I don’t write about frequent flier miles too often, because a) there are plenty of others who focus on it day in and day out, and b) it doesn’t really interest me that much. But we do book a lot of frequent flier tickets at Cranky Concierge, and there’s one thing that comes up often that I thought was worth airing on the blog. What is a good and bad use of your miles?
The answer is… it depends completely upon you. Terrible answer, I know, but I’m going to explain it further.
A lot of mileage bloggers focus on finding the best value for miles in general. That might mean, say, earning Amex Membership Rewards points so you can transfer to Singapore Airlines and use them on the newly-available Suites over the Pacific. That is an awesome value, because even though you’re using a ton of miles, you’re getting one of the best experiences in the sky for a tiny fraction of what it might cost if you bought a ticket.
And while that is the most interesting stuff to write about, it’s not going to be the right way for everyone to use their miles. I assume you’d hear that if you discussed this one-on-one with each mileage blogger out there. But it’s not the kind of thing that you usually see in print.
Let’s use a less aspirational example. Say you’ve been able to earn yourself 200,000 miles on United. You’ve heard great things about all the flat beds in business class to Europe and you think that you should be using those miles for something great like that. I agree, if you’re going to Europe.
What if you, however, have no plans to go to Europe anytime soon and don’t know when or if it’ll happen at all? We get some people like this who use our service. They may have a domestic trip coming up, but they don’t want to use their miles because it has to be the best value or they’ll just keep holding on to the miles. That may not be the best plan.
Now, it might seem silly to use miles to go from San Francisco to LA if the price is cheap. But if it’s a last minute ticket, you could be looking at a few hundred dollars. For some, that might be easy to swallow. For others, however, $400 is a lot of money. To be able to use miles to avoid that cost is a huge benefit for some people.
The bottom line is that everyone is in a different financial position and each person has different travel plans and abilities. For those with shallow pockets, you’re crazy not to use those miles so you can afford to pay rent.
The Truly Frequent Flier
On the flip side, there is another good reason to use your miles for piddly trips. If you fly a ton and just earn miles like crazy, why not burn some of them? There’s no reason to save those million miles for one special trip when you could end up taking 5 special trips and will probably never use them all.
There are plenty of you out there who fly all the time and earn more miles than you know what to do with. In that case, save a little cash and burn those miles. Or save money on buying a present and give some for others to use. You’ll never need them all anyway. (Just don’t sell them – that’s not allowed.)
I’ll take this even one step further. Heck, let’s go crazy here. Let’s say you have 100,000 miles and you need to take a trip from LA to Seattle because you have a sick family member. It’s only a couple hour flight but it’s going to cost you $600 roundtrip for a last minute ticket. Flights are full, so you can’t get a Saver award. You need a Standard award for 50,000 miles roundtrip.
Is it true that you could use those 50,000 miles to get to Paris in business class one way? Yeah, but you have a sick relatively and you need to be there. If you don’t have $600 lying around, use the miles. It’s a lot of miles, but you need to set priorities while still remaining solvent.
So is there ever a bad use of miles? Oh sure. Just to take one example, British Airways coach awards come with such hefty fuel surcharges that you might as well just buy the ticket. It won’t save you much at all, if anything. But even then, it can be justified. Maybe it saves you $200, but that could be the difference between you eating three meals a day while you’re there instead of two. There’s clearly an argument that you shouldn’t be taking this trip at all if you can’t afford to eat, but hey, different people have different priorities.
And that’s really the point. Sure, there are better ways to extract more value out of a mile if you look at it in a broad sense, but on an individual level, it’s a whole different story. In short, don’t be afraid to use your miles if it makes sense for you individually.