Airlines are making it harder and harder to redeem miles for a free flight. But fortunately, that’s not the only way to use your miles. In fact, smart points and miles users know a slew of ways to keep their points active and use them. And many of these activities will reset the clock on your remaining miles.
Before you cash in miles or points, Brian Kelly, avid traveler and founder of The Points Guy, recommends doing a quick cost benefit analysis. “Find out the value of the merchandise and divide that by the number of points you’re using,” he says. “You should be getting more than one cent per mile.” However, the best point redemption isn’t always the highest value item. “I always say that the most successful redemption is one that makes you happy.” I talked to Kelly to find out more about these options.
Book travel for others. Points and airline miles are often transferrable—for a fee. If you want to share your miles (say booking a couple’s honeymoon flight instead of buying a crystal decanter or ice cream maker off the registry), then Kelly suggests booking travel for them to avoid losing value when you transfer points. However, it’s a good idea to use the recipient’s credit card to pay for any taxes and fees because for “some destinations [like parts of Africa], the airline will require you to have the original credit card used to book.” Selling or bartering miles could get your account shut down so only do this for someone you know well.
Cash in for a magazine subscription. If you don’t have enough miles for a flight, you may be able to use smaller denominations for magazine subscriptions through MagsforMiles.com. The value may not be as high as using them for travel, but at least you’re getting something for those miles (and you can give subscriptions to friends or family too).
Use for other types of travel. Airline partnerships with Travelocity, hotels, or car rental companies allow you to redeem miles for a rental car or hotel stay. “Often the value of those miles will double if you have elite status,” Kelly adds. This might be a good option if you’re traveling locally and don’t need to book a flight.
Donate unused miles. Many airlines have a “miles for charity” program as part of their frequent flyer programs where you can donate miles to preselected charities like Make-A-Wish or United Way. “The thing about donating miles is you can’t take a tax write-off and often the airlines aren’t donating the actual miles,” Kelly says. “The airlines liquidate those miles at a very small price.” This option doesn’t always get you the most bang for your buck. But if you have miles that are about to expire and you aren’t planning to use them another way, you might as well give them to charity.
Bequeath miles in your will. Some airlines allow your heirs to inherit your miles when you die. Others charge transfer fees or stipulate that your miles die with you. To get around these hurdles and ensure that your heirs can enjoy the full value of your miles, Kelly suggests including the account numbers and passwords for all your frequent flyer accounts in your will so your heirs can access them and run the accounts down to zero.