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There’s a lot in the news lately about airline miles programs changing, and often not for the better. American, Delta, United, and even Southwest have all increased the price of some of their mileage awards.
It’s enough to ask whether your airline miles are worthless. We’ve been speaking with the media about this, and our advice is summarized here.
The hurt is at the top. First and Business Class awards on flights to other continents are
seeing the biggest squeeze, with fewer seats at the lowest prices, and increases in prices across the board. For example a business class ticket to Europe now costs at least 125,000 miles on Delta versus 100,000 miles last year.
Where there’s a will, there’s still a way to get that seat thanks to a lots of generous intro offers for thousands of miles, but you have to put in more effort than before.
But if you don’t need expensive Business Class seats (most of us just want to travel) the good news is the cost for Economy Class tickets isn’t changing much. There might be fewer award seats on some days, but changes to Economy Class award prices aren’t nearly as dramatic as those for First and Business Class.
Banks pay airlines too much for miles to be worthless. Airlines get paid every time you use one of their credit cards to make a purchase. The banks pay them billions of dollars a year to buy miles and they know you need to have options to use those miles.
So while you may not get $500 in value out of 25,000 points, getting around a penny a point ($250 in value) is a good ‘worst case’ of value to think about. It’s rare traditional airline miles get you less than that in value, because the airlines are getting paid at least that if not more by the banks for those miles.
Top off your account with a bonus. Let’s say you have 50,000 miles in your account, and the award you want is coming out closer to 75,000 miles. While that is very frustrating, it’s not hard to get that extra 25,000 miles.
Even though you may already have your airline’s own credit card, there is probably a transferable points card available that will let you earn a new bonus and transfer miles to your airline (see how that works).
The intro bonus from one of those cards will quickly get you much closer to enough miles for your next award, as they are often 25,000, 30,000 or even 40,000 miles or more.
After you book you award, you can decide whether to keep your cards or move on. With so many deals in the market it makes sense to always be shopping around for the best ways to get the most travel rewards from your spending.
Try online shopping portals. You can earn 3x, 5x or more mile bonuses on your spending when you shop online. There’s no extra charge for it, and you just have to follow the link your mile or point program offers to your favorite online store like Target.com or LandsEnd.com. So $1,000 in holiday spending can easily earn you 5,000 miles.
Search for awards creatively. Partner airlines are your friend when you’re trying to use miles, but airline websites don’t list all your options. If you have American miles, consider using its partner British Airways’ website to look for award seats on airlines like Cathay Pacific and Iberia. Most of what you see there is bookable by calling American on the phone.
Get to know great mile bargains. If you do your homework, there are still some great deals with traditional airline miles, like…
Because there are so many intro offers for cards it’s easier than ever to hold miles in several programs to cover your travel needs. There’s no reason you should be stuck with only one airline option when it’s time to book your reward.
You have choice – travel rewards without airline miles. If you still think your miles are worthless, you have alternatives. More banks than ever offer cards that earn points you can use on any airline at any time. Here are some picks:
So in summary, while some exceptional bargains are more expensive now, there are more ways than ever to earn award travel if you’re willing to put in some effort and not stick all of your eggs in one points earning basket.
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