It pays to be flexible when using airline miles

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United Airlines plane

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Let’s face it, miles and points are awesome, but they can be a major pain in the butt!  Am I right?  You have to balance the dates you want to fly with what’s available while making sure you still have enough miles to make the purchase.  That’s why it is so key to remain flexible throughout the process.

 

Diversification of Miles & Points

Normally, one of the first rules I tell people when they want to start travel hacking is to focus their efforts on one program.  It doesn’t do you any good to have a few miles in a bunch of different programs.  You’ll never earn enough miles that way to redeem for a free flight.  You’re better off paying a little extra on your flights to earn miles in one program so that you have enough miles for an award ticket.

Once you’re established, though, it pays to diversify into other airlines and bank programs that can pay cash for your tickets because the destination you want may not be available on the days you want to travel or for a price in miles that you find reasonable.

 

Mother-In-Law Wants To Travel

My mother-in-law wanted to visit her son and his family, so I offered to book her a ticket using my miles and points.  She lives near a small airport (Fresno, FAT) and is looking to travel to another small airport (Savannah, SAV), which makes finding award space challenging… and sometimes expensive.

 

Cash Ticket from Fresno to Savannah

The “normal” option is to go online to the airline or an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia to book a ticket using cash.  But, first off, I hate using cash to pay for travel.  And, second, there’s no way I wanted her to pay $600 to fly from Fresno to Savannah.  So, I took a look at some options to figure out a better way.

Expedia FAT to SAV 592 dollars

 

American Airlines AAdvantage miles redemption

Because my MIL lives in Fresno, the airline options are limited.  Sometimes, we will have her fly out of San Francisco or Los Angeles because the drive (2-4 hours) is worth it based on the money she’ll save.  For this trip, we focused on flying out of Fresno because she wanted to fly out immediately after work to maximize her time with her son and his family.

Out of Fresno, American Airlines is the best option for flights to the opposite coast…. well, except for the fact that they wanted 80,000 AAdvantage miles for the flight.  Umm, no thanks.  I can think of so many better uses for 80K AA miles.

American Airlines FAT to SAV

 

Citi ThankYou Points Flight Redemption

Because the other airline options out of Fresno (United, Delta, Alaska) didn’t have award space available on the dates that my MIL wanted to travel, I shifted my focus towards the bank programs that use points to pay cash for tickets.

I have the Citi Prestige card which allows you to redeem Citi ThankYou points for $0.016 per point on American Airlines, so it was the first program on my mind when miles were not a good option.

As you can see here, for virtually the same flights above, I was able to reduce the points price from 80K AAdvantage miles to 47K Citi ThankYou points.  Not bad, right?But, let’s see if I could do better.

But, let’s see if I could do better.

Citibank ThankYou Points FAT to SAV

 

US Bank Flexperks Flight Redemption

US Bank Flexperks is a program that not too many people focus on.  With the Visa or Amex version of the FlexPerks card, you earn 2x points at grocery stores and the points are worth $0.02 each when redeeming.  20,000 FlexPerks points is equal to $400 in airfare.

That means you could get $0.04 of value per $1 spent on the card at grocery stores!

The bad thing is that you have to redeem in 10K increments, starting at 20K.  In other words, if you want to redeem for a $220 flight, you still pay 20K FlexPerks points.  Your best option is to book a flight that is as close to $400 (or other increments of $200) as possible.

united-airlines-airplane-1155134_1920
We started off thinking American was the best option but ended up booking with United instead.

 

For my MIL, we were able to use 30K to book her a flight that was also very close to the American AAdvantage miles option that we first looked at.  I had a bunch of FlexPerks from the Olympic offer back in August where you earned bonus points based on how many medals our Olympians won.

US Bank FlexPoints FAT to SAV 30k

When you break down the price of the plane ticket from FAT to SAV, it would have been $504 for the base fare and $92 for fees & taxes.  Yikes!  Instead, it was just 30K US Bank FlexPerks points.

If you’re spending at grocery stores, that would be $15K in spend.  If you’re buying certain cards, you can spend $15K in a hurry.  Send me a message if you don’t understand what I’m talking about.

US Bank FlexPoints FAT to SAV 30k vs 592

 

The Bald Thoughts

When looking to book your next flight, be flexible in your thinking.  Although it is best to concentrate miles when you’re first starting out, eventually it pays to branch out and have miles and points in multiple programs.  We can help you out with earning more miles and points with our free travel advice service.  You can save a ton of miles and points if you have options.  In this scenario, we turned an 80K mile ticket on American Airlines and redeemed instead for only 30K US Bank FlexPerks.  And, to top it off, my mother-in-law will be earning United miles for the flight towards a future trip.


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17 COMMENTS

  1. Good tip to put all your airline miles in one place. It makes it a lot easier to track your miles and of course they add up quicker in one place. This not only adds up points quickly but also allows you to experience more free flights.

    • It pays to start out that way, but once you start accumulating miles and points regularly, you want to diversify because you can’t always find what you want (date, time, price) with one airline vs. another or one award program vs. another.

  2. I always tell my friends and family the same thing for booking flight in general. Flexibility can save you loads of money. The difference in cost just between two days can be crazy Great article… now I just need some points!

    • Thanks Natasha. Even changing airports can be a big money saver. We have 6 airports in Southern California to choose from. My buddy recently drove down to San Diego to save $400 a person for his family of 4 on flights to Hawaii.

      When you’re ready to earn more miles and points, let me know!

  3. Very useful tips of putting all the air-miles together as sometimes our miles get wasted if not properly planned. Travelers always have many miles in their wallet. Sometimes my airlines uses my miles to book a hotel and I always do that.

    • It is nice when the airlines allow you to use them for other uses, like booking a hotel as you mentioned. I find the best value is to book Business and First Class tickets.

  4. The best thing in my opinion is to participate in the programs of the airlines one uses the most. Still, it’s difficult to gain enough miles. The best thing to gain miles is traveling for work! 😉

  5. This post is awesome! One of the reasons why I haven’t gotten into travel hacking yet is because it looks way too overwhelming. Thank you for taking the time to break it down!

  6. Very true! Being flexible has very good advantages in striking a economic deal with the flights! I created an account for flying miles long back but it was very much useless for me! Everytime I took a different airline which gave cheap deal and I had 4-5 flying miles accounts with hardly any miles in them! So eventually I just gave up!!!

  7. Very useful post. It seems that being flexible has its rewards. I only use one travel point card to accumulate travel points. It seems to get me one or two cheap or often free flights with some extra for car rentals and such. Your tips are very helpful! I will have to look into this further.

  8. You covered this topic very well! We also concentrate our miles on one program as much as possible. My husband is an avid miles and points collector and I think he would be pretty excited when I show this to him. He also looks at all possible options so that we could get the best deal.

  9. I learned a lot from your post. I have not done this or even thought about this idea. It is great that you know how to do this. It sounds tedious but I would also like to be able to save money.

    • It doesn’t take too long to perform the searches. And being able to save a lot of money makes the process very worthwhile. Let me know when you’re ready to start earning miles & points.

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