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How to Deal with Impending Fare Hikes: The Extra Mile

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Your frequent flier miles are about to lose value—time to book that dream trip!

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If your stash of frequent flier miles is burning a hole in your pocket, that hole is about to get bigger. On March 22nd—exactly four weeks from today—the world’s largest airline, American, is planning to devalue your points. So mark your calendar with a big red “X” on March 21; that will be the last day that you can book many award tickets at current redemption levels.

How much will the price of mileage tickets jump? Not all fares will be affected, but tickets from the continental United States to Hawaii (currently available from 20,000 to 22,500 miles) and to the Caribbean (12,500 to 15,000 miles) will jump by 2,500 miles each way for economy class, and business and first class tickets will be much more expensive.

This mileage price jump will affect American’s many partners in the OneWorld Alliance, too, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, Qantas, and Qatar Airways. So don’t let these new prices take you by surprise. If you’ve been planning a family vacation or dream honeymoon, now’s the time to book it! Here’s the lowdown on how the fare increase will work:

First, the good news

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If you’re happy to travel in economy, the change won’t affect you too badly. Many award prices are not going up, and, in fact, some are going down. Economy class awards within the continental U.S. will remain the same as they have been, at 25,000 miles for the saver level. And there will also be a new option to redeem 7,500 miles for one-way flights of less than 500 miles, a deal that wasn’t available before and could make shorter flights more appealing. Other economy class saver awards to places like Hawaii, Alaska, Europe, and northern South America will only increase by a few thousand miles.

Big changes for premium cabins

The real changes will be for people who like to redeem their miles for business and first class trips to far-flung places or who are hoping to take dream trips that might otherwise be out of reach. (And for many of us, that’s the allure of racking up all these miles anyway, right?)

Business class seats to Europe, Asia, and Australia will all see jumps in their rates. A one-way flight from the United States to Australia in business class that currently costs 62,500 miles, for example, will jump to 80,000 miles. And if you like to splurge and fly in first class, the news is even worse. Currently, flights from the United States to Europe in first class cost 62,500 miles, but those seats will go up to 80,000 each way. The biggest offender in the new rate chart are flights from the States to Asia: A first class flight from the U.S. to Hong Kong, which costs 67,500 miles right now, will jump to 110,000 each way. That’s a 63% increase—ouch!

But not all the news is bad for the premium-class set. Business class to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America will actually drop in price by a few thousand miles. So that’s some consolation.

Now's the time to book that big trip to, say, Thailand!

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What if I need more miles to book before the rate change?

If you want to book a big trip before March 21, but you’re short on miles, there are a few things you can do.

One of the easiest ways to build up your points is to go shopping through an airline’s mileage portal, though you should keep in mind it can take time for the mileage to post so if you go this route, you’ll want to do it right away.

If you’re desperate, you can buy miles directly from American’s website. But this is only advisable if you plan on taking a trip that would be very expensive if you paid for it in cash. (There’s certainly no point in buying miles for a trip that would be more affordable to purchase outright.) Occasionally, American even offers bonus miles for buying miles, which makes all of those miles more affordable.

If you already have travel plans with American in the next couple of weeks, you can also tack on extra miles when you check-in for your flight. Airport kiosks and online check-in sites both offer the chance to boost your mileage earnings for your trip by paying a fee for a bundle of miles.

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There’s also the option to transfer miles from family members or friends. Unfortunately, you have to pay for the privilege of moving miles around, so this option should only be used as a last resort. The one time it could really make sense is if a friend or family member has American miles that they know they won’t use—if, for instance, they rarely travel and won’t earn enough miles for an award ticket.

The true road warrior might even be willing to book a mileage run to earn the remaining miles he or she needs (i.e., take a cheap trip for the sole purpose of earning miles). Of course, this strategy—a favorite of some mileage collectors—will also have to change later this year, when American is slated to change the way it awards miles, too.

Ramsey Qubein wings his way to every corner of the globe covering the hotel, cruise and airline industry, scooping up points and miles along the way. He has visited 164 countries and flies nearly 350,000 miles per year. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at DailyTravelTips or on his website RamseyQ.com.

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