Any editor worth their salt would have already put a strike through the word free. The best things in life may well be free but airline tickets aren't one of them and they're certainly not for the birds or the bees. Virtually every airline ticket purchased by redeeming frequent flier miles incurs taxes and fees and thus no ticket is actually "free", some are just really really cheap. When buying airline points and miles, even in a sale, they never come cheap and when coupled with the taxes added to certain frequent flier mile "free" award tickets, you begin to cut into your savings. Even the term really cheap can lose focus. Can buying points be a good idea however? Absolutely!
The answer essentially falls under the sliding scale category. The more ridiculously fabulous the ticket you are redeeming your miles for, the more worth it, to a point. Alternately, if buying miles still saves you money versus buying an actual paid ticket, it's worth it, to a point, whatever cabin. The essence of this argument is that paying any number less than coach retail for coach or better is a win. The further below the number you would've spent on coach and the more meaningful the seat (bed) the better. It's a numbers game and whether you are going for a next to "free" ticket using mostly miles you already have; or are purchasing miles in a sale to hedge your bets versus retail cost there are values to be had and vacations to be taken! Especially when airline miles are about to devalue! Get it while it's hot...
In a moment of madness I just changed our honeymoon plans and redeemed 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles per person for one way in Upper Class from London to Johannesburg. Only, we didn't have 50,000 miles each, one of us needed 10,000 additional miles to book the tickets. 10,000 Flying Club miles required $259 outlay on our end in addition to Virgin's taxes and fees tacked onto the "free flight". Ideal? Of course not! In a perfect world you book luxurious flights with miles left over and incur only minimal taxes making a free ticket as close to "free" as humanly possible. Despite the expense I very happily snagged the tickets because they are currently retailing at £4,000 or more per person and even with the expense, we managed to snag them for less than £500. Let's be honest, I'm still coming out majorly ahead. It's not a perfect world situation but it still works out cheaper than economy and allows me to sleep for eleven hours in true fashion while experiencing jacuzzi's in an airport. Nothing to cry about.
I mentioned the idea of hedging bets and buying miles even when you have none presently to speak of. In general this is an act of lunacy but there are examples where it can be brilliant if you have a specific use in mind. Many obscure programs like Alaska Airlines and Avianca have very desirable partners and you can use either of the respective miles to book travel on these partners including Emirates, Lufthansa and Singapore. These rather obscure programs are known for running "buy miles" sales in which you can receive up to a 150% bonus on miles purchased. Yep, you could purchase 100,000 miles and end up with 250,000 miles. Strange, but true. If you had a specific ticket in mind which you knew would be higher than the cost of buying miles at this greatly discounted rate, you could be making a very shrewd decision and snagging two round trip business class tickets for far less than usual retail cost. During a sale of this magnitude, buying 26,000 Avianca miles would cost you $396 and you would end up with 65,000 miles. 63,000 miles happens to be the number of miles needed for a one way business class ticket between the US and Europe allowing you to pay less than $1000 (when taxes and fees are added to the miles you purchased) for a flight in business class one way, and less than $2000 round trip at virtually any time, even for peak travel. It's not an everyday value but for some it has it's use. The same logic would apply to economy tickets and can represent even more value for travelers looking to maximize their cash by hedging bets.
To an extent value is always in the eye of the beholder. Using miles is the great equalizer in allowing people to travel and given the relatively easy and inexpensive ways to collect them it opens the travel world to all. It's why I care so much about them. Only you know what you are prepared to spend to make a dream trip happen, these are just a few things to consider before you book.
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