ADVERTISEMENT

Short a few air miles? Negotiating won't work, but there are options

By

Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

Ask a question.

'Cashing In' archive

Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Cashing In,
Can you negotiate with airlines about frequent flier miles -- like would they ever work with someone to pay only 25,000 miles for a trip that would cost 35,000 miles? And if so, how would suggest asking about that? -- Jack B.

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Reader,
Unfortunately, no airline I know of is going to hand over an award worth 35,000 miles if you only have 25,000 to spend, no matter how nicely you ask. I asked an American Airlines representative if there was any room for negotiation and, as I predicted, he pointed me toward their buyAAmiles program. Most airlines have similar programs in place that allow you to make up the difference if you're short on miles.

If you're a member of American Airlines' AAdvantage program, you can buy the extra 10,000 miles for $305 (including a $30 processing fee but not tax). United MileagePlus will sell them to you through its Personal Miles program for $376.25. This may seem a hefty sum for topping off an award flight, but if that turns out to be less than half the price of a standard fare and it's a matter of using or losing your miles, this might not be a bad deal.

If you're trying to get an economy fare to Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean -- a 35,000-mile award at the first-tier level for standard round-trip economy seating -- that extra $300-376 would indeed be less than half the fare, possibly more like a third. The best deal available for a round-trip flight from Seattle to Belize in mid-November, for example, is currently about $800. A one-stop round-trip from Boston to Maui would be closer to $1,200. Both flights fall into the 35,000-mile award range if you're flying from the U.S. -- assuming you can find available award seats at that tier.

Airlines suggest saving on miles purchases by using your airline credit card. If you pay for miles with, for example, a United MilesPlus Visa or Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature card, you earn an extra mile (on United or American, respectively) for every dollar spent. That means fewer miles that you'd have to buy, right? Yes, but it'll only take you so far. Here's why:

  • Say your goal is to acquire 10,000 United miles without having to buy all 10,000 miles.
  • With United, you have to buy miles in 1,000-mile chunks. So you buy 9,000 miles for $338 and get a credit of 338 miles to your account.
  • That leaves you with a total of 9,338 miles -- well short of the desired 10,000 miles.

You would've been better served buying the full 10,000 miles for $376 and keeping the extra 376 miles in your account as a bonus. Still, that's just not much of a boost for your efforts.

If you don't have a credit card that offers reward miles, signing up for one now would solve your problem in one fell swoop. Forget purchasing miles, or even using up the ones you have, you'd get the whole batch at once in sign-up bonuses. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature and American Express cards all offer 30,000 bonus miles with your first $750 purchase. United MileagePlus Explorer Visa Signature card gives you 25,000 miles after first use and another 5,000 after first card use.

Assuming you have neither the right card nor the time (or inclination) to take on a new one for this purpose, I would suggest searching the airline's frequent flier websites for deals being offered by its loyalty program. It's possible you can find a way to patch together an award flight that only requires 25,000 miles.

United and American, for example, both offer Saver Awards that allow you to piece together two one-way flights as a way to use fewer miles. These work best if you're flexible about dates and times. American Airlines' Saver Awards, for example, go as low as 12,500 miles for one-way fares, even to and from Hawaii and the Caribbean. Now that's a deal -- assuming you're willing to fly off season and probably at odd hours. 

American is also offering special deals to Citi AAdvantage cardholders right now for travel completed by Dec. 31, 2011. Using a special code, cardholders can book round-trip flights to the 48 contiguous states for 17,500 to 20,000 miles, depending on the card. This may or may not help you get to your destination, but it's always worth checking current deals, especially in the off season.

See related: Easy ways to maximize your rewards points

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Published: October 29, 2011


Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.




Follow Us


Updated: 12-11-2016


Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.


ADVERTISEMENT