June 4, 2016 Strategy Session
A primer for new members and a reminder of the nuances for the more experienced.
Business and First Class airfares aren’t always inexpensive, even though there are many sales. Still, buying miles—most every airline offers them for sale online—can be a powerful approach to flying premium class at up to 90% off.
No Experience or Miles Necessary
FCF calls it the “Buy Miles to Fly in Style” strategy, and we advise using it only when published Business and First Class fares are high. Keep an eye out for mileage-purchase sales to build up a war chest on the cheap—but only if you fly semi-frequently and/or are flexible—otherwise buy miles on a per-trip basis.
The gist is that you can buy miles for award travel without ever flying or using a credit card to earn mileage or points.
Two Ways to Work the “Buy Miles to Fly in Style” Strategy
#1 Buy Miles to Build a War Chest.
Potential Downside: The airline devalues its miles for the redemption you had in mind. Overnight, miles bought can lose value if the airline raises the mileage requirement. It’s mileage inflation. Take the Alaska-Emirates award devaluation that occurred on March 30: Alaska increased mileage levels on Emirates Business and First Class awards—without notice—by up to 100%.
Upside: Only one partner airline changed rates. No other Alaska award rates changed. Plus, Alaska just added a major new partner, Japan Airlines, and will offer award travel on it later this year.
I feel comfortable having 200,000 miles in as many accounts as possible to maximize my opportunities. But if you don’t fly often or are on a tight schedule, see the points below.
#2 Buy Miles for a Specific Trip
But make sure that award space is available before committing to the purchase. American and United are less risky because you can hold space while the miles-purchase transaction transpires. With Alaska you can buy the miles on the phone while making the reservation online (see detailed booking steps here). I recommend the Buy Miles to Fly in Style strategy only if there is a nice cluster of seats on days before and after your desired date (your insurance policy). If the trip falls through, bank the miles.
Be Ready to Strike
Some airlines require loyalty-program membership before you can buy miles. American, for example, has a 30-day waiting period. Some even require membership before you can check free award space. If you want to play this game aggressively, open accounts with LifeMiles (Avianca) and Mileage Plan (Alaska), so when miles go on sale, you’ve already met the waiting-period requirement.
Need Even More Miles?
There’s generally a hard limit to the number of miles you can buy. Here’s how you can get around miles and points purchase limits:
Credit Cards: Never add anyone to your Amex, Citi, or Starwood credit card account. Instead have them open a separate account; this not only nets you double the sign-up bonus, but also doubles the number of points you can buy. Amex allows you to buy up to 500,000 points annually (at 2.5¢ each), for example, and Citi ThankYou allows you to purchase 100,000 points per year (at 2.5¢ each); you double that if you have two accounts.
Airlines: Keep in mind that most airlines allow you to redeem miles from your account for someone else’s travel. Translation: Open an account for your dad, daughter, or dogcatcher, fill it with miles however you like, and then use the miles for your trip. The airline may ask you for a credit card with the account holder’s name to cover the ticket taxes—that’s it.
Ten Ways, in no particular order, FCF members have leveraged Buy Miles Deals: