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In the miles and points world (at least mine), free is the name of the game. And if not free, then cheap. Thus, one thing I almost never do is buy airline miles. But there are a few instances that could certainly make buying airline miles worth it:

  1. To top up your account for a particular award. Suppose you find two business-class seats from SFO to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific over the perfect dates you want, and you’re currently 7,000 Alaska miles short of what you need for the award. This may be a moment where buying miles makes complete sense. Although you will be spending a couple hundred dollars to buy the miles, getting that perfect award could easily be worth it.
  2. For making premium experiences cheap(er). While not for me personally, this is a great option for people willing to pay for a premium cabin. Buying miles to redeem for an international business-class or first-class award can often be substantially cheaper than buying a ticket outright. One of the best deals used to be buying Alaska miles on sale for travel on Emirates, until Alaska’s infamous overnight price hike. Alaska miles are still a decent option for flying Cathay Pacific first. Another option that may interest people is purchasing Avianca LifeMiles (often on sale) for travel in Lufthansa first-class. Obviously, you’re still shelling out $1,000s in cash to buy the miles, so this is not for everyone.
  3. To keep your miles from expiring. If transferring points from another program (like Chase UR or Amex MR) is not possible, buying miles might be the way to go. There are often other ways to extend the life of your miles without shelling out some cash (like shopping or dining portals), so look into those first. If nothing else is possible, buying a few miles to reset the clock is often much cheaper than paying to have them reinstated.

These are basically the only three instances that could make buying airline miles worth it. Things like United’s ‘award accelerator’, where you earn extra award miles on a flight, might sound like a great idea, but they nearly always make zero financial sense. There are plenty of other (much cheaper) ways to accrue miles.

If you do consider buying miles, make sure you also consider the value of the miles you are forgoing for booking a paid fare! If elite status also matters to you, make sure you take that into consideration as well. Buying miles to use for an award flight gets you no closer to (re)qualification.

So there you have it. These are really the only 3 instances that might make buying airline miles worth it. All three of these reasons have clear purpose to them. Never buy miles speculatively. They will nearly always go down in value.

Header image courtesy of BriYYZ under CC 2.0 license

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