Miles can be earned through frequent flyer rewards programs with nearly any airline. If you fly often enough with one or two airlines, you will more than likely be rewarded for your loyalty with miles. These can be put toward any number of things, including ticket upgrades, hotel reservations, car rentals, and even airline-branded merchandise, if you’re into that sort of thing.
But what if you want more miles than you’ve currently earned making airline purchases or flying?
Many airlines give customers the option of purchasing additional miles or points for their accounts, but there aren’t many advantages in doing this as the price at which they are sold often exceeds the value in which they can be exchanged for.
The tactic of acquiring more miles than you’ve “earned” isn’t going to be a huge money-saving hack by any means, but there are some instances where it can cut costs and make your life easier.
We will cover those potential scenarios in this article.
In this post you'll learn:
When Should You Consider Buying Airlines Miles
In a nut shell, one may consider buying airline miles if doing so will:
- Buying miles makes the price of the ticket more affordable than its retail price, or
- Buying miles keeps you from having your frequent flyer account deactivated, or
- Buying additional miles allows you to cash in a bonus offer or reward that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
If the price of the ticket is greater than the cost of purchasing necessary miles.
There are going to be times (albeit, not often) when ticket prices surpass miles prices. When this is the case, take advantage of the opportunity to save money and buy miles rather than the ticket itself.
To find out when this opportunity is present, you’ll need to do some basic math.
First, figure out the price per mile if you were to buy miles directly from your loyalty program’s website. Look for the “buy,” “gift,” or “transfer” tabs once you’ve logged in. The price per mile varies by airline, but a general rule of thumb is 2.5 to 3.5 cents per mile.
Second, after you’ve added up how much it will take to buy the required miles for the ticket, weigh this against the actual retail price of the ticket itself. Be sure to factor in taxes and fees.
To prevent accrued miles from expiring.
The last thing you want to do after racking up major miles is to let them go to waste.
Most frequent flyer programs set expiration dates on their miles if your account remains inactive for too long—18 months is fairly typical—and one way to keep an account active is to put more miles into it. It doesn’t matter whether these are purchased or earned or how many it is.
Especially if your favorite airline will let you purchase just one or two thousand miles or if your flying habits are more sporadic, buying miles to prevent account deactivation could be a great way to make sure that you never lose miles before you get a chance to use them.
The United Airlines MileagePlus program, for example, allows customers to purchase as few as 2,000 miles and it goes up in increments of 1,000. These miles cost $35 per 1,000 miles (or 3.5 cents each) so with the 2,000 mile minimum purchase requirement, it would cost you $70 ($35 per 1,000 miles) to purchase 2,000 miles and thus keep your entire allotment active.
Buying miles to cash in on a bonus or to top off a reward.
Many airlines run promotions to incentivize buying miles, and you’re going to want to be on the lookout for these. Don’t waste your time with deals that only save you a couple of cents a mile, but instead keep your eyes peeled for slashed rates. Rate reductions of anywhere from 10% to 50% are common when you buy more miles at a time. Here’s a good place to scrounge around for updated deals.
Topping Off a Reward
Buying miles is a quick and easy way to supplement what you already have in your account, but only if the math makes sense.
If you’re really close to being able to use your miles on a great reward or ticket but just don’t quite have what you need in your account, consider buying enough to close the distance. The vacation package of your dreams could be just a few thousand miles away.
Consider the following:
Let’s say you and your significant other want to go to Hawaii for vacation and you’ve saved 145,000 miles between the two of you.
In general, it costs ~40,000 miles for one roundtrip ticket to Hawaii (or 75,000 miles for business class).
You two easily have enough miles to cash in on a free trip (40,000 miles each x 2 = 80,000 miles required), but with just 5,000 extra miles you could go in business class (75,000 miles each x 2 = 150,000 miles required).
In this scenario, it could make sense to purchase the additional 5,000 miles to bring your allotment from 145,000 up to 150,000 to cash in on the business class trip to Hawaii rather than flying coach.
Where To Go To Buy Airline Miles
Where you need to go to purchase airline miles will depend on which loyalty program(s) you are a part of and which airlines you fly most often. For the most part, airlines want you to buy miles so they make this easy and obvious to find.
If you visit your loyalty program’s website or online portal, look for links saying “buy,” “gift,” or “transfer” miles.
Other Variables To Consider
As stated, purchasing miles isn’t going to make sense in most cases, so make sure that you know how to make this decision wisely when the option presents itself.
The following two considerations are also important to keep in mind if you are thinking about buying miles.
Can you purchase miles with a rewards credit card?
If you’ve got a great reward credit card in your wallet and it makes sense for you to purchase airline miles (using our guide above), then you may want to compound the miles you earn by purchasing them with your reward credit card.
Buying miles using a rewards credit card will earn you even more miles or credit card points at no additional cost to you—just make sure that both the airline and the card will let you do this.
The best cards count miles purchases as travel purchases, which is a good way to earn more points or miles than you pay for.
Co-branded airline cards are a great way to maximize the earning potential on anything travel-related with a certain carrier, especially miles, while general rewards cards may or may not be compatible with your airline of choice.
How many award seats are available on the flight?
Airline miles can’t just be used to purchase flight seats whenever you please. Unfortunately, award seats—or seats set aside specifically for award redemption—are often limited. And even more unfortunate, a carrier won’t always make it easy to find out how many award seats are still available when you go to book a flight.
Searching for tickets through your airline’s search engine and filtering the results is going to be your best bet, but make sure that you’re searching only direct flights, as flights through partner airlines are not typically eligible to be paid for with miles and points. Also note that if you are traveling with a large party, you are unlikely to be able to use miles for all of your seats. Usually, a flight or cabin only has between one and five award seats available, but this will depend on many factors including the airline, flight route, seat class, etc.
As you can see, the scenarios in which purchasing airlines miles makes sense are few and far between.
If you are close to being able to redeem a loyalty reward, your miles are about to expire due to account inactivity, your favorite airline is running a promotion you can’t pass up, or the cost of a flight ticket is greater than the cost of enough miles to pay for said ticket, then buying miles makes some sense. Outside of this, however, you’ll be hard pressed to find a scenario in which it would be advantageous to purchase miles.
Before you go through with any purchases, just make sure that you’re using the right credit card and award seats are still available on the flight you’re looking to take.
The ability to purchase airline miles is a useful option to keep in mind, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that frequent flyer miles or points are more valuable than they really are. The true dollar value of any given mile ebbs and flows.