What to Do When Airlines Make It Harder to Use Reward Miles
NEW YORK (LowCards.com) -- Cashing in those airline miles for a free ticket is not as easy as it used to be.
Airline mergers have cut the available flights, leading to more crowded flights with fewer available seats for frequent fliers. Yet consumers continue to sign up for airline reward credit cards and collect miles because free flights are a good deal if you can get them.
The best chance of using rewards with frequent-flier miles is with a value airline, according to the 4th Annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey. The survey found that value airlines have seats available to be booked with frequent-flier miles 96% of the time, while larger airlines have just 61% reward seat availability. Southwest (LUV), its subsidiary AirTran, and JetBlue (JBLU) are among the top five airlines for customers trying to book tickets with frequent-flier miles or points.
The best dollar value for redeeming frequent-flier miles is using them for flights higher up the reward chart, such as first-class travel to Hawaii, Europe or Asia. First-class saver rewards to Hawaii, at 40,000 miles round trip, were found valued at 4 cents per mile, and higher first-class saver rewards to Europe or Japan starting at 135,000 miles yielded more than 5 cents per mile. First-class or business-class trips are the best value, but they are also the most difficult to get.Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard (MA)) or an airline sponsored credit card (such as the US Airways Premiere World MasterCard (LCC)). With generic reward cards, you do have a few more options, because you are not tied to one particular airline. Whether you have a generic travel reward card or an airline sponsored credit card, here are some tips to using your miles in the most efficient way:
- Keep checking, even if you find seats unavailable the first time you look. Inventory may change the next day. Seats may become available a week or two before the flight.
- Call and talk with a reservation agent if you want to book a seat on an airline partner. Many airlines don't offer award seats through partner airlines on their websites.
- Be aware of expiration dates. You spend money and time earning points, but they may not be yours forever. Read the fine print for expiration dates.
- Pay your credit card bill on time every month. If you have a late payment, the bank or credit card issuer could withhold the miles you earned during that billing period. If you want them back, you may have to pay a steep reinstatement fee.
- Don't waste your points on a cheap flight. Points are each worth about 1.2 cents. It typically costs 25,000 points for a round-trip domestic flight, so a round-trip would cost $300. If a flight costs less than $300, it is cheaper to pay in cash and save your points for a flight that costs more than $300.
- Keep your options open. If the first date doesn't work, check availability on multiple dates. In addition, driving to a bigger airport may also open up more flight options.
Select the service that is right for you!COMPARE ALL SERVICES
- $2.5+ million portfolio
- Large-cap and dividend focus
- Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
- Weekly roundups
Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.
- Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
- Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
- A custom stock screener
- Upgrade/downgrade alerts
- Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
- Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
- Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
- Real Money + Doug Kass + 15 more Wall Street Pros
- Intraday commentary & news
- Ultra-actionable trading ideas
- 100+ monthly options trading ideas
- Actionable options commentary & news
- Real-time trading community
- Options TV