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This is an issue that has come up many, many times before, but it got brought back to the surface in yesterday’s Avios post. The issue at hand is whether or not domestic/short-haul redemptions are a good use of miles and points. I think there are very clearly two main types of miles and points collectors. There are those who collect miles and points to use solely for long-haul trips, often with multiple stopovers, and often in a premium cabin. That type of mile collector is getting a very high cent per mile (cpm) value for their miles. For example, if they are spending 100,000 miles to fly on a ticket that normally costs $10,000 (and some international premium cabin tickets can go for much more than that), then they are getting 10 cents per mile “value” for their redeemed miles.
Then there are the miles and points collectors who will use their 100,000 miles to obtain four domestic tickets to fly to a vacation in Colorado, Florida, New York, or to Grandma’s house. Let’s say that each of those domestic round-trip tickets could be had for $300 each – that would bring this family’s total to $1,200 value for their 100,000 redeemed miles. That is a 1.2 cents per mile value. It isn’t hard to see the argument that the far-better value for miles and points is to redeem them for expensive, long-haul, premium cabin travel, because in this case you are getting over 8x better cpm value for your miles in the first example than on the latter example.
I’m no fool, I get all of that. However, a cent per mile ratio is not the only way to value a redemption opportunity. There are lots of reasons that people travel that are far more valuable than any simple cents per mile equation can account for. I have said this before, but most of the time my family isn’t traveling for the experience of travel itself, or to visit some luxurious destination, we are traveling to see people who don’t live within driving distance to our home. In our case, those people happen to live domestically, so that is where we need to go. Last time I checked, our middle-class budget (unfortunately) doesn’t often have $1200 extra dollars in it to obtain some domestic tickets. True, we could afford that once a year or so, but I have no desire for Little C to just see her family members once a year. We need miles to see family and build valuable memories for our daughter. Miles and points are the only way that can happen on a regular basis.
In fact, I wasn’t nearly as serious about obtaining miles until our daughter was born almost two years ago. Prior to that, I had the “luxury” of not being overly concerned about how often we saw our family members. You could say I had my head up my own @$$ and was a bit self-centered until she came along. I’m sure I still have some self-centered tendencies at times, but I certainly know the value of having family in your life, especially for C. That is why I believe that domestic mileage redemptions are not only a very good value for some families – they are the undisputed best value for many families. Spain, Easter Island, The Maldives, and Tokyo will always be there (well, more or less), but people unfortunately don’t last forever. Kids grow up and do their own thing. Grandparents get old and can’t travel to Disney World with you anymore. We are making the most of the time we have together now in a way that makes sense for us and domestic redemptions play a key role in that equation. My little family will get to some of those further off places in time, but that time isn’t right now. I know there are many others in similar situations.
It frustrates me when I see comments on blogs and message boards basically making fun of people who redeem miles and points for short-haul trips. I have very thick skin and I can guarantee it isn’t going to make me second-guess the way my family redeems miles, but that isn’t the case for everyone. I know that some who are newer into the miles game can be very confused by those comments. I have personally received many emails from people wondering if they are making a mistake redeeming miles to go to the Grand Canyon or another relatively close destination. My answer is always this…..if there is award availability to somewhere you want to go, and you want to use your miles to do it, then do it. The cpm’s do not matter. If it makes sense for you, then it is a good value. For some that will mean an around-the-world trip with multiple stopovers in several exciting countries. For others that will mean flying from Houston to Wichita. The traveler is the only one who can really determine the true value of either of those two redemptions.