If you want to travel for free, buying miles or points is obviously not a solution for you. However, if you’re like me and are willing to put in some cash for traveling, buying miles and points can actually be one way to score a discount on your next trip, even if it is counterintuitive. Right now, there are several programs offering discounts on the purchase of miles and points, perhaps lowering your all-in cost to something reasonable.
There are three main ways to approach buying miles or points:
- Topping off an account. If you have an upcoming trip but are a few miles short of an award redemption, it can make a lot of sense to buy the last remaining $200 or so in miles so that you can use miles for the ticket instead of paying cash now and trying to use your miles for something else in the future.
- Buying enough miles for a specific travel goal. Even if your account is starting from zero, there are still some situations where you can save money by buying miles and redeeming for a ticket rather than just paying cash, and I’ll share a few examples below. If you’re ready to book the trip, there’s very little risk by buying the miles and redeeming them ASAP, so you know you’ll get a good value.
- Buying miles speculatively because it’s a good deal. Just like in the previous option, it can be easy to find good deals and think you’re money ahead. However, if you’re buying miles today with the intention of booking your award trip six months from now, things get riskier. For one thing, award charts can change and you may not end up with as good a deal as you expected. Additionally, availability on award redemption can change daily, so assuming you can get a free seat on the days you need them may end up inconvenient or impossible. Tread carefully – or not at all – with speculative buying.
All in all, the important part is to have a specific goal in mind, and ideally one that is bookable in the near term. Gather your thoughts now, run the math, and see if buying miles makes sense. Don’t delay in actually booking your award unless you’re okay with accepting some of the risks of waiting.
Hyatt: 30% Bonus Points (HT: Loyalty Traveler)
I’ll start with Hyatt because this promotion ends today, so you need to act fast if you’re interested. Hyatt isn’t my primary hotel program, but they seem to have some very nice properties in interesting places. Loyalty Traveler has a great table showing the implied price of a hotel stay if you buy miles – ranging from $92 at a Category 1 hotel to $406 for a top-tier hotel – so check it out if you won’t be doing the math for yourself. I think the prices are still a little high, and it’s worth noting you only receive a full 30% bonus in points if you buy 30,000-40,000 points altogether. I’ll sit on the sidelines for this one.
Price of Points (with 30% bonus): 1.85 cents each
Purchase By: February 6
Possible Deals: Best if you were going to spend $500+ on luxury properties anyway, such as the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Also good for topping off your account.
US Airways: 100% Bonus Miles [Targeted] (HT: Online Travel Review)
Yes, US Airways has offers to buy miles all the time, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t re-evaluate every time you see the offer since travel plans frequently change (at least in my household!). The current offer is targeted, with some members being charged full price, others receiving 50% more miles for free, and still others receiving a 100% bonus on miles. You can check which offer you were targeted for by simply attempting to buy miles and seeing if you receive an offer message (I didn’t).
Price of Miles (with 100% bonus offer): 1.88 cents each
Purchase By: February 28
Possible Deals: Round-trip to Alaska in coach (25,000 miles = $470), Off-peak coach to Europe (35,000 miles = $658), Business-class to Hong Kong (90,000 miles = $1692)
American Airlines: 50% Bonus Miles (HT: View from the Wing)
I like the AA offer a little more than the US Airways one because through it isn’t targeted, so anyone can take advantage of it. It can also be a risk-free way to book an award immediately because you can book the award before purchasing the miles to insure availability: just put it on hold for five days and then call back to apply your new miles as soon as the purchase has processed (about 3 days). This promotion applies different amounts of bonus miles depending on how many you’re purchasing, but the best deals are at exactly 40,000/50,000/60,000 miles, which work out to a 50% bonus.
Price of Miles (with 50% bonus offer): 2.0 cents each
Purchase By: February 28
Possible Deals: Off-peak coach to the Galapagos (30,000 miles = $600), Business-class to Morocco with stopovers in London and Madrid (80,000 miles = $1600)
AviancaTaca: 100% Bonus on Transferred Miles (HT: View from the Wing)
Unless you already have miles in your account to transfer to someone else, this mile is only average because you’d have to buy miles at full price just to get started. However, transferring 1000 miles is $15 and will send along an additional 1,000 miles from this promotion, essentially purchasing miles at 1.5 cents each and you only need 40% of the miles required for an award before booking (you can buy the remaining 60% at time of booking for 1.28 cents each). Do some reading on the program before you think buying/transferring miles is a good idea. There are a lot of upsides (cheap miles, good award charts, online booking), but a few downsides (no mixed cabin awards, no access to many regional flights thus limiting destinations, no connections over 8 hours allowed).
Price of Miles (assuming you have miles to start with): 1.5 cents each
Purchase By: February 20
Possible Deals: Round-trip coach to Flores, Guatemala for Tikal (21,000 miles = $287), Round-trip business class to South Africa (125,000 miles = $1707), Round-trip coach to Singapore (65,000 miles = $900)
Wyndham: 25% Bonus Points (HT: Loyalty Traveler)
I have a personal grudge against Wyndham, since in the past few months they have changed terms of their promotions partway through as well as raised prices of some hotel redemptions by 281%. I definitely wouldn’t plan on buying these points speculatively, but if the math works out as a good deal NOW, you can buy and book immediately. While you can obviously use Wyndham points for stays at Wyndham hotels, you can also convert points into airline miles with most major airlines – giving you options to top off accounts with Delta, United, or other airlines that don’t offer “buy miles” promotions frequently.
Price of Points: 0.88 cents per Wyndham point (works out to about 2.2 cents per airline mile)
Purchase By: February 28
Amtrak: 30% Bonus Points (HT: Deals We Like)
I don’t travel by train as frequently as I’d like to simply because low speeds and great distances don’t make a lot of sense. However, I love traveling by train and I know for others it can be more sensible. It’s worth noting that you only get the full 30% bonus if you buy 10,000 miles (the maximum you’re allowed per calendar year), so I’d probably only recommend it if you need that many points and have a good use in mind for them. If you need more than 10,000 points, you can always buy Wyndham points and transfer those into Amtrak Guest Rewards as well. I love that you can book last-minute, often saving tons on train fares, but watch out for black-out dates around all holidays.
Price of Points: 2.12 cents per point
Purchase By: March 16
Possible Deals: Cascades route from Portland, OR to Vancouver BC (1500 points = $32), Northeast Service from Richmond to New York (4000 points = $85), Acela Business Class from Boston to Washington DC ($170)
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