Thing’s you should not spend your airline miles on

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Singapore airlines economy class

I know so many people who go to the trouble of collecting miles, being loyal to a certain carrier or alliance and then waste the miles they earned on un-efficient purchases. The source of the problem is that most people think of miles as throwaway when in fact, they are just another form of virtual currency.

Most miles have a roughly defined value in pounds or dollars, so to give you an idea, this table details ten of the most popular airline frequent flier programs in the world and the value of their miles.

Frequent Flier Program

Value in Cents

American AAdvantage

1.4 cents per mile

British Airways Executive Club

1.3 cents per mile (avios)

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

1.2 cents per mile

Delta SkyMiles

1.2 cents per mile

Emirates Skywards

1.0 cents per mile

Etihad Guest

1.2 cents per mile

JetBlue TrueBlue

1.3 cents per point

Singapore Airlines Kris Miles

1.4 cents per mile

United Mileage Plus

1.4 cents per mile

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

1.2 cents per mile

Basic example

So, as a basic example, let’s say you’ve accumulated 100,000 miles from travelling for work on Etihad. Your 100,000 miles are worth roughly $1200 in virtual currency.

When you come to spend these miles, there’s good value purchases and bad value purchases. The rule of thumb for spending airline miles, is spend them on flights in premium cabins.

Wine

This is a common thing I see people doing, buying wine with miles. A quick look on some of the airline websites show that you can buy a mixed case of 6 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc for 14,800 miles or thereabouts (it varies). That’s value of $192.40 for 6 bottles of wine if the miles are worth 1.3 cents each. Now, sure, we’re not getting specific on the actual bottles but these kinds of deals aren’t because the airlines have copious amounts of quality wine to give away, they’re designed to take your miles from you for a bad exchange rate. Much like those currency exchanges at the airport, airlines want to give you the least product for the highest price. 

Onboard purchases

Much like wine, you can often purchase things onboard from the duty free store, using miles. The value of the item you’re buying is often inflated as it is, and the cash price will be less than the value of the miles, so again, these purchases are a scam to get you to spend those miles at a bad exchange rate.

Long Haul Economy flights

If there’s one thing you should never do, it’s purchase long haul economy flights with miles. Most airlines have pretty high fees, taxes and surcharges when you buy reward or mileage tickets. So when you factor in the value of the miles plus all these extra charges, you almost always loose out. 

The strategy here is to get the most value out of your miles when you make a purchase, so you should be aiming for the highest possible cabin (First, Business and then Premium in that order) to get the most value for your miles. One exception to this rule is when you buy economy flights for cash and then use miles to upgrade to the next cabin, they’re often very good value for money.

There are occasionally other exceptions to the rule as well. For example, British Airways have their Reward Flight Saver program which often offers great value for economy flights on short and medium haul destinations. 

Conclusion

Always do some basic maths before purchasing something with miles, if it comes out cheaper to purchase in cash, it’s a bad deal. If you’re getting more value per mile than the table above, then it’s a good deal. The higher dollar to mile ration you can achieve, the better. Remember, treat those miles like they’re cash in your pocket.  

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