You can indeed buy miles. Just about every airline offers the opportunity to buy their points and miles, and in any standard situation, it's almost always a bad idea. Why? Simple, you'll pay dearly for a currency which can lose value at any moment, and likely would've done better just buying the ticket out of pocket. There are definite exceptions where it makes total sense to buy points, which to the contrary can save you a fortune and open up superior travel cabins...
Everybody loves a sale and sometimes they are stellar. Airlines will often throw in "bonus miles" to entice prospective buyers and that can mean up to double the miles you would generally receive. Sales offer anywhere from 10-100% bonus on the amount of miles you purchase, which can really tip the scales. If you have a specific use of miles in mind and there is a sale going on, that is the time to buy. In other words, if I know I need to book a flight, I will look to confirm that there is availability using the miles I am considering buying, and then weigh the cost options of out right cash purchase versus using the proposed purchased miles.
Buying miles in these sales can also enable you to fly premium cabins you may not otherwise be able to afford or want to pay for, at least part of the way. If I was looking to buy a ticket from the US to Europe (or vice versa) and I was expecting to pay $1000 for economy, purchasing 50,000 miles with a 100% sale bonus, creating 100,000 miles for $1,881 (recent US Airways sale price) could make more sense. Doing so would allow me to fly business class with a bed using the miles I purchased for slightly more money than I was looking to pay for coach, but far less than the $5,000 or more the business class ticket would usually fetch. Win.
There is currently a super 80% transfer bonus going on with Virgin America (whose miles you can use to book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class) and a solid transfer bonus going on with Alaska Airlines, where you receive a 40% bonus on miles purchased. Though you may never set foot on Alaska Airlines, you can use their miles on many partners including Emirates, Air France, Korean, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Qantas and American. Similarly, Virgin Atlantic recently offered a 25% bonus; there are too many for me to list. I highly suggest signing up for marketing emails, even if it means creating a junk email. You will know when your preferred mileage currency goes on sale. 50,000 miles can get you a ticket worth thousands of dollars, so if you have a strategy in mind, paying the $1,100 for these miles can be very lucrative.
A common problem I find that I share with readers, is being a few miles short for the award flight I am looking to book. Your first thought should always be ways to earn the additional miles needed without buying them. You can earn a few hundred or a few thousand miles very quickly just by taking a survey, dining out or performing daily tasks. Check first. If that doesn't work, though it's not optimal, there is nothing wrong with purchasing a few extraneous miles if it enables you to extract superior value. For our latest flight booking from JFK to Hong Kong, I was 10,000 British Airways Avios short of the 280,000 needed for round trip Business Class for two. Since I was getting about $18,000 worth of plane tickets for free, I saw no problem in paying an even $300 to get the job done. It's all relative and if it's not on sale, it's usually not worth it.
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