As the airlines have undergone relentless consolidation they have been able to devalue their mileage programs with less worries of passengers jumping ship. They’ve been able to get rid of excess inventory, leading to fuller planes and more expensive flights. They’ve made the cost of awards go up faster than the cost of dollar inflation and they’re going to limit the miles you get when flying on most airfares next year (though that may make miles earned from credit cards that much more valuable and useable).
While the old advice may have been to concentrate on one program so that you would be able to get to an aspirational award more quickly that is hardly the case anymore.
Although many mileage programs have been devalued, they have also improved in some ways. While prices for domestic tickets continue to climb, there are still 25K domestic saver awards and even better yet, awards for as low as 9K round-trip via British Airways on American and now on USAirways as well.
Many programs now allow for one-way redemptions. That allows you to redeem for an aspirational award, like a one-way ticket on your own private walled-in suite on Singapore for just 57,000 miles. And you can return with miles from another program, as low as 20K with American for example.
Of course there’s no need to have those miles parked in a Singapore account where they’re subject to devaluation and expiration, you can transfer points over from AMEX, Chase, or Starwood whenever you’re ready.
As for me, this week is the 6th consecutive week I’m flying somewhere with my miles. In that time period I’ve flown to Chicago twice (BA and United short haul awards), Kansas City (United short-haul award), NYC (United short-haul and Flying Blue), Fort Lauderdale (United award), and NYC again later this week.
Many of the tickets were booked last minute, all of them would have been ridiculously expensive without miles.
When I flew to NYC I purchased a ticket just 75 minutes before the flight. Paid flights were over $1,000. Delta only had saver award availability going to NYC and United only had saver award availability for the return later that day.
Of course Delta doesn’t allow you to book a one-way saver award (they will next year) so I hopped onto the Air France Flying Blue site to book the Delta flight. Unfortunately their site can only book flights 3 hours prior to departure so I called them up and booked over the phone while getting them to waive the $20 phone booking fee due to it not being bookable online.
I typically only bank miles I use frequently, like American, BA, and United miles. So as soon as the agent told me they he was able to book the Delta flight for me for 12.5K miles I hopped onto the AMEX MR site and transferred over the miles I needed for that flight to Flying Blue. No reason to stock Flying Blue miles when they transfer instantly when I need them.
I Uber’d around to NYC, finished up what I needed to get done, and even had time for another sublime meal at Mike’s Bistro. He had a corn soup special that night which was just phenomenal and of course his other other-worldly standbys: duck gnocchi, short ribs, fries, and a passion fruit frozen daiquiri. And made it back home that night carrying a goodie back from Mike’s for my wife as well. Truly the best kosher restaurant in the US east of Oxnard, CA.
Sure, miles are “worth the most” when used for aspirational international travel, those business and first class flights that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but are easily attainable for the masses by opening a single credit card.
But as longhaul travel gets harder with a growing family I have no shame in redeeming miles domestically, whether it’s to Banff or Miami. Next month we’ll fly to LA using 25,000 United miles for each of the 4 of us rather than paying $613 for the nonstop flight. No shame whatsoever.
If you only redeem for round-trip coach travel you’ll want to put your spending on the BBarclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, no doubt.
But if you want to book one-way tickets, trips with stopovers to multiple places, business or first class trips, trips to Canada, or more crucially, last-minute tickets, real airline miles simply can’t be beat. As long as airline miles aren’t tied to the cost of a ticket this game remains fun and lucrative. The day the airlines make miles worth a set amount each, is the day I switch all of my base spending to a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. Hopefully the airlines realize that and won’t kill the most (only?) profitable segment they have, the zone or distance based mileage redemption program.