how to use air miles

Miles :: To Free Or Not To Free

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At TS, we love using "strategery" {as George W once said} to choose when and where to redeem the air miles we accumulate flying around the world toward free travel, but there's an art {and science} to air miles redemption.

How To Calculate The Value Of An Airline Award Ticket The generally excepted miles-versus-dollars calculation {according to Travel+Leisure} is "use the 1.4-cents-per-mile rule to calculate the value of an award ticket. If the cash price is considerably cheaper than the award ticket calculation, save your miles. For example, if a flight will cost you $300 cash or 50,000 points, you'll get more value paying cash as 50,000 points equals approx $700."  Here are some examples of my recent travel that will help provide miles-versus-dollars insight:

When It Makes "Cents" To Use Airline Miles
  • Colorado/Spring 2012: used 25,000 Aeroplan miles instead of booking a $1,100 ticket
  • ABC Islands/Fall 2011: used 25,000 American Airlines miles, instead of booking a $1,000 ticket
  • Eastern Canada/Summer 2010: used 25,000 Aeroplan air miles, instead of booking a multi-city $1,500+ ticket

When It DOESN'T Make "Cents" To Use Airline Miles Thailand/Spring 2012: I didn't use air miles because I got a business class fare on a super sale, tilting the scale in favor of a cash purchase. To add value, I chose a carrier that would add to my American Airlines miles accumulation efforts. Not only did I fly business class for a heavily discounted rated, but got 22,000 AA miles in return---just 3,000 short of getting from Vancouver to Aruba AND achieving elite status. Win!

Saving Points {Dream Trip Anyone?} Looking ahead, like any wonderstruck world traveler, I'm pining for a trip to the Maldives, saving my Alaska airline miles to get there. On business class {hey, it's a long flight!} the trip costs $9,180 from Seattle on Emirates {it's $14,000 from Vancouver!}, or 115,000 miles. The points trump the cash purchase because any ticket costing more than $1,610 {115,000 miles x 0.014} is good value.

Are you saving your air miles for a Maldives-esque dream trip? Do you use air miles when it makes sense, or all the time?

More 'Free Travel' Tips The Six-Week Rule {When to buy airline tix} Free Travel 102 Free Travel 101 Going The Distance With Your Air Miles

[photo by, text overlay @tripstyler]

Go the Distance with your Air Miles

maximize airmiles Air Miles = Happiness Using air miles is a wonderful thing.  Most people try to accumulate points with one or two major airline consortiums and then fly for free (other than taxes) once they've accumulated enough mileage.  But here's a little-known fact: cash in on your air miles by going the distance, in other words, go as far as you can within your points allowance and opt for a (free) stop-over.

2 Examples Recently I booked a cross-Canada trip with my Air Canada (Star Alliance) Aeroplan points. I figured if I'm so keen to see the rest of the world, I should probably explore more of my own country first. Instead of using my miles to take short trip, I opted to maximize them and go from Vancouver, BC (YVR) to Moncton, NB (YQM) with a week-long stopover in Ottawa (YYY).  This way, I get to spend a week exploring Canada's Capital over Canada Day, and a week touring around the Maritimes!  Done and Done.

I also have some points with American Airlines (One World). Looking into the options, I discovered that AA includes the Caribbean within the lowest tier of its Continental US points allowance. Excellent. To put this in perspective, you could fly from NYC to Boston, or Seattle to Aruba for the same amount of points. Tough choice...  The mileage difference is huge; herein lies the beauty of maximizing airline points.  Reading the fine print, within the lowest points allowance, the Caribbean portion of travel is only applicable for a 2-month period from September - November (tail-end of hurricane and low season), which is why I would fly to one of the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) islands outside the hurricane belt AND to the Caribbean's furthest point.

How to Book Travel with Air Miles and Maximize your Distance

  • Travel the farthest you can within your available points.
  • Do your homework. Once you know how far you can go check to see if there are blackout dates, etc...
  • Find out your airline's air miles stop-over policy.  If you want to further maximize your trip, using the second example above, you could conceivably Fly to Curacao with an extended layover in Miami--all with the same amount of points.
  • Book in advance.  Airlines only reserve a small amount of seats for airmiles passengers, so book early to make sure you get the dates and destinations you want.
  • Embrace the web.  Most airlines now charge an extra fee for air miles bookings made over the phone vs on the web.