Make the Most of your Airline Miles
How to turn miles languishing in secondary loyalty programs into tickets.
I’m often asked about what to do when you have a few miles in several programs. Although most frequent flyers agree it’s best to focus your miles in one program or in one program in each global airline alliance, sometimes even the most careful frequent flyers end up with miles in several frequent-flyer accounts, often after changing jobs, moving or when they are new to the miles and points game and have not yet learned how to maximize their memberships.
There are a few ways to deal with having miles in several programs. One is to consolidate them by trading your miles for the miles you want through online services such as Points.com. But when you exchange your miles, you will always lose some of their value.
Instead of heading across or down with your miles, I suggest you think about heading up. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you have 19,000 miles in US Airways Dividend Miles. (This exercise can be done with most every airline program.) Is your 19,000 Dividend Miles total closer to 0 or is it closer to 25,000? Easy math says it is closer to 25,000—and 25,000 miles is a base award in that program.
So, what to do? You can argue that it’s better to have your miles in one account and exchange your Dividend Miles for another program’s miles. Or you can look at it like maximizing your miles toward award redemption. Sure, some of it is bookkeeping, and watching over two programs is easier than watching over three, but with the tools that frequent flyers have available to them today to help manage programs (UsingMiles, Superfly, MileWise, etc.), the number of programs you have becomes irrelevant. The miles remain key as they relate to award redemption.
I see this as a typical quandary—“I don’t have enough miles for an award so let me try and convert them into a program where I have more miles.” For all the effort you will put into trying to make those 19,000 miles something else, you can easily and more efficiently make them into something useful—like a free ticket.
US Airways has ample promotions and opportunities for you to earn 6,000 more miles in the program and thus get you to the 25,000-mile award level. You can divert an occasional hotel stay or car rental, or, maybe the easiest of all, shop at the online mall. And at that point, you can sit on those miles, easily keeping them active—but now they can be used for something tangible: a flight on US Airways or any of its Star Alliance partners such as Continental or United. With just a little effort you can have an airline ticket compared to a little different effort for only 4,000 American or Delta miles. I suggest frequent flyers take that little effort and move up the award chain—head up, not down, when trying to consolidate your accounts.
Airline Miles Strategy:When you accumulate more than 12,000 miles in a program, the smartest strategy is to use promotions or shopping to boost your balance to the 25,000 award level.
Randy Peterson is widely regarded as the world’s leading expert on frequent-flyer programs. He founded FlyerTalk.com in 1998—the largest discussion forum on loyalty programs—and MilePoint.com in 2011. He is also publisher of Inside Flyer magazine. He holds more than a million miles in at least five airline and four hotel loyalty programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.