May 16, 2010

Ways To Use Small Amounts of Airline Miles

Recently my American Airlines miles were going to expire.   I didn't have enough time to get more mileage credit so I had to figure out some way to use the miles or they'd be lost.   Previously I talked about Cheap Ways To Delay Expiration of Airline Miles but as I found out that doesn't always work out as well as planned and most of those methods have a delay before the miles hit your account.   Thankfully I found a good way to use my miles without them going to waste.

American Airlines lets you book travel via their AAVacations site with miles and that option worked pretty well for me.   I had a bit over18,400 miles on American and I was able to get a credit of $123 towards a hotel stay.   That works out to about 0.66¢ per mile.  Not great but certainly better than nothing.  Rather than let the 18k plus miles simply go to waste I saved myself $123.

United and American both have some good non-air options for using your miles by getting hotel or car reservations.   If you travel enough then hotel or car rentals are generally something you can make good use of.   Otherwise the options available to redeem miles amount to getting magazine subscriptions or miscellaneous merchandise.   These give less of a return on your miles but maybe you can find something you want.  Another good option for miles about to expire is to donate the miles to charity.   That way the miles don't go to waste and the charity gets good use of them.

Below is a summary of the ways you can redeem miles on various major airlines other than buying airfare: 

American Airlines

AAVacations - You can use your AA miles to pay for air, hotel or car reservations.   The exchange rate is $6.63 for 1000 miles.   Make sure to shop around to compare to other travel sites.   Some of the prices on AAVacations are good and some aren't as competitive.
Magazines - They have a variety of magazines you can get for relatively low miles.  A year of Sports Illustrated for 1400 miles or Entertainment Weekly for 1200 miles.  129 issues of Wall Street Journal is 1800.
Charity - give your miles to a charity.

United Airlines

Book hotels - They give you the option to book hotel stays for miles.  I did a quick search for Vegas and found a 1 night stay at The Mirage would cost 15,300 miles.   I could book that same night via Orbitz for $132.  So thats about 0.86¢ per mile return.   Other hotels gave a worse return.  Luxor cost 12,300 miles and cost only $50 via Orbitz which is only 0.4¢.
Car rental - You can also redeem United miles by booking car rentals via United.   However this is not a very good deal.   The cheapest car rental for 1 day in Vegas was 10,000 miles.   Sites like Orbitz and Hotwire have rental cars from the major companies starting in the $40-$50 range.  A better option seems to be getting a certificate good for 2 days of car rental at National, Avis or Hertz.  You can get 2 weekend days for 8500 or 10500 miles depending on the company.   A weekend in Vegas in June would cost around $80-$120 for those brand names.
Other options - 6 day Wall Street Journal 39 week subscription for 2626 miles (may vary depending on location), dining certificates, merchandise or FTD flowers.

Charity - give your miles to a charity.

US Airways, Delta Air & Continental

These airlines have options to buy magazines, newspapers or merchandise.   I don't see any great deals there but you might find something you really want.      Or you can donate your miles to charity.

Alaska Air & Frontier Airlines

Giving miles to charity is the only options I see other than airfare.

Southwest Airlines

I don't see any options to redeem Southwest rapid rewards points for anything other than airfare.  I don't even see an option to give your rewards to charity though I may just not be finding it.

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