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3 Ways Not to Use Airline Miles

Cashing in miles for flights is getting tougher, but experts say miles go further in the air than on the ground.


Higher oil prices and tight airline capacity have hamstrung many frequent fliers attempting to use their miles, reports  The Wall Street Journal. But consumers shouldn’t feel like those miles are burning a hole in their pocket, experts say. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one good way to use miles: travel,” says George Hobica, founder of  (Plus, some airlines are better on reward-seat redemption than others.)

Most of the other options work out to offer less value per mile, says Ed Perkins, a contributing editor for “You have to look at what they’re worth at the point of exchange,” he cautions. Here are some mile-spending choices to reconsider:

Low-value tickets

“Any trip under $250, and maybe up to $300, you may be better off buying the ticket,” says Perkins. Frequent fliers normally value miles at a penny apiece at the most — by that measure, any flight on sale for less than $250 may be a waste of miles. Travelers are better off earning miles on that flight than redeeming them, he says.


As with most rewards programs, physical goods offer some of the lowest value per mile. At Delta, for example, an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet with a leather cover costs 41,100 miles. In comparison, that’s enough to save $400 off a flight with Delta’s “Pay with Miles” feature — double the $199 cost for the tablet if purchased outright. A spokesman for Delta says merchandise is just one of many options consumers have to redeem their miles.

Airline auctions

United is currently auctioning off a five-night vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico. With 12 days remaining, bidding already pushed above 180,000 miles. Someone just spent 592,000 of their American Airlines miles for a VIP package to see the Country Music Awards – and there were 55 other bidders. American Airlines asks opening bids of 50,000 on experiences such as tickets to opening night of “Ghost” on Broadway and VIP access to a Dallas Mavericks game. Cool? Definitely. A smart use of miles? Not so much, says Hobica. Most auctions are the mile equivalent to at least two round-trip domestic tickets, which in dollar terms are more valuable. “Auctions benefit the airlines more than the consumer,” he says. “They’re trying to find ways to reduce their mileage liability.”

The airlines say the auctions provide customers the chance to buy experiences that cannot be purchased with cash. “For example – last year American auctioned off a lesson in one of its flight simulators,” a spokesman said. United says customers are eager to spend their miles without flying. “We have hundreds of thousands of travelers who fly for a living, and they tell us frequently that redeeming miles for travel isn’t all that compelling,” a spokesman says.


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