TRAVEL STRATEGY | Stuck with a small number of frequent flyer points in an account that you barely use?
With many companies relying on ‘best fare of the day’ to curtail their travel costs, chances are you’ll occasionally need to fly with an airline or stay at a hotel that doesn’t award points in your regular frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program.
The result? A small balance of points that’s too small for a free flight or hotel stay, yet too large to ignore and discard.
Here are five easy ways to escape this catch-22 by unlocking your points and turning them into something of value.
1. Transfer your points to a different program
Ship your surplus points to your preferred loyalty scheme, add them to your existing stockpile and redeem then all for your next free flight, upgrade or hotel stay.
For example, Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer miles can be converted into Velocity Frequent Flyer points on a 1.35:1 basis, with only 5,000 miles needed before the exchange can take place.
You’ll need at least 10,000 hotel points with HHonors or IHG Rewards Club; 4,000 points with Accor or 2,500 points with SPG for this option.
2. Give your points to a family member
If you normally fly with Qantas but need to take a Virgin Australia flight – or vice versa – why not simply give those points to your partner or a family member?
Both airlines allow transfers of 5,000 points or more at a time, but there’s a way around that rule to hoover up every last point.
Say you’ve earned a mere 800 Qantas Frequent Flyer points on a short Sydney-Melbourne flight, which isn’t enough to unlock the transfer feature.
Have your relative send you 5,000 points first – taking your total balance to 5,800 points – and then send the full 5,800 their way.
3. Buy points to top-up your balance
Programs such as United MileagePlus and Hilton HHonors allow members to purchase points if they’re a short of an award: a tempting prospect during lucrative promotions where the asking price is lower or the return is higher.
With a remaining balance of 10,000 United miles, this author was able to purchase a further 20,000 miles for around A$600 during a recent promotion, before redeeming them all for a one-way business class flight from Australia to Asia.
Qantas Frequent Flyer points are also for sale, but as you can’t buy more than 15% of the points needed for an award, buying Qantas points only works if you’re almost over the line.
Whichever program houses your orphaned points, be sure to double-check the redemption rates and that a suitable flight or hotel stay is available on your preferred dates before dropping a cent topping up your account.
4. Redeem your points for something small
Frequent flyer awards come in all shapes and sizes: from a round-the-world trip in first class to a small gift card.
Our pick of the bunch for Qantas Frequent Flyers is a $25 David Jones eGift Card for just 3,500 points, followed by gift cards with Big W, Myer and JB Hi-Fi for 3,750 points.
Virgin Australia’s gift card redemption rates aren’t as generous – you’ll need 4,500 Velocity points for a $20 gift card with Westfield, Kmart or Target, but like Qantas, that’s still few points than needed the shortest of economy flights.
Other items such as passport wallets, cookie jars and basketballs fall into the same frequent flyer price range and normally come with free shipping.
5. Donate your points to charity
If your points are destined to expire, why not use them to make a charitable donation?
Qantas swaps just 2,900 Qantas points for a $25 donation to organisations such as Unicef, Make-A-Wish and the Fred Hollows Foundation, while Virgin Australia makes the same donation to charities such as Lifeline, Kids Helpline and Oxfam for 4,000 to 4,500 Velocity points:
Other programs such as United MileagePlus allow you to give your miles directly to charity, which the organisation can redeem for flights to slash their travel costs and use more of their regular cash donations to help those in need.
What’s your plan of attack for orphaned frequent flyer or hotel loyalty points – do you put them to good use, or do you tend to forget they exist and let them expire?
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