As those coveted frequent flier miles start to stack up, it’s only natural to start calculating what kind of flights (and to where) they can buy you. But increasingly common caveats and hurdles to using miles—such as the stripping away of award charts that assigned fixed prices to mileage redemptions, and airlines making mileage awards more expensive—can snag plans for a dream vacation. In an environment where miles seem to be continually losing their currency, here are some ways to get the most out of the miles you’ve gained.
Flying Blue promo rewards
At the start of each month, the loyalty program of both Air France and KLM, Flying Blue, releases discounted mileage prices for flights between various regions. This includes some exceptional deals between certain cities in North America and Europe.
For example, July’s offers included shaving off nearly 25 percent of the mileage cost for business-class flights from Toronto to Europe and more than 50 percent off the mileage cost of economy-class seats between either Minneapolis or Salt Lake City and Europe (21,500 miles round-trip versus 45,000 normally for economy class). Each month, new cities are listed on its Promo Rewards site.
American Airlines mileage hacks
American makes award redemptions available via its website and its mobile app. Insider tip: Check both when looking for award space. It is common for more availability to pop up via its mobile app (we’re not entirely sure why) than on the website.
Additionally, there are some great bargains for mileage redemptions within American’s AAdvantage program. These include the airline’s off-peak award chart. If you can plan travel during these low-season periods, you can save miles when redeeming for economy-class flights. For example, if you fly to Hawaii from the mainland during the months of January, February, September, and October, you can save 5,000 miles off the normally 45,000-mile round-trip ticket. Between the mainland and Europe, you can save 15,000 miles off the cost of a 60,000-mile round-trip ticket during the periods of mid-January to mid-March and November to mid-December.
For fliers with certain credit cards like the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard or the AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard from Barclays, exclusive reduced mileage awards are available by calling the airline. Be sure to check the list of destinations eligible for the discount, which could be as much as 7,500 miles each way and changes monthly.
United’s Excursionist Perk
United is making some changes to how it prices awards for flights after November 15. The airline will be removing award charts for its own flights and switching to dynamic award pricing that, like Delta, pegs mileage costs more closely with the actual monetary cost of a flight. Previous to this forthcoming change, travelers were able to see how many miles they needed to save up for a particular trip.
But there is a lesser-known United mileage loophole that offers a way to make your miles work more for you. The carrier’s Excursionist Perk is designed for round-trip international award redemptions. Essentially, it gives fliers an additional one-way segment built into the trip free of charge. Here’s an example that United uses to explain it. If you fly from Chicago to London and back to Chicago, that is considered a round-trip. But with this perk, you can fly from Chicago to London (stay for a few days), then to Paris (stay for a few days), and then return to Chicago for the same mileage price.
While there are a few restrictions, if you follow United’s online instructions, you can build in some extra flights that you didn’t realize could be part of your award ticket.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club instead of Delta SkyMiles
Years ago, Delta sneakily deleted its award charts and left travelers wondering how many miles they need to save up for an award. SkyMiles members won’t know the price until they search actual dates (as mentioned above, United is switching to this system soon, too). Luckily, miles that frequent travelers have with Delta partner Virgin Atlantic can often be redeemed for Delta flights for fewer miles. If you don’t want to earn Virgin Atlantic miles by flying, you can also transfer them from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
You’ll want to when you see Virgin Atlantic’s special award chart for Delta flights. For example, you can redeem 50,000 miles each way between the United States and Europe on the same flight where Delta may be charging 80,000 miles each way or more. Economy class on a Delta flight using Virgin Atlantic miles between the mainland and Hawaii goes for 20,000 miles each way. Delta could charge twice as much or more. The reason is because while Delta does not adhere to an award chart model with fixed prices, Virgin Atlantic continues to do so. These awards can be booked directly via the Virgin Atlantic website. Flights are still limited to certain dates where award space is available, but do a little searching and you might get lucky.