As a general rule, I don’t get upset about various shenanigans that involve frequent flyer programs. Well, there was that one time I lost all of my Czech Airlines miles due to sudden rule change, and was forced to transfer my husband’s stash to Hilton on 1:1 basis. How did I end up with Czech Airlines miles, you ask? Short version: there was a promotion involved and I couldn’t say no to it (though I should have).
Which brings me to the topic of this post. I get that selling miles is a big business for airlines. I don’t fault them at all, that’s how market economy works. Plus, it’s very nice to have the option to pay $30 for 1,000 miles in order to top off your account for a specific award. While it’s a ridiculous amount to pay when collecting miles speculatively, the convenience factor of getting what you need right then and there can not be overstated.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Look at the email I got from AAdvantage the other day:
Say what? Since American sells its currency in 1,000-mile increments, I would have to buy 7,000 miles for $206.50 in order to get my award. Also, can we even call it an award at this point? Award for what? Being a sucker?
Oh, and even then I would only be able to redeem miles on a flight that is less than 500 miles. There may be short routes in US and Canada that are exorbitantly expensive, where paying $211 will be a good deal, but I seriously doubt it. Sure, in an emergency situation it could make sense, but then you would also be paying a close-in booking fee of $75.
Hmm, I think paying $67 is a better deal than $285.
Gimmick marketing aimed at brain-dead consumers
Like I’ve said before, I’m not upset by the fact that American sells miles. I’m glad they do! If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to load up on various sign-up bonuses from Citi. I love miles, especially when I can get them dirt cheap and turn them into flights to fabulous destinations like Tahiti.
It’s the ridiculous marketing that gets under my skin. You want to sell me miles? Fine. Say so in your marketing pitch. Spoiler alert! It won’t work. But why add “you are so close”? Where is the cut-off exactly? What if I only had 10 miles in my account? Another thing programs do to encourage you to buy more miles is offer tiered bonuses. Did you know that right now if you buy 150k AA miles, you will get 120k miles bonus, all for the “low” price of only $4,425? Yay!
I’m sure there are situations where the math will work in your favor, especially when needing a last-minute business redemption. But who in their right mind would load up on this weak-sauce currency speculatively? Recently, American said that they plan to increase sAAver availability for domestic flights. I’ll believe it when I see it. Here is sAAver availability for Seattle-Orlando during the summer of 2018, for 4 seats:
There is only one day where price is 12,500 mies per person, and all of the flights are operated by Alaska Air. Even when there is award availability on American at sAAver level, the flight will invariably leave at 4 AM and have two connections completely out of the way. Who wants to deal with that, especially when you have a family? Honestly, I wouldn’t pay even one cent for AA mile right now.
Recently, I came across a thread on Flyertalk which indicates that Air Tahiti Nui has suddenly stopped releasing award seats. This is one of the best values in AAdvantage program and one I was able to utilize not too long ago. Hopefully, availability comes back at some point, but you never know with these things. It just goes to show you that hoarding miles for a specific redemption is a risky proposition.
Update: it appears the issue has been mostly resolved, follow Flyertalk thread (linked above) for workaround instructions.
One notable exception
As crazy as Avianca program is, buying their currency can be a good deal at times, especially if you live near United hub. You can frequently pick up Lifemiles for 1.38-1.5 cents apiece. If you need a flight right now and are willing to deal with the crazy website that errors out constantly, it could make sense to take advantage of one of their promos.
Since Avianca has overhauled its award chart, some flights within US can be had for as little as 7,500 miles one-way. And there are no close-in booking fees, a major plus. Since it’s run by Avianca, you can count on finding some bizarre combinations. For example, Nick at Frequent Miler has discovered that you can fly from Orlando to Fargo, North Dakota for only 7,500 miles one-way. Not bad, assuming you find low-level availability on United.
Buying miles speculatively for more than 1 cent apiece rarely makes sense for economy flyers. The same goes for collecting them via everyday spending because then you are paying at least 2 cents per mile by forgoing cash back rewards. The airlines invest a ton of money into gimmick marketing, trying to convince you that earning miles on regular purchases is smart. It isn’t. Not unless you are few miles short for a specific award or close to reaching an elite status tier.
Otherwise, collect your sign-up bonus and move on to flexible points or cash back. Then you won’t be at the mercy of one airline program and become a free agent. Freedom in the miles and points hobby is highly underrated.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.