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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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Sarah Hansen

A corporate-sales professional turned entrepreneur

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Last Updated on June 26, 2020

25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

“How to save money fast?” This is the question asked by all of us not in the top 1% of rich people.

If you are looking for ways to drastically reduce your expenses immediately, first look at what you need to spend money on every week. And I mean really need.

You don’t really need to order in food. You don’t really need to buy expensive perfume.

Building from that, you can work out how your regular expenses can be reduced.

As for irregular expenses, they can also be deceptively costly in the long run. Once-off buys can also be tackled with some prudent planning and a little extra research.

And remember: a budgeted lifestyle does not mean a bad or boring one!

But first, understand what budget you can cut down on daily:

  • Regular expenses for the average adult (can be trimmed but not eliminated):
    • food
    • rent/mortgage
    • cell phone
    • insurance
    • socializing/entertainment
    • transportation
    • hygiene products
    • household bills
  • Irregular expenses for the average adult (can be eliminated or cut down a lot):
    • travel
    • clothing
    • medication (*depends)
    • grooming (hair, nails etc.)
    • gifts

Now, let’s dive right into the 25 ways to save money fast:

Save Money on Food

1. Bring a stock of food to the office/work

Instead of popping out for an overpriced salad and a smoothie, leave a set of basic utensils at the office as well as a stock of non-perishable goods such as tinned fruit, tuna, rice crackers and so on (try to avoid the junk food and this can turn into a pretty great diet!).

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Stocking up means you won’t forget or say “I didn’t have the time” when you rushed out to work in the morning.

2. Buy the store-brand version

Many basic foods, such as bread and milk, will taste exactly the same as their branded alternatives. Go for stuff with minimal additives and preservatives. Meat in a tube is probably insanely unhealthy!

3. Eat cheaper cuts of meat

Learn how to tenderize and flavour cheaper meat and fish, and save on the (typically) most expensive item on your grocery bill.

4. Have group dinners

If 10 friends put $5 each in the kitty, it’s pretty easy to make a giant lasagne and get refreshments, as well as hang out with your favourite people.

Save Money in Transport

5. Get a bicycle

Save on gas money and bus/metro fares with this underrated mode of transport.

6. Use public transport and/or don’t get taxis

Some places can only be reached by car. But as a good practise, check your public transport website and see if any routes pass nearby where you need to get to. Walk as much as you can.

7. Find the cheapest gas

Regularly check out where the cheapest gas can be bought.

Save Money in General Shopping

8. Shop online

Not only will you save on the gas or transport fares from going to the shopping mall but you will also find better deals

9. Sell your old stuff

Get your unwanted belongings up on eBay ASAP and earn a few dollars.

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Here’re more ideas for you: 25 Things to Sell to Make a Lot of Money

10. Bulk buying stores

For regular non-perishable/slow perishable purchases such as toilet paper, cat food, pasta, washing powder and so on, do an epic stocking-up trip to a co-op or equivalent (my mum used to go to a place that restaurants buy from).

Be wary of supermarket “deals”, as some have been found to be fraudulent after working out a simple calculation.

11. Become a flea market/car boot sale/street market guru

You can find original gifts and develop good negotiation skills at these places.

12. Generic brand medication

More often than not, the generic version of paracetamol and other basics work the same as the branded version.

13. Choose deodorant, not perfume

It blows my mind when someone drops $70 on a bottle of spray. Stick with a nice deodorant, and not only will you smell just fine but you’ll be sweat-free as well!

Cut Down on Household Expenses

14. Printing

Ink is one of the most expensive substances in the office and coloured ink is doubly so. B

e more efficient and choose black and white, and if your printer doesn’t have a print-both-sides options, just print odd pages first, re-insert the paper and print even pages.

Expand the margins of what you are printing as often as you can to save on paper.

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15. Minimize SMS and phone calls

A combination of a free chat service such as WhatsApp and a free call service such as Skype can reduce your bill to nothing (so long as you have a decent Wifi connection).

16. Shop around for insurance

Most people don’t spend enough time searching for the best insurance deal.

Keep a watchful eye out for deals and new competitors in the market.

17. Try re-negotiating your rent/mortgage

If you have built up a good credit history or a good rapport with your landlord, then chances are a frank chat about needing to tighten your spending could result in lowering your payments. You’ve nothing to lose from trying.

18. Don’t get a TV

Invest in a computer/laptop and an internet-only package. You can watch more (and often better) entertainment on the web, and skip the advertisements as well.

19. Pool your internet bill with a neighbour

My apartment building is basically a big old house split into three apartments. There are five of us in total. We pool the internet bill, making it crazy cheap.

Save Money in Socializing, Entertainment And Travel

20. Have house parties

Instead of paying for overpriced drinks, set up a series of in-house get-togethers with your friends. Everyone takes a turn, so it’s not always your house that needs cleaning.

For sound insulation, hang heavy drapes on the walls and windows. For music, invest in a good second-hand set of speakers which you can connect to your computer. Let Spotify or Grooveshark playlists do the rest.

21. Open festivals, meetups and events

It never fails to surprise me how much underground stuff goes on around me for free or for very cheap. Find out who runs the blogs and websites that list all the less well-known cultural activities.

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22. Volunteer

If you can’t pay for a ticket, volunteer and get to be there anyway.

23. Housesit

There are multiple housesitting websites offering you the possibility to avoid paying hotels and skip the discomfort of crummy hostels.

Save Money on Hygiene and Beauty

24. DIY beauty

French manicures, pedicures, waxing, eyebrows… pretty much all of these can be achieved at home (and done well) with some practise. There are plenty excellent blogs and YouTube tutorials to help.

25. Fewer haircuts/volunteer at a trainee hairdresser

If you can’t bear the risk of a trainee touching your locks, learn more ways to manipulate your hair as it grows and get haircuts sparingly. Women’s haircuts are outrageously priced in many cities.

Bonus: Effective Money-Saving Tips for Everything

Here’s a summary of what you can generally do to save more money:

  • Share/pool resources. Organize a neighbourhood sharing scheme, common resources for your apartment block or with your friends. Not everybody needs an individual lawnmower.
  • Buy energy-saving everything. The easiest way to lower your bills – replace those lightbulbs!
  • Buy in bulk. Be sensible about it (i.e. make sure you have space!), and drastically reduce weekly expenditure.
  • DIY. Skill up using YouTube tutorials on plumbing and many other essential services so you never have to pay for simple problems again.
  • Research a lot before making a decision. Most money-wasting is the result of poor preparation and planning. Don’t shirk this part just because you don’t like it!
  • Use your network. Your network is full of resources that can ease the pain of budgeting. Ask for help.
  • Stop and think. Do I really need it?

Unfortunately, there are some things that require plain ol’ giving up for the time being. This can include high-cost sports such as skiing, the latest versions of some technologies, the finest brands of food/drinks, premier seats at the opera and most other indulgences.

What is important to remember during lean times is that when you look back on your life, it will be the experiences that stand out, not the extra comforts.

Living on a budget can teach you a lot about how much you can really get out of your paycheck. We only live one life, so make the most of every penny you earn!

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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