Smart Use of Frequent Flyer Miles

Like everyone else, I have preferences but as a rule, I’m not brand loyal. Not to airlines, not to hotels, not to gas stations, not to websites… pretty much not to anything.

Sometimes that might hurt me but most of the time it serves me quite well.

I belong to all three of the major frequent flyer networks in the US: American, United and Delta. Of the three, I have accumulated the most miles on American.

So it caught my attention when I got an email recently from American Airlines that they were running a sale. You may or may not know this but you can buy frequent flyer miles without having to actually take a flight anywhere.

Andes MountainsThe deal American was offering was to tack on extra miles when you bought a certain number.

I went to their site and looked up how many miles I would need for a very special trip I’m already planning for my daughter’s 21st birthday next year. She wants to go to Africa. That would cost me about 37,500 miles to fly free. To buy a ticket would be right around $2,000.

Based on the miles I already had and what I knew I’d likely earn over the next year, I calculated that I could buy the miles I’d need (around 27,000) for only $665.

So basically I spent $665 to get what would otherwise be a $2,000 plane ticket on American.

Of course if I were paying for the tickets, what matters is not American’s price but the best deal I can find. Since this trip is still at least a year away, I can’t really do any proper searching for deals yet but a quick look at all airlines flying to and from the same airports during the same date range as what I used for reference with American shows the least expensive flight goes for $860.

Boarding at NightIn that light, I’m only saving around $200 per person. While less impressive than the $1,335 per person flying American, I don’t know anybody who would turn their nose up at saving $400 on something they were already going to buy anyway.

Taking this concept one step further and using my situation as an example, let’s say that I only had enough miles for one free ticket and I wanted to fly with someone. I could get my ticket for free and pay for the other person’s ticket but, knowing that other airlines have much cheaper fares, I might be better off getting two one way tickets free and then paying for less expensive one way return tickets on a different airline.

That way you get to fly together and might save several hundred dollars over keeping everything on the same airline.

Of course all of this assumes relatively expensive flights. Not all flights are expensive enough to be worth the trouble.

Propeller Plane at NightAnother neat trick you might employ requires cooperation with a friend who also flies a lot. I have a relatively insignificant number of miles on United. Nowhere near enough to do anything useful. However a friend of mine who is also a frequent traveler has most of his miles on United.

The airline programs will let you “gift” your frequent flyer miles to someone else. So I approached my friend with a deal: I’ll trade all my United miles for a comparable number of American miles.

If you have a similar situation, this is a smart way for both of you to benefit. You might even consider making it an ongoing arrangement.

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