Frequent Flyer Tip – Assign Value Your Frequent Flyer Miles To Help Decide How to Use Them

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.

 

Hello from 30,000 Feet

I’m flying high on Alaska Airlines from Austin to Seattle, enjoying @GoGo wifi service, dinner (!) and complimentary movies.    Although I’m on a frequent flyer ticket Alaska was kind enough to bump me to first class, and gogo was nice enough to let me use their in flight wifi at no charge  (well, actually I promised them a twitter shoutout).

TSA Pre Precheck Program for frequent flyers

TSA is rolling out their “pre” program this fall at Dulles IAD and  Indianapolis  IND Airports.   The pre check allows frequent flyers to board somewhat more easily than “regular” flyers.    However the enrollment fee of $85 and fingerprinting hassles mean that for most flyers this may not be worth the trouble and cost.    Obviously frequent travelers may find this worthwhile however, and the $85 is over 5 years and therefore represents a very small annualized cost.

It’ll be hard to tell the time savings until details are finalized because the number of dedicated screening lines for “pre” passengers may determine how much time this process will save.   Time is money, so the $85  fee will be well worth it to frequent business travelers if they can save many hours in waiting over the course of their enrollment.

Here’s more about the “Pre” Precheck program from the TSA Website:

TSA Pre✓™ allows select frequent flyers of participating airlines and members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs who are flying on participating airlines, to receive expedited screening benefits. Eligible participants use dedicated screening lanes for screening benefits which include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.

TSA Pre✓™ Application Process

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is announcing plans to implement a TSA Pre✓™ application process. The TSA Pre✓™ fee-based application process will allow U.S. citizens the opportunity to apply for expedited screening without a passport.

When available, the application will be a two-step process:

  1. Fill out an online application.

  2. Verify identity and provide fingerprints at a TSA Pre✓™ enrollment center.

Applicants may pay the anticipated $85 enrollment fee online, or at an enrollment center. There is a five-year term of eligibility, after which members will need to re-apply. TSA expects the vetting process to take approximately 2-3 weeks. A U.S. passport is not required to enroll. The first two enrollment locations, Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Indianapolis International Airport (IND), will open in fall 2013 with plans to expand to additional enrollment sites nationwide.

 

Rick Steves on Rethinking the Massive Cost of Airport Security

the moral of the TSA story is that our safety is coming at a cost that may not be sustainable

Great post today on Facebook by Rick Steves about how we need to do a rational job of assigning costs and benefits to our Airport Security apparatus.   Although I agree with him I think a lot of the blame is with … those of us who continue to irrationally fear terrorism more than the *hundreds* of other greater risks around us, many of which we could mitigate very cheaply.   For example a smoker is creating fairly substantial death risk for themselves, and could live longer simply by spending *less* on smoking.   In other areas like auto accidents (which kill hundreds of times the number of people killed in terror incidents), we could simply make sure more people buckle up and fewer drive drunk.   The cost of these measures is trivial but the lives saved would be vastly more than we save with our TSA security measures.

Of course a challenge Rick is not addressing is that the irrationality many of us apply to this topic means that if we DO have terror incidents it will discourage many from flying at all.   This irrational result means that it might actually be good policy to provide more anti-terror measures than you would apply in a more rational world, because people’s fear might wind up creating large scale problems with the global transportation system.   Thus we might need to spend billions more than is rational in order to prevent losing tens of billions from irrational economic decisions.

Still, the moral of the TSA story is that our safety is coming at a cost that may not be sustainable.   Therefore we should start educating the public to be more rational in how they assign risk and reward, and start working towards sustainable safety spending rather than excessive and irrational political spending programs.

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Rick Steves on Facebook:
I’ve been through a lot of airports lately, and I have to say, when people joke about TSA meaning “thousands standing around,” it has a ring of truth. In November, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that we spend about $8 billion a year on scanning machines, all that time-consuming checking, and employing those people who stand between us and our departure gate. And that cost doesn’t even consider the valuable time wasted by travelers who need to allot extra time to cover surprise delays at airport security.

 Sure, we need to spend some money and time on security. But does anyone in government have the nerve to raise their hand and ask, “Could we lighten up here a bit?” or even “Aren’t we going a bit overboard there?” Bloomberg Businessweek reports that entire years go by (such as 2011) when TSA doesn’t spot a single terrorist trying to board an airplane. And then there’s s this staggering statistic: “In fact, extremist Islamic terrorism resulted in just 200 to 400 annual deaths worldwide, outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq — the same number…that occur in bathtubs in the US each year.”

 

Following 9/11, there was, understandably, a push to strengthen our airport security measures. But these efforts may be costing us even more lives. According to Cornell University researchers cited in Bloomberg Businessweek, after 9/11, frightened travelers switching from flights to drives resulted in over 200 more traffic fatalities every month. In the long term, due to security hassles, about 5 percent fewer people fly than used to, resulting in even more road fatalities. In other words, far more people have died on the road as an indirect result of 9/11 than actually died on 9/11.

 

Maybe it’s time to come to grips with the risk of terrorism and finally put it in a rational perspective. Many will say, “If TSA and all the security saves just one life, it will be worth it.” The way I see it, wasting money wastes lives. Intimidating people into driving instead of flying wastes lives. A nation can reach a point where its passion for showboat security designed to make people feel safe actually kills them. Security is good, but a cost-benefit awareness is simply smart. What do you think?

American Airlines AAdvantage Miles Expiration – extend mileage expiration with a donation

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.

Airport City Codes

Be sure to check our companion site  AirportCityCodes.com for Airport Codes, Airlines Codes, and our amazing flight distance calculator which will figure the flight miles from almost any two airports in the world.

As a reminder come to QuickAid.com for Airport News,  Airport City Codes.com for Airport and Airline data,  and TravelandHistory.com for a freewheeling blog about travel.    But wait, there’s MORE…..

 

 

IMPORTANT: Defer the Expiration of your Frequent Flyer Miles

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.