Buying airline miles usually doesn't pay, but might now
Some soon-to-expire deals may be worthwhile
By 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
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Dear Cashing In,
I have miles
in four different frequent flier programs, but not enough in any of them to take
the trip I'm planning. I'm thinking about buying some miles. I know that's not
the most economical way to get miles, but isn't it cheaper than buying the ticket
outright? I'm sick of trying to keep them all from expiring. -- Cash Strapped
Dear Cash Strapped,
is not usually a great return on your investment, compared to earning them the
old-fashioned way (flying) or by using an airline reward credit card. If you can't justify signing up
for an airline credit card to collect the bonus miles -- that'll get you your
ticket fast -- your best bet is to get in on one of those limited-time deals
airlines sometimes offer on miles purchases. There are a couple going on now.
If US Airways
is among the airlines you have frequent flier miles with, you may be in luck.
The airline just announced a deal where you can get a 100 percent bonus for miles
purchased, but you
only have until the end of this month to take advantage. You don't have to
register for this deal, but you do have to have been a Dividend Miles member
for at least 12 days and the deal ends on Nov. 30.
Miles sell for $0.035 per mile plus 7.5 percent in tax in the U.S. Let's say you're
6,000 miles short of a domestic fare on US Airways. If you buy 3,000 miles this
month, you get the next 3,000 "free" -- for a total of $105. Is that worth it? It
depends on the price of the plane fare, for one thing. If it's a $500 ticket
and you're not likely to be getting those extra miles any time soon by flying,
then you just saved yourself almost $400. By the way, you can get up to 25,000
bonus miles by signing up for a US Airways MasterCard, which comes with a $49
annual fee -- that's more than enough to get you a domestic fare.
even shorter deadline: American Airlines is offering a 33 percent bonus for buying AAdvantage miles through
Thursday (Nov. 15). This is better than the 25 percent they were offering last month. The minimum
purchase is 6,000 miles, which gets you a 2,000-mile bonus. Total cost for
those 8,000 miles is $165, not including taxes and a $35 transaction fee. So,
if one of your frequent flier accounts is with American Airlines and you happen
to have 17,000 miles in it, $200 would give you enough to purchase a first-tier
domestic fare (25,000 miles). To put this in perspective,
Citi AAdvantage Visa
and MasterCard both offer up to 30,000 sign-up miles for a $95 annual fee
(waived for the first year).
If you have
to buy miles, you might consider shopping through a portal that will score you
some extra points to use on miles. Deals fluctuate here, too, but one option is
to buy them through OpenSky at the shopping portal MyPoints. In September, you
could get 150 points per dollar shopping this way. At the moment, the offer is
50 points per dollar. According to Gary Leff at View From the Wing, 10,100
MyPoints convert to 5,000 United miles. That exchange costs a lot less two
months ago when a $67 purchase via MyPoints would get you 5,000 miles (you now
have to buy $202 worth of merchandise through MyPoints to get those same 5,000
MyPoints is offering 2,500 MileagePlus miles for 5,200 points. That means it
will take $208 in purchases (through their portal) to get 5,000 United miles,
but you're at least you're buying something in addition to miles for your 200 bucks --
instead of just buying miles.
See related: Buying airline miles: Is it worth the cost?
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