Buying Miles and Points For "Free" Travel - Running with Miles
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Buying Miles and Points For “Free” Travel

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Miles and points present us with an opportunity to travel in ways and to places that we might never reach otherwise! They are a tremendous tool and are easy to get (for those who are able to get US credit cards).

The game of miles and points can be addictive. Once you start to get them, you want more and more and more. At some point, you may run out of credit card bonuses (though, it shouldn’t be for a long time!). There are also times that good deals come along on the purchase of miles and points. The programs may not call it buying miles or points, but it is essentially what we end up doing.

Buying Miles and Points For “Free” Travel

There are numerous opportunities to purchase miles and points. Some of them present fantastic deals when it comes to redemptions versus cost. But, that does not mean that you “need” to buy them! There is nothing wrong with doing so, if it fits your particular situation, but do not assume that every good deal to purchase miles and points is a must buy scenario for you! If you are into miles and points for the free travel, be careful because purchasing award miles/points no longer presents free travel. It certainly can save you actual money but is far from free. Here are some tips that can help you with your decisions about purchasing miles and points.

Reasons To Buy Miles and Points

To fly premium for the trip that you are going in economy

There are many times when we travel and actually do need to purchase the tickets. It may be because of a lack of miles and it would be too expensive to buy the miles for economy. Let’s assume that you wanted to fly to Europe and the ticket was going to cost you around $1,200, which is not unrealistic. When US Airways runs their share miles promo, it is possible to buy (through sharing from someone else) 100,000 miles for $1,100. That amount of miles is enough to fly to Europe in business class! Now, you do need to tack on the fees (which are higher now, if you are flying on British Airways) but you should still be right in the ballpark of that $1,200 ticket you were going to purchase – but now you are in business class!

In case of uncertain travel plans

In the above scenario, I mentioned that it is normally too expensive to purchase miles just for an economy ticket. Well, what if you wanted to book the ticket but were unsure of if it was going to work out or possibly some sort of emergency situation that might arise. To change an international revenue ticket gets very expensive! Change fees are between $250 – 400 (most are at the 400 end) and then you have the fare increases. And since emergencies do not normally happen well in advance, you could be faced with a walk-up fare price which can be very expensive. While you cannot guarantee award availability, most awards do show better availability when departure time is very close. I am on a trip right now and had thought about dumping the end of it because of some things. I checked award availability and found many options for departure within 5 hours of that moment! If I tried to pay a revenue ticket that close, it was much, much higher than a standard economy fare.

You want trip add-ons

On the trip I am currently returning from, I had to go back to Greece and then went to Seoul, South Korea for a day on my way back. That award type has gone up in price (used to be 90,000 miles, which is 10,000 fewer than just Europe and back, but is now 110,000 miles) but it gave me a great way to get home earlier than I was going to be able to at the time as well as try some new products and see a new city.

If I had tried to purchase that ticket, it would have cost me over $2,500 in economyInstead, it only cost me 90,000 miles and $120 in taxes to do it in business. If I had purchased the miles, it would have cost me just under $1,000 for those miles.

When hotel stays are cheaper on points than rates

There are times when you have plans to stay at a hotel and do not have the points right away. The prices may be high to pay, so, in those cases, it is actually cheaper to buy the points than pay to stay. Check out this post for more detail about Club Carlson points. For an example, when looking at rooms at the Park Inn in Reykjavik for the marathon, the cash cost was $210 a night. If you do not have the Club Carslon points, you can actually purchase the amount you need (and get the 2nd night free by holding the card) for only $60 total! In cases such as that, that is the better option.

When you need to top up

There are times that you are just a few thousand miles away from an award. It would take too long to spend the money on the credit card to get the points, so buying miles is the only way to do it!

When you are planning a trip and plan on spending money for it anyway

There are many good deals available that might be of interest to someone who is already planning on spending money on a vacation. In such a case, you are saving money. This is not the case for everyone but does work for certain people in specific instances.

Reasons To Not Buy Miles and Points

No travel plans in mind

As we have seen through the last year, airlines and hotels can and will make changes to their award programs. Sometimes, they will make those changes without giving any notice whatsoever. If you do not have a trip in mind, spending a lot of money on miles that could be devalued tomorrow is not the smartest play. For example, if you had purchases 90,000 US Airway miles to book a US-Europe-North Asia-US business class ticket at some point, you would now find yourself 30,000 miles short. Be careful about purchasing miles or points on a speculative basis.

Not understanding the program

There is a program with Avianca Lifemiles that allows you to purchase their miles at a good rate for business class redemption. There are some redemption options that can get you an incredible value. However, if you do not understand the different aspects of the program, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. There are some people that have faced situations that prevented them from traveling. If you do not understand things like that, or things about the refundability of miles in case of cancellation, you could stand to lose all of your miles (or a significant portion).

The cost only presents a narrow difference in cost

It is not a great move to purchase miles for an award ticket just to save $100 or so. Remember, you always need to be thinking about the miles you could have earned if you flew on a revenue ticket. If you redeem miles for that, you are forsaking those miles. Also, you have to remember about the cost in taxes and fees on award tickets. If you purchase the miles only on the basis of the cost of the miles, you could be surprised with hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees.

Not checking award availability first

It is not a good idea to purchase miles before you even check what award availability exists. It is always a good idea to look and see what is available with your miles before purchase. If you do not, you may find yourself with a lot of money out and the inability to use them for the planned trip.

Summary

I know many people that buy thousands of dollars in miles each year for premium travel. To them, it works out to save them a lot of money on their planned travel. However, I also know other people that purchase miles and points out of the excitement of the deal and end up with having to find ways to spend them just to get value out it – sometimes at horrible redemption rates. As always, do what works best with you and remember, your mileage may vary over whether particular deals are great deals for you.

 

Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

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