There’s something about the good cop bad cop routine that never gets old. Without grilling the living hell out of you, I’d like to offer a few real life examples of good uses for your miles and BAD uses of your miles. Miles are personal, people have unique needs and we aren’t in school. If you’ve used them foolishly in the past join the club, and don’t worry, there’s no one here to punish you. Miles are rewards for continued loyalty and as such I just want you to unlock the most value. It’s only right. 

an airplane on the runway

Short Flight GOOD Use

Tickets using cash (and no miles) are going for over $750 round trip. Using miles I can get there for between 9,000 or 25,000 miles round trip depending on which carrier my frequent flier miles are with and the actual distance I’m going. If I don’t use miles I won’t be able to afford to go.

Why? Because I am getting over 3 cents per mile (750/25000) thus using a relatively small amount of miles for what would’ve been a large prohibitive expense.

Example: New York to Montreal using only 9,000 British Airways miles to fly on American, TAM or US Airways saving me $750 per person with taxes and fees only around $5.60 on these tickets. Huge savings, tiny stack of miles. Great use.

an airplane on the runway

Short Flight BAD USe

Tickets using cash for my desired location and dates are about $195 round trip. Using my frequent flier miles I could go round trip for free using 25,000 miles. I can afford to pay for the tickets, but heard about miles and feel like using some because I’d like to save money, even if I don’t need to.

Why? You are getting less than one cent per mile, less than even the airline think they are worth. They publicly offer you at least 1 cent per mile for your miles! Why would you take less unless you are totally desperate?! Unless you’re really tight on cash, buy the ticket and earn more miles. Small stacks turn into big stacks and you can fly somewhere far and international that would be expensive using cash for not that many more miles if you keep saving. 

Example: I could use 25,000 Delta miles to cover this ticket which costs $195. If I was smarter and saved my miles I could use 25,000 miles and fly one way in first class on a future Delta flight or save up to 62,500 for an expensive international economy ticket. 

a plane flying in the sky

Long Flight Good Use

I want to go somewhere far and I want to sleep in a flat bed on the way. The problem? Business or first class tickets are going for $5,000 or more, a price I would never pay. I have been saving my miles and I could use 125,000 frequent flier miles and snag the same multi thousand dollar ticket using miles with less than $325 in taxes and fees. 

Why? You are upgrading your travel while getting well over 3 cents per mile and unlocking a cost prohibitive class of service. If you’re like me, you always wanted to do so and were able to do so by leveraging your loyalty points to the fullest. Even with the taxes you paid far less than coach would have cost and got true value while it’s available.

Example: 135,000 American Airlines miles for round trip US to Asia on Cathay Pacific First Class, a ticket that never costs less than $10,000. Nearly 10 cents per mile plus total luxury for less than $250 in total out of pocket taxes and fees. That’s a heck of a way to use miles. 

a large white airplane on a wet runway

Long Flight BAD Use

I want to fly across the pond or further and round trip tickets seem to be in the $475-700 range without using miles. I could use about 35,000-50,000 frequent flier miles round trip and pay taxes in addition to using the miles running roughly $350 or more dollars.

Why? I hope this is as obvious as I think it is. 50,000 miles are worth a minimum of $500. Using $500 (or much more) worth of miles for a ticket that costs no more than $700 and paying $350 or more in taxes means that you overpaid by hundreds versus just buying a ticket and earning more miles. 

Example: Using 35,000 Virgin Atlantic miles plus $457 in taxes and fees. Yes, that’s in addition to the miles! Book a ticket using cash without using miles and find your balance 7,000 in the positive, while also probably saving money on a competitively priced ticket. There are round trip tickets to New York for less than the taxes alone! GodSaveTheMiles!

a seat and chair in an airplane

Should I stay or should I go? Each program offers great uses for their miles, some are just better than others. In general, the more miles, the more value you can extract. If a ticket is affordable always try to use your hard earned cash and save the hard earned miles for a later date when tickets are unreasonable or you want an upgrade without the upgrade in cost. If you’re just getting started in collecting miles, especially for UK readers where heavy taxes and fees are added to all awards on British Airways and Virgin, wait. Use your miles when you have enough for a ticket in a premium cabin where the taxes and fees will be more than justified by the many thousands in savings versus using cold hard cash. 

As Always, Get in Touch:

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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