may not be worth the time to mess with miles now that tickets have become hard to get using these programs. For those short on time and long on money I’d say under 10,000 miles may not be worth your hassle time, but obviously if you have over 25000 miles – basically a free round trip in the USA on many airlines – you’ll want to preserve those miles.
As always, the secretary disavows any knowledge of your mission. Good Luck.
All the Airlines seem to be both giving away more and more frequent flyers miles but also making it harder to use the programs. Through credit card offers, not to mention actually travelling on planes, you can rack up hundreds of thousands of miles – enough for many trips. Unfortunately it’s not easy to use these so you’ll need to strategize a bit, plan travel far in the future to obtain most of the lowest miles deals, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, you’ll need to hang on to your miles.
I just used a nice offer by American Airlines to extend my wife’s miles for 18 months. She gave away 1000 miles to the “Miles for Kids in Need” program at AA, and this kept her from losing the rest of them. Here’s the link to AA’s charity miles giveaways: http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/redeemMiles/charities.jsp
Another way to preserve your miles is simply to buy 1000 miles for about $30 from AA. http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/purchasingMiles/main.jsp
One of the WORST things you can do is let them expire and then pay over a penny per mile to have them reinstated – unless you have a very specific use of your miles, in my opinion it’s not worth, say $200 to keep 20,000 miles. Some would (wrongly) suggest that the calculation would be along these lines: “You can get a $400-500 ticket for 25,000 miles so they are worth about .02 each”. The problem, however, is that you usually CANNOT get a ticket easily with miles and also you won’t tend to have exactly the right number for a tickets, leaving some unused or you unable to use some. So my rule of thumb is that miles are worth about 1-2 cents per mile assuming you travel and lot are will use them.
FYI “selling and buying miles” is a risky proposition. I’ve not done this and the laws seem fairly complicated, but I think you risk losing miles if you try that game.