Travel tip: Avoid airline ticket add-ons

Buying frequent flyer miles or preferred seating tends to be a poor deal

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

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Is it worth buying extra frequent flyer points when purchasing an airline ticket? 

No. Purchasing points is often very expensive, compared to just paying for a flight with cash. 
Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Cashing In,
I noticed that when I check in for a flight at the airport, the airline gives me the chance to buy extra frequent flyer miles. They also do this when I buy the ticket online. Should I buy extra miles? – Zach

Dear Zach,
These kinds of offers from airlines can sound appealing. They know you have your credit card out, ready to pay for a trip. Then they ask you if you’re interested in a bunch of extras – like paying for a prime seat, adding a rental car, buying travel insurance, and, yes, padding your frequent flyer balance by purchasing miles.

Psychologically, people who are about to spend a few hundred dollars on a plane ticket probably think spending an extra $20 or so for some of these items is not a big deal and might even be a good value.

More often than not, though, these extras that airlines attempt to sell you are a poor deal. Let’s look at some of the most common add-ons:

Reserved seats.
When you buy a plane ticket, you now regularly have the option to upgrade your seat … for a price.

Ordinarily, you are assigned a seat toward the back of the plane at no charge. But if you want to have a seat toward the front or in an exit row, you typically have to pay. Unless you have a tight connection or are in a hurry upon landing, sitting toward the front isn’t much of an advantage.

Some tall people prefer the extra space of exit rows. The decision is yours, but sitting toward the back at the normal price is fine for most people.

Car rental.
Airlines often ask if you’ll need a car, or perhaps even a hotel, in the city to which you’re flying.

Airlines are probably not doing this to be helpful, but rather because they likely earn referral fees from those partners. That means you might be able to find a better deal searching on your own.

See Related: Which cards are best for renting a car? 

Travel insurance.
Airlines routinely ask if you want to protect your trip by paying extra for travel insurance.

While it is true that changing an airline ticket usually involves paying a hefty fee, even if you buy the travel insurance, you can’t just change the flight for any reason.

Usually, travel insurance policies require you to prove you have a valid excuse for needing to change the trip, such as a major medical issue, a death in the family, or the loss of a job.

Before buying such insurance, remember that many credit cards come with travel insurance as a feature of the card – which can make buying travel insurance from an airline unnecessary.

If you want to be able to change your flight for any reason, you’ll need to buy an unrestricted fare from the airline, which usually costs hundreds of dollars more than the cheaper restricted tickets.

Tip

Tip: Your credit card may offer travel insurance as a free perk. Check before buying extra insurance that you may not need. 

Extra frequent flyer miles.
Often, airlines will ask if you would like to boost your frequent flyer miles by spending a little bit of money. These offers tend to be terrible deals – like offering you 2,000 miles for $60.

If you can’t figure out whether it’s a good deal or not, do some quick math to determine how much it would cost to buy 25,000 miles at that rate, since 25,000 miles round trip is the standard for a domestic award ticket.

In this example, if you multiply 2,000 miles by 12 you get 24,000 miles, which is close. Then if you multiply $60 by 12, you get $720. That means at that rate, you would be paying about $720 for an award ticket … even though most domestic round-trip tickets cost far less than $720. So this is a poor deal, as most buy-points offers are.

Airlines aren’t dumb. They are trying to make money. But if you’re trying to save money, it’s usually best to avoid paying them for anything besides airfare.

 

See related: Buying rewards points, even at a discount, rarely makes sense


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Updated: 08-18-2018