Many adults collect travel miles and most of us have redeemed them for free travel. You can collect miles through the “frequent flyer” programs of particular airlines or through credit card reward plans. It’s fun to see the miles accumulating – and it’s exciting to book a trip using travel miles.
However, many people are confused by the programs and unsure how to redeem their miles most effectively. Here are six tips for optimizing the value of your travel miles.
1. Contrary to popular belief, there is no perfect time to book a travel miles reward trip. While it’s true that some airlines – though not all – release their schedules approximately 331 days before a travel date, that’s not necessarily the optimal time to book a reward flight. The airline allocates a certain number of award seats when the schedule is released, but that allocation can change (by being increased or reduced) a month or two later, when it becomes clearer whether the flight will sell out. So keep trying if you aren’t successful on your first booking attempt.
2. When you are ready to book a reward flight, it is best to call the airline reservations center (or a travel agent) rather than attempting to make the reservation yourself online. The reason is that the airline websites generally don’t include the flights offered by their partner airlines. However, reservation agents (and travel agents) have access to flight listings that include the partner airlines.
3. Once you have collected enough miles to fly to a variety of destinations, save some of your miles for last-minute or urgent travel needs – such as attending a funeral or visiting a sick friend. When you have lots of time to plan a flight (such as a vacation trip), you can hunt around until you find a good price on the open market. However, last-minute travel situations leave no time for bargain-hunting – and, obviously, using your travel miles will result in bigger savings in situations where you would have otherwise paid full price (or close to it).
4. Remember that travel miles can often – depending on the particular plan – be used in a number of other ways, from hotel reservations to magazine subscriptions. So if you’re short on funds for Christmas shopping but have tens of thousands of unused travel miles, you can save cash while ensuring that your miles don’t go to waste!
5. Another (relatively recent) alternative is to donate your travel miles to a worthy charity. Several charities now offer this option, including the Salvation Army and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
6. Finally, one aspect of trips booked with travel miles that travelers often bemoan is the frequency of non-direct trips. While this can be an annoyance if you’re in a big hurry to get to your destination, it’s a bonus if you have extra time and the stopover location is a city that you’re interested in exploring. You can use such a stopover (or layover) to spend a few hours or longer touring a city that you’ve always wanted to visit – at little extra cost.
These tips are intended to help you get the most out of your travel miles. Since the miles have real value and the travel they represent can enrich your life in many ways, it only makes sense to maximize their benefits.