Not long ago, I booked a trip from Miami to Auckland, New Zealand, for less than $38 using airline miles. This isn't my first great airline miles find. Last year, I booked a ticket from Bangkok to Miami for $70. Accumulating miles isn't the hard part — it's learning how to use them wisely. Maximize your return on airline miles with these tips.
Book one-way travel: A recent study from NerdWallet shows that almost two thirds (62 percent) of one-way flights offer better point values than round-trip flights. Don't be discouraged if the trip you're searching for seems out of reach at first. Look for one-way deals instead, so that even if you have to pay a portion of your fare out of pocket, you'll still save a significant amount of money.
Only redeem your miles on flights: It's tempting to redeem airline miles on magazine subscriptions or apparel, especially when you receive an urgent notice that they're about to expire. Expiration dates can be reset in a number of ways, however, including buying additional flights and donating miles. With so many options, there's no reason to redeem your miles on anything not powered by jet fuel.
Wait for a good sign-up deal: The Chase Sapphire Reserve card has previously offered up to 100,000 points as a sign-up bonus, compared with its current offer of 50,000 points. American Airlines is now offering up to 75,000 miles for new cardholders, up from 65,000 just a few months ago. Typically, you'll see special deals when a card launches, around the holidays and occasionally in-flight.
Avoid using miles to book during peak travel times: The difference in miles required to book a flight during peak travel times can sometimes cover the cost of multiple tickets. For instance, I saw prices from Honolulu to Miami range from 25,000 miles to 90,000 miles in the same week depending on whether you departed on Tuesday or Sunday. Similarly, big events such as the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta can exponentially increase the cost of award travel. Aim to redeem on obscure dates and times instead.
If you must buy miles, do so when they're on sale: Purchasing miles is tricky because the cost of additional miles can be expensive. If you must buy them, take advantage of periodic sales offered by the airlines.
Use your miles for places that don't go on sale regularly: Tokyo, Buenos Aires and Nairobi are examples of cities that are usually expensive to reach from the United States. Once you accrue enough miles to redeem on a flight, choose a destination that you wouldn't otherwise be able to find for cheap, and that isn't commonly accessed by budget airlines.
Avoid the upgrade on domestic flights: While it's tempting to upgrade your seat with miles — and may actually be a better value if you're flying internationally — for domestic travel, it's just not worth it. Those points could be helping you get to your next far-flung destination instead.
Ruiz is a writer based in Naples, Fla. Her website is jenonajetplane.com. Find her on Twitter: @jenonajetplane.
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