Airlines and their frequent flyer programs sell miles/points – virtually all programs do (there are a few exceptions, however). Buying miles for premium cabin travel can be a great deal if you are receiving a significant bonus when you buy the miles or if you are receiving a discount on the purchase in some way. Most airlines usually sell 1,000 miles for a cost of $30-35 USD, some airlines add on tax and/or processing fees to this and some do not.
Should you actually buy miles even when you have the ability to transfer in points to a frequent flyer program from a major transferable bank points program? It depends on a few factors and those can include how good the sale is, how many points you have, whether you are looking to book a trip right away, etc. Buying miles can be very beneficial to those looking to redeem them for premium cabin travel – First and Business Class, since it usually doesn’t make sense to redeem them on long-haul Economy Class international flights.
Buying Miles: A Warning
First of all, I think it is very important to take a few things into consideration when buying miles:
- purchases are nonrefundable
- miles/points do not always credit to your account right away
- buy them if you are going to use them right away
If you are buying miles, make sure that you are going to use them right away and that you have checked award availability multiple times before you pull the trigger – the same applies to when you are transferring in points from a bank program.
Airlines devalue frequent flyer programs and therefore it absolutely does not make sense for you to buy miles and have them sit in your account. Buy them only if you are going to use them soon.
The other, important thing to remember is that there is always a small chance that someone books up your award seat before you are able to grab it – the process takes time to buy the miles and then go through the booking process.. and it is very possible that someone else will book that seat before you do. In cases like this, you’re stuck searching for another option since you can’t (usually) refund mileage purchases.
When Should You Buy Miles?
When should you actually buy miles? Well, you should never buy miles to have them sit in your account unused, that’s for sure. You should buy miles if/when:
- the airline is selling them with a bonus (like 50% more miles with your purchase)
- the airline is selling them at a discount
- you are going to redeem them right away
- you need to top-off an account for a redemption
- there is another big promotion involved where buying miles makes sense
If the airline is selling miles with a huge bonus, then that’s the best time to buy miles – you generally never want to purchase them at the regular rate as that’s a really bad deal.
What Miles Should You Buy?
The value and power of your frequent flyer miles all depends on where they are located – if the frequent flyer program is strong and has been stable in the past few years and has offered numerous redemption opportunities, it could make sense to buy miles without using them right away (at your own risk, of course). While most airlines do sell miles, there are only a few that are worth purchasing (in my opinion).
For example, Air Canada Aeroplan has a ton of airline partners outside of the Star Alliance – I would be comfortable buying these points without using them right away because at some time I know I will use them and redeem them for a valuable ticket. Another good example is American Airlines AAdvantage – this program allows you to hold an award ticket, which means you can easily lock in your itinerary and then buy the miles – all without having to worry that someone might grab the last seat.
You Can Transfer Miles Between Accounts
Most frequent flyer programs allow you to transfer miles/points between accounts – some for free and others for a fee. Some programs even allow you to create a family account which means you can combine points from multiple accounts for one ticket.
Transferring miles between accounts is almost never worth it if you have to pay a fee… unless we are talking about Avianca LifeMiles. This program allows you to transfer your points to another member for a fee but they frequently offer transfer bonuses, for example, recently they had a 100% transfer bonus – that means that whatever amount you transfer to another account, that account will automatically be credited more miles. In cases like this where you want to combine miles between accounts and there is a huge transfer bonus, it can definitely make sense.
All in All
Buying miles can be a great deal if you are mostly looking to use them right away for premium cabin travel. A standard one-way Economy Class ticket to Europe costs around 30k miles whereas a one-way Business Class ticket costs starting at 60k miles – which is double the price of Economy Class. When you look at the cash prices, an Economy ticket will cost probably around $1,000 whereas a Business Class ticket will probably start at around $3,500. When comparing cash vs miles, the miles-booking option wins in this case since the differences aren’t that huge when comparing it to a cash ticket. This is why you should almost always redeem your miles/points for a premium cabin ticket.
Remember to buy miles when there is a bonus and if you are looking to redeem them right away – do not just buy them to have them sit in your account. Remember that there are always risks involved when buying miles, which is why it is important to have a backup award flight in case your desired flights get booked up by someone else (or the airline pulls the award seat). Be sure to check all terms and conditions carefully and understand the rules of the frequent flyer program you are using before proceeding with a large mileage purchase.