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They’re not gaining value…

You’ve heard the warning signs: red tape, hidden fees, archaic rules. But you’ve probably also heard that frequent flyer miles can be everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Scoring $10,000 first class tickets for signing up for a single credit card or cashing in all that painful work travel for a family upgrade – there’s real upside. When it comes to frequent flyer miles, people are their own worst enemy, using their own archaic ideas and ideologies to stab themselves in the foot. Here are five things you’re doing wrong with miles – and how to stop them…

Hoarding Them

This may be the most basic, but it’s also the most common. People hoard points for: a rainy day, retirement, nuclear war, and a wide variety of reasons and almost all are bad. By the time you reach retirement, the points which once could’ve taken you around the world in first class may not be able to get you to Idaho in economy. No offense, Idaho. Frequent flyer miles only move in one direction, and that direction is devaluation. If you want to be a smart traveler, set goals for your points, figure out exactly how many you’ll need and cash out as soon as you reach your target.

Using Them For Goods

Using points for good causes is absolutely fantastic. You can donate points to Breast Cancer research, Make A Wish and many other wildly important causes and that’s always going to be a great idea. Using them for goods or merchandise on the other hand, is abysmal. Airlines adore when people cash in their points for merchandise. Airlines give horrible value for your points on these transactions, because they must acquire goods from a merchant – such as Bose. It’s almost always cheaper for them to let you cash in your points for flights and thus they give you better rates, so stick to that.

Giving Up Easily

This is not a lecture about flexibility. It’s a lecture about perseverance. People love to call in or check online once, see that nothing is available, hold their hands up in the air and complain. That’s just not how miles work. Sometimes you login and exactly what you want is right in front of you, but most of the time you’ll need to check back multiple times. If you want to play it like a real pro, follow these tips to set alerts and other cool tricks so you only need to search once, and let the availability or upgrades flow right to your inbox.

Not Connecting The Dots

Now, this isn’t totally fair. Airline partnerships make killer sudoku seem like a walk in the park. But most people fail to realize that their points on one airline can actually be used on more like 15 different airlines. With this in mind, it’s always best to try and collect one type of frequent flyer miles, knowing they can unlock flights on the other airlines you may be interested in. This is almost always better than having just a few points with 15 different airlines. Don’t just assume because you have Delta miles, and Delta doesn’t fly intra Australia that you can’t use your points for free Australian flights. You can, and the same goes for most airlines you’d collect points with.

Doing The Math

There’s a fallacy in points. People inherently believe that using points will always result in a better deal than not using points. That’s not even nearly true. Some airlines charge north of $350 in fees, even for economy tickets using points. We’re seeing record low fares, thanks to incredible flash sales, which in turn make it harder than ever to get “great” value out of your frequent flyer miles. For some flights, people will use frequent flyer miles for economy, paying something like 40,000 points and $350. Little did they know, they could’ve just bought a ticket without using any points at all for $335 and even earned some more miles in the process. Always, always do the math. If high fees are being added by your airline- stick to upgrades or premium, business or first class tickets.

What’s been your most important lesson with frequent flyer miles?