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How to Get the Biggest Bang For Your Airline-Miles Buck

How to Get the Biggest Bang For Your Airline-Miles Buck

Everyone dreams of racking up great airline mileage points to see the world, but some find the process more difficult than expected. Need help navigating the fine-print confusion to get the most use out of your airline miles? Here are some tips to turn you into a travel master.

Use Miles on Flights with the Best ROI

Get the most return on investment (ROI) out of your miles by critically looking at the best purchase options. The general rule is this: if the ticket costs more than $500, you will usually get a better deal using your miles. If the ticket is less than this, it’s often better to simply pay for it. Blowing 50,000 airline points on a $200 ticket just doesn’t make sense, unless that’s the only flight you can use your miles for before they expire. Using the 50,000 points on a $2,000 flight is a much better spend. If you have more expensive tickets in the future, save your miles for these trips instead.

Points on Upgrades are Smart Buys

Another way to use miles to obtain a higher cost per point value is with upgrades. These give you a much greater dollar value for your points vs than the 1.2 – 1.4 cents per mile average. It is certainly worth utilizing this option on longer flights where the extra leg room and pampering will be more thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you also bank additional miles from the trip. Just be sure to ask about any surcharges or restrictions on the revenue ticket you plan to upgrade.

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Book Very Early, or At the Last Minute

Remember, the best possible prices either go to those who book extremely early (330 days in advance on some airlines) or those who snap up empty seats at the last moment. So, if you are neither a long-term planner or a spontaneous person, you will need to adjust accordingly in either direction if you want to snatch up the best ticket deals. As you accumulate your airline miles on purchased flights, it just makes sense to find the best value per ticket.

Book Through an Agent

Airlines have trained us well to book online. This lowers the amount of employee time spent on customer calls and automates the system so it’s easier for the airline. That said, calling an agent and booking over the phone can be advantageous when trying to redeem miles. Airline representatives have access to information and authority over options that you do not, so it just makes sense to use this to your advantage. Agents can often create options that aren’t available through an online site, and can also exercise their authority to bypass restrictions that limit award availability. Yes, you may pay a surcharge—typically $20—but it’s worth it if you save several hundred dollars on a better ticket or option that you didn’t know was available.

Keep Accounts Active

Hoarding your miles for the most amazing trip to paradise won’t happen if you sit on them so long they expire. Many programs allow you to keep your account active other ways. You can gain miles and add activity to your account with purchases not even related to flying. You can often go to restaurants participating in an airline dining for miles program. You can also earn miles shopping. Over 400 online merchants—Wal-Mart, PETCO, Nike, etc.—participate in airline shopping mall programs. You can get anywhere from 1 to 12 bonus miles for each dollar spent. Also, always give car rental agencies and hotels your frequent flyer number to boost points. You can even grow you mileage account through FTD for sending flowers, or stack up additional mileage bonuses booking cruises or vacations through carrier sites. Are you already an investor with Fidelity Investment or TDAmeritrade? You can earn miles investing through these companies with some airlines. Or, if you are more comfortable investing in real estate, you can earn airline miles through certain banks when you take out a mortgage. If buying a house seems like an extreme way to gain miles, you can tone things down and simply sign up for Netflix to accrue additional points over some nightly movie entertainment. New opportunities to build up miles are out there if you’re willing to invest the research necessary to find them.

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Use Sites to Manage Your Miles

If the thought of shifting through all the fine print to discover which deals work gives you a headache, you can utilize certain sites to explore the options for you. These sites take a deep dive into your frequent flier account to help you understand the best options of your miles. GoMiles.com and AwardWallet.com will warn you if your miles are about to expire and alert you to new deals and promotions. However, don’t expect all airlines to embrace the third-party intrusion, as they feel it threatens the security of your information.

Use the Right Airlines

When it comes to redeeming points, not every airline is equal. It pays to choose airlines that are more friendly to point-redemption opportunities. The Wall Street Journal did a survey of all major carriers and found that the toughest airline to utilize your mileage points was US Airways, followed by Delta. With these companies, you have a 36% chance of actually using your miles the way you intend. Southwest was the clear winner of the survey, with a 95% chance of redeeming points, followed by JetBlue at 89%.

If You Can’t Use Miles:

1) Donate Miles

If your miles are expiring before you use them, consider donating them to others instead of losing them. For example, families have pooled airline points together to send newlyweds on their honeymoon, or parents on an anniversary vacation. The gift of travel is a great present! Who knows—they may return the favor when you need some additional miles in the future.

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If you don’t have a friend or family member to share your miles, you can also donate them to charity. For example, the Fisher House Foundation’s “Hero Miles” program has given more than 40,000 tickets to injured service members and their families, and Mercy Medical Airlift has provided almost 10,000 free flights to patients. The Make-A-Wish Foundation also needs miles to send kids on their desired adventures. These charities, as well as many others, will greatly benefit from your unused mileage points, and you can feel good giving to a worthy cause.

2) Trade Miles

While the exchange rate is fairly high, you can exchange miles for gift cards to companies such as Amazon or Starbucks. You can also trade your miles from one airline for points with a different carrier.

3) Use Miles for Hotels and Car Rentals

While the frequent, elite traveler will see much better deals than the average flier, you can spend your expiring miles for hotels and car rentals, as well as other travel needs. Again, it pays to research your best options for redeeming these miles.

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The possibilities of utilizing airlines miles are numerous and differ greatly depending on the program and carrier. However, taking a bit of time to do a deep dive into the opportunities and savings offered will help you become quite the travel-savvy flyer. After all, saving money while flying first class to your dream vacation is a great reward for a bit of extra airline mileage research and points management.

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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