by Lyn Edwin Cathey
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I have tons of miles & points but I’m not sure when to pay cash for a ticket versus buying it with miles?

The math is simple. A good return is 2 cents per mile redeemed…or better. Multiply the price in miles by .02 to get the comparable price in dollars (see ‘MileValue.com’ below for a more detailed method). If the resulting dollar value in miles exceeds the cash price, just pay cash and earn more miles.

Example – we recently redeemed 175,000 miles each for business class seats to catch a cruise out of Amsterdam. There was availability one way at the lower tier but we had to jump to the higher tier for the return in order to get two seats on the same flight. Airline policy allowed for splitting the difference – half the standard (lower tier) round trip business class level of 100,000 (50K) and half the “Sky Choice” round trip level of 250,000 (125k), totaling 175,000 per person. Bottom line: we enjoyed two eight hour flights in seats that retailed for approximately $6,000 per person at time of travel, a very pimped redemption value of 3.2 cents per mile.

Unfortunately, we have seen the uninformed spend $1,000 worth of miles for a ticket they could have bought for $200 cash – a waste of miles. Go figure – literally.

I don’t have any miles.. or enough miles in my own account – can I pay someone with a surplus to pay for my ticket with their miles?

Yes.  However, you will most likely need to contact a mileage broker. The broker will either add a markup to the price of the miles or charge a flat fee to make the match.  Still, you can reasonably expect to save 50% to 60% off the best published fare in Business or First class internationally.

Whether interested in buying or selling miles, send us an email request if you would like to contact a reliable broker with a proven track record and long list of satisfied customers.

Finding mileage seats with Expertflyer.com

ExpertFlyer.com allows one to bypass the infernal/eternal phone calls to frequent flyer customer service to check availability and options for mileage tickets. This company has done a brilliant job of determining the inventory code for most free seats and upgrades for all classes of service and for most airlines (some better than others). For example, if you are looking for First or Business class seats, your search will be for flights that show availability in the “D” or “I” category of seat inventory.

_expertflyer_logoThe basic Expertfyer service is $4.99 per month – with a Premium Service level option for a monthly subscription fee of $9.99. We use the site often, even just for checking schedules or to determine what carriers service a particular destination.

This unique service will become even more valuable in the future as people gain more flexibility and choice over which airline frequent flyer account they wish to fatten for harvest – i.e., if you have a stash of American Express points you are entitled to move them into anyone one of about 14 different airline programs. You only have to first establish an account with that airline, which can be done online and is free of charge, then link it to your AMX Rewards account.

Yes, you heard right! You can now find out which airline has availability – THEN build up the mileage in that airline’s proprietary program – all in a matter of minutes.

If you have a large stash of AMX points,  here’s another tip – you can transfer points from your AMX Rewards account into ANYONE’S account – all you have to do is link that person’s account with yours – all done online and free of charge. What a great way to help Aunt Martha top off her account and ride up front in comfort on that long haul trip to Athens for that Mediterranean cruise-of-a-lifetime. Or, for her to top off yours for the same reason.

ThePointsGuy.com is probably the most comprehensive single source of information on travel and lodging related loyalty programs. The website is easy to navigate and the alphabetical listing of “topics” in the middle column is great for ferreting out expert opinion on any travel reward related subject.  For example – you can view a detailed and objective article on how to use ExpertFlyer.com to best advantage, particularly valuable when searching for international award travel.

ThePointsGuy.com logo

ThePointsGuy.com also offers an excellent daily newsletter update which I find informative and of great value when advising clients. TPG is the place to go if you want answers to critical questions like which airline program offers the best award seat availability (Southwest) and the worst (a tie between Delta and USAir). TPG also provides in depth coverage on which credit card point programs offer the most value.

MileValue.com displays a fill-in-the-blanks ‘value calculator’ to help with the decision on whether to buy with miles or with cash. Just input the price of the ticket in dollars, the taxes and fees, the miles required if bought with miles and the miles foregone if you purchased the ticket with mileage (you forego earning more miles when you purchase with miles). This site also offers a mileage ticket booking service – at $99 per person.

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