Are Frequent-Flier Deals a Good Deal? – WSJ.com


British Airways destinations

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Thoughts relating to Are Frequent-Flier Deals a Good Deal? – WSJ.com.

Pretend your mileage is a product that you have to ‘buy’ (earn or purchase bonus miles) and ‘sell’ (redeem for tickets or upgrades).

Cost Price

Travelers who buy frequent-flier miles pay about 3 cents per mile, but then they typically redeem them for tickets at 1.5 cents each—or even less.

Sale Price

Redeeming miles at the right time (there’s actually a seat on a flight you want) and for the right ticket is what’ll determine if you make a ‘profit’ or not.

United believes savvy road warriors, not just infrequent fliers, are taking advantage of the bonus mileage offers. When redeemed for upgrades or for last-minute tickets, miles can deliver more than 3 cents of value apiece, sometimes up to 10 cents a mile or more.

It turns out buying 140,000 miles for $4,139 and redeeming them for an award ticket (you have to pay a fuel surcharge, too, of up to $600) is cheaper than buying a first-class ticket, which starts at more than $12,000 for a Seattle-London round-trip. You buy miles for 3 cents apiece and redeem them for a ticket worth at least 8.6 cents per mile.

You have to do the math.

It turns out buying 140,000 miles for $4,139 and redeeming them for an award ticket (you have to pay a fuel surcharge, too, of up to $600) is cheaper than buying a first-class ticket, which starts at more than $12,000 for a Seattle-London round-trip. You buy miles for 3 cents apiece and redeem them for a ticket worth at least 8.6 cents per mile.

The math works for business-class tickets, though not as dramatically. For Seattle-London tickets, British Airways tickets start at $5,037. Buying 120,000 miles from Alaska costs $3,548. Even after the fuel surcharge, you’ll save more than $1,000.

Alaska offers bonus miles a different way as well: The airline gives customers the chance to pay extra when buying a ticket to add 1,000, 2,500 or 5,000 “Fly and Buy” miles to the mileage earned. Paying for an extra 5,000 miles costs $117 tax included, or 2.3 cents per mile. That’s a discount to outright mileage purchases—buying 5,000 miles separately from a ticket on Alaska costs $148 tax included.


When to Redeem

There’s not magical solution — it’s all very hit or miss.

  • Redeem for Upgrades. On the whole, upgrades have been quite ‘profitable’ for me. Especially from economy plus to business class — British Airways specifically which is nice since I have a credit card that earns BA points.
  • It helps to have  ‘elite status’ or find seats at the last minute.
  • Plan in Advance. I hate telling people that but it’s true.
  • Look for Last Minute Seats
  • Unless it’s an emergency, I shy away from redeeming “anytime” awards.

Find a great deal? Share your story.

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About Abrar

Welcome to the narration of whatever is piquing my interest. I spent the first 6 years of my professional life in software development and project management at a start-up, a 10 person consulting company and ultimately reporting to the C.I.O. for a Fortune 150 conglomerate. I've spent the last 9 years in travel the travel industry: 2 years in managing travel technology projects (the systems travelers use like booking engines and fare databases) and the remaining 7 years in business development at an online travel agency specializing in international travel. I truly enjoyed growing from 2 people and near zero sales to a multi-national travel agency with an offshore call center, deploying an overseas sales office, securing key corporate clients, implementing strategic relationships within the travel industry and embracing technology as best we could afford to do. I stepped away from a day to day role in 2006 and have since specialized in advising companies in and outside of the travel industry on what to do and what not to do as they expand. My personal interests include international travel, reading books and spending time with family and friends. I love business, I love travel and I love technology.

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