Questions to Ask When Using Frequent-Flyer Miles

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If you travel often enough to keep your frequent-flyer miles current, they can add up steadily over time, even if you’re not a jet-setter or business traveler. When it does come time to cash in those reward miles, you have a number of options in how to spend them, ranging from free domestic tickets to upgrades on international travel. To get the most out of your miles, consider the following.

– How much dollar value am I getting per mile? Sometimes burning tens of thousands of miles on an inexpensive domestic ticket doesn’t get you the most bang for your buck. Always calculate your value in terms of cents per mile. Never redeem miles for less than a penny per mile, and try to get at least 2 cents.

– Can I get a better deal on an unexpected route? Some airlines have excellent worldwide partner networks, which allows you to get great value on your miles by booking tickets to international destinations. A one-way, 67,500-mile, first-class flight between the United States and Southeast Asia could cost $7,000 a ticket, netting you over 10 cents per mile in value. You might also be able to find nonstop flights instead of stopovers by flying on a partner airline.

– How much am I going to end up paying? All major airlines collect taxes and fees for frequent-flyer flights nowadays, but the amount they charge can vary widely. Sometimes you’ll pay just a few dollars in taxes, but you should watch out for fuel surcharges. On long routes, like the one from Washington to London, they can add up to hundreds of dollars.

– Can I buy the extra miles I need? Many airlines allow you to purchase extra frequent-flyer miles, sometimes awarding bonus miles when you do. Thus, if you find yourself just a few thousand miles short of that first-class ticket from New York to Thailand, it may be in your best interests to buy those miles rather than to forego the opportunity for savings.

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