Frequent Flyer Programs are big revenue machines for airlines, and those 40% off promotions generally aren’t a good deal, but believe it or not, there are a few cases where it makes sense to buy miles. That said, I would offer that there are fairly limited times when you should and should not buy miles.
#1 Reason to buy miles
Here’s the situation: You’ve either applied to credit cards, flown, or otherwise accrued miles for that amazing trip, like Emirates First Class, but your short miles.
If this is the trip you’ve dreamed up, well, buying miles to top up your account is not a bad idea, especially because you already have a purpose, and hopefully, you’ve already identified the availability.
#2 Reason to buy miles
You have that twinkle in your eye of a trip you plan to make. You’ve started to look for award availability, and you see something that might work. You might have some of the miles, but not enough. Your trip is far enough out, that you have some flexibility, that is key. That’s when you start looking for opportunities to buy miles at a discount, since you already have a purpose.
Examples like Alaska Air’s fairly regular up to 40% bonus:
Also American Airlines has hopped on the bandwagon:
Note: this only makes sense when you have a trip in mind! Never buy miles speculatively!
#3 Reason to buy miles
Lets say you don’t fly often. Lets say you only fly internationally once or twice a year, and you don’t churn credit cards or manufacture spend. Maybe you’re a reseller leveraging cashback cards. So, how much would that cost? Well, if you buy AviancaTaca LifeMiles on a 1×2 promotion like this:
Lets say you do this, and effectively buy miles at a 125% bonus, you’d be paying ~1.47 cents per miles (based on One Mile at a Time’s calculations).
When we take into account the Life Miles Star Alliance Award Chart, we can start putting some cost to the fare:
For example, if you consider a trip to North Asia from North America, at 75,000 each way in business class, your cost is: ~$2,205 plus an booking fees.
While you might say – Wow! That’s expensive! consider for a moment, the occasional flyer that may have the funds for a big annual trip, but doesn’t want to pay the alternative, lets say, what Cathay Pacific (a different alliance than Life Miles) of:
To further press home the point, here is a collection of business class fares from Washington, DC to Hong Kong:
My point here is that you can effectively buy miles and thus get business class travel–assuming award space–for just over half the price of booking an actual ticket.
You could do it for even less from the US to Japan by purchasing Virgin Atlantic miles, if you have ~10-20k miles already; you could purchase 100,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for only 1,515 GBP or ~$1966 at current rates.
There are considerations though – for example, you won’t earn miles, and you may have award booking fees. If you need to change your trip, there are likely fees as well–but most revenue fares also have fees.
Often times I would not recommend folks buying miles, but there are at least 3 situations when that makes sense. For infrequent international travelers, I think the value proposition is a much bigger difference. When you consider the kind’ve experience that you’ll enjoy in a layflat seat vs. an economy seat, its a big difference! Of course I’m much more focused on the journey than the destination, but when you can arrive rested and refreshed to the destination, then I’d imagine it helps you more fully enjoy your entire trip.
Have you bought miles to facilitate a trip?