Five expert tips for buying miles and frequent flyer points

By Chris C., February 26 2015
Five expert tips for buying miles and frequent flyer points

Buying up frequent flyer points for discounted business and first class flights is a topic oft-covered by Australian Business Traveller, with jetsetters saving thousands of dollars over buying a regular ticket.

But whether your plans include a short Asian jaunt or taking the longer ride to London, here’s what you should keep in mind when topping up your mileage account.

1. Never buy miles at full price

The best time to buy miles is naturally while they’re on sale – either with a cool percentage bonus atop the usual haul, or with a cash discount on what you’d ordinarily pay.

Some loyalty schemes such as Avianca LifeMiles frequently run 2-for-1 deals, which is one of the main factors that makes the ‘buying miles’ concept so lucrative.

Snapping up miles at full cost may let you snag a flight for less than the commercial ticket price, although the difference will likely be negligible and the hassle multiplied.

The only exception to the rule is if you’re sitting on a hefty mileage balance but just need a small top-up in order to book your next frequent flyer award – in which case, the fewer miles purchased at full price, the better.

2. Never fly in economy

While buying miles can shed thousands of dollars off the cost of flying in business or first class, the numbers don’t stack up if you’re sitting down the back.

Consider that in general, business class airfares are around four times the price of an economy ticket, while first class seats cost anywhere between six and ten times that amount – or are often priced at around 50% more than business class.

Compare that to most frequent flyer programs, where business class award seats usually command just twice the number of points as economy and first class tickets can be had for triple or quadruple the economy rates.

Cheap economy fares aren’t hard to come by during airline sales, so it’s often cheaper to just buy a regular ticket when you need to travel – not to mention that seats booked with miles don’t earn any points or status credits, which you’d receive by paying for a seat the normal way.

3. Have a specific award in mind before buying miles

Miles are only useful if you can actually redeem them, so before whipping out your credit card and topping up, check that there’s a suitable frequent flyer award available when you need to travel.

It’s an important rule to follow as most airlines limit the number of seats on every flight that can be booked using points instead of cash.

If you’re prepared to be flexible with your travel dates or to book a connecting flight rather than a non-stop journey, you’ll have much more luck at snagging an award ticket.

Otherwise, your best bet is to book a regular ticket when you need to travel and try the ‘buying miles’ trick the next time around.

4. Some award tickets can only be booked by phone

As the title suggests, the airlines’ online booking tools won’t necessarily show every option to get you from A to B.

Searching ‘Sydney to Singapore’ on the United MileagePlus website won’t return any Singapore Airlines flights on the route – instead directing you via Bangkok with Thai Airways even when award flights might be available on SQ.

Similarly, the American Airlines AAdvantage site won’t show any Cathay Pacific flights – so if you can’t find what you’re looking for, give your frequent flyer program a buzz and see what else is available.

This tip doesn’t apply to Avianca LifeMiles, as the call centre can only see the same flight options as presented to travellers on its website.

5. Don’t hoard your miles

Frequent flyer programs tinker with their ‘earn and burn’ rates from time to time, so don’t let your prized asset turn dormant and lose some of its value.

The best point is a point spent – so as we suggested in tip #3, buy miles with a specific award in mind and then book as soon as the points arrive in your account.

After all, you can always buy more points at a later date during the next promotion.

United MileagePlus tends to provide notice before changing its redemption rates, although Avianca LifeMiles has implemented sudden, no-notice hikes in the past which added up to 50,000 miles to the cost of a single award – so tread carefully.

More ways to save on business and luxury travel from the AusBT team:

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

04 Nov 2012

Total posts 213

They normally last 18 months but can extend, always be flexible and find various flights from to cities before calling, then spoon feed opertaors.

If in doubt put flights on hold for 72 hours where possible, book as far out from departure too. Also, there are many who will find flights and book for you around USD$125 per pax.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Sep 2013

Total posts 186

Gumshoe - you say there are many who will find and book flights for you.  Exactly who are the 'many' please.  I would like to try the latets sale of AA miles to book some fliughts from Perth.  Thanks in anticipation.


29 Oct 2012

Total posts 17

Economy flights can make sense when booking one-way flights on routes that only price as fully flex for one way. This is especially handy when positioning to a cheaper starting city. 

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