In the pursuit of airline rewards points, one of the fundamental tenets is to never buy miles. The point of accumulating points is to travel for free. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Buying miles can make sense in certain situations. For example, airlines offer miles for purchase at a rate of around 3.5 cents per mile, with a 2,000-mile minimum. But how far will that get you? That depends on the context and need.
The best way to accumulate miles is through credit card purchases. If you have time to plan ahead, putting cash on your card for needed purchases is a win all around. As you accumulate mileage on your credit card, it goes down to $1 per mile, often multiples of that for various purchases.
However, there are situations where buying miles directly may make sense. For example, if you have a long-haul flight coming up and do not want to pay for a business class seat, you may want to look at your points-purchasing options.
For instance, a one-way flight from New York to London can cost from $3,882 in JetBlue’s Mint, which is 370,000 TrueBlue points. As points purchased at JetBlue cost $37.73 per 1,000 points. It is hard to think of a circumstance that would make this a worthwhile play, especially as the ceiling for points purchases each year is less than half that amount.
Another situation where buying miles may make sense is when your loyalty status is about to run out. If you need to maintain your elite status or avoid forfeiting miles, buying miles is one of several solutions, but it is probably worth the least consideration. Using an airline-branded credit card or opening one is the most efficient option. Making the required amount in purchases will do the job well enough. If opening a new card is the answer, however, allow enough time for the purchases to apply to the bump in bonus miles.
We’ve all dreaded that last-minute trip to the airport when we must fly no matter how much it will cost. In fact, airlines rely on this factor as a significant portion of revenues. So, a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to London that might normally cost $600 is now $1,850 for a coach seat, and you must take it. Such a trip will cost 25,000 miles for an American Airlines AAdvantage ticket, available for $907 plus $231.20 in taxes if you purchase the miles on aa.com. That’s $1,138.20, a savings of $711.80.
The benefits of purchasing points for last-minute flights can be seen best in international flights. When traveling within the U.S., plenty of options are available through dynamic pricing systems, so it rarely makes sense to use or purchase points for a last-minute domestic flight.
Credit card purchases are the best way to accumulate miles. If you need to buy miles directly, make sure to get them during a sale. When your loyalty status is about to run out, using an airline-branded credit card is the most efficient option. Finally, purchasing miles may be a good option if you have a last-minute international flight. However, for last-minute domestic flights, using or purchasing points rarely makes sense.