What To Do if You Aren’t Using Your Miles

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Let’s pretend for a moment you have 62,000 United miles, 103,000 American AAdvantage miles, 80,000 Ultimate Reward points, 105,000 Membership Reward points, 55,000 Delta SkyMiles, and maybe a splattering of other miles and points spread across a few more accounts. Despite having those miles you find yourself continuing to spend cash for your travels while simultaneously wondering why you are doing that when wasn’t the purpose of earning your miles and points to stop spending as much cash on travel as possible?

 

I’ve heard this story a number of times, so don’t feel bad if I am more or less describing your situation. There can be a number of reasons why this can happen, but one of those reasons is probably that you are trying to be strategic with when to redeem your points, and when to save them for another day. That’s really a good thing, but if you are frustrated that you are still spending cash instead of points, then it is also a problem that needs a solution. Remember your points are only worth something if you use them, and they generally only get less valuable over time.

Use those miles to get to your happy place!

To help you turn those account balances into real live trips, here are three potential solutions if you find that you have miles and points, but aren’t really putting them to good use.

Get a Different Type of Point

If you aren’t really using the miles and points that you have, one problem could be that you simply aren’t earning the best types of points to meet your travel needs. In most of those cases my bet would be that you have focused on traditional airline miles when you probably would do better with a more flexible type of point that you can use essentially as cash to book pretty much anything you want. Traditional airline miles can be insanely valuable when cash prices are high or to book premium cabins that would otherwise be out of budget. That said, they aren’t always the best option for your run of the mill domestic jaunt when cash prices are relatively low or the airlines are simply being super stingy with saver awards (cough, American, cough).

 

Think More Creatively 

Another issue to consider if you aren’t redeeming your miles as much as you would like to is whether you need to think a little more creatively about how to use your points. It may sound basic to some, but it can be really easy to forget about all the ways to use your more flexible points like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points. All of these points can be used at a fixed value for travel booked through their respective sites, but they can also all be transferred to hotel and airline partners at certain transfer rates.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners:

  • United MileagePlus
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • British Airway Avios (can use to book American Airlines and Alaska)
  • Air France KLM Flying Blue
  • Singapore KrisFlyer (can use to book United)
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Korean Air Skypass (can use to book Delta and Alaska)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Rewards (can transfer to SPG)
  • Ritz Carlton Rewards

Amex Membership Rewards Transfer Partners:

  • British Airways (can use to book American Airlines and Alaska)
  • All Nippon Airways (can use to book United and other Star Alliance partners)
  • Delta Air Lines SkyMiles (can use to book SkyTeam partners like KLM and Air France)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (can use to book United and other Star Alliance partners)
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Singapore Airlines (can use to book United and other Star Alliance partners)
  • Aeromexico
  • Air France KLM Flying Blue
  • Alitalia
  • Asia Miles
  • EL AL
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Guest
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Choice Privileges
  • Hilton Honors
  • Starwood Preferred Guest

Citi ThankYou Transfer Partners

  • Etihad Guest
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Asia Miles
  • EVA Air
  • Air France KLM Flying Blue
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Hilton Honors
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore KrisFlyer
  • Thai Royal Orchid Plus
  • Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club

I put a few of the partners of these transfer partners in parenthesis to get you thinking about how a partner of your partner is your friend. Or something like that. In other words, there are tons of options for your miles and points because of partnerships where you don’t have to fly on just one airline, but can use one type of mile to fly on a variety of partners. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you have the wrong type of point, it is just that you haven’t yet learned all the ways you can use the points you already have. For this, Google really is your friend as whatever your goal is with your points, I can almost promise someone has written about it before.

Just Use Them Already

Last, but not necessarily least, sometimes analysis paralysis or simple fear of missing out on a better redemption down the line prevents us from using the points we already have. While I do think you should do the math on your redemptions to make sure you are getting a fair return for your points…in other words try not to spend 40,000 miles for a ticket selling for $150, at some point you should just use what you have and not look back.

As an example, we recently planned a relatively close-in trip to Disney World that wasn’t really in the budget, but was just pulling at my heart anyway. For the first time in memory I used Chase Ultimate Reward points via my Sapphire Reserve at a fixed 1.5 cents per point to book whatever flight I wanted and one of our hotel nights at the Polynesian. I think our United flights to Orlando were roughly $250 each, so redeeming 25,000 United miles wouldn’t have been a great return. However, spending roughly 17,000 Ultimate Reward points each for the flights that will earn miles and credit towards elite status was just right. Sure, I’ve had more exciting or valuable redemptions, but for now I just didn’t really want to spend the cash, so this was the perfect way to use my points and get where I wanted to be.

Disney, we will see you real soon!

The very same day my husband and I both applied for and were approved for new Ink Preferred cards, so we will get way more Ultimate Reward points than we redeemed on this trip once we hit the spending requirements to trigger the sign-up bonuses. This isn’t entirely unrelated or coincidental as knowing you can always earn more points helps you go ahead and use them. I felt a little bad for a split second spending points at “just” 1.5 cents per point, but once I replaced them several times over by getting new cards and bonuses, I no longer felt bad at all.

No matter what your travel goals, there are miles and points that can help get you there. If you aren’t using points as much as you had hoped, then think through some of these reasons why that might be happening and then let’s work towards a solution. I’m more than happy to help brainstorm ways to turn your miles into trips!

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Comments

  1. I am about to cancel my Citi Prestige. But I have 60k points that will expire after I cancel it, even though I have Thank you preferred. I have points combined for both. I know you listed partner airlines for TY points, but I don’t want to transfer without a plan.

    Transferring to Krisflyer is tempting but have no plans traveling. I amy use Krisflyer in next 3 years. So I transfer there? Or can I redeem these points for gift cards? If so, which one is the best option? Thx.

    • That is tough – are you sure you want to cancel? Maybe try telling them you are considering canceling and see if you get a retention bonus to keep the card? Beyond that I like KrisFlyer the best personally, but you are right about the three years. JetBlue isn’t the worst idea if you can use them since they don’t expire points. Or, just use them at a fixed value to book flights before you cancel the card…assuming you have some travel to book in the near term. There isn’t a perfect solution for your situation, but those are three to consider.

        • I just cancelled my Citi Prestige card as well. The real reason to have this card, in my opinion, is the fourth night free perk. I just don’t use that enough to make it worth it. I transferred all of my points to Air France Flying Blue and booked 4 tickets to Hawaii from the east coast on Delta for 120k points.

    • I’m not sure if I do…if I do it is an older post. That’s mostly because the way I hit spends is boring…I do pretty much zero MS so it is just daily life stuff, but maybe some of that daily life is things folks forget about so I can add it to the to-do list just in case it helps someone.

    • Buy gift cards for stores that you visit anyway. Example: if you regularly spent at Costco spender, get the Costco cash card (their gift card). On a side note, this is also work around to use a MasterCard or Discover Card at Costco and Discover has been running a 5% cashback bonus at warehouse clubs this year.

      Also don’t forget about paying bills, medical insurance, child card, etc with cards. Look at anything that you would normally pay be check and see if it could be done by card.

  2. Yes, I’m in a situation right now with British Airways and American. My kid is starting kindergarten this year, so unlike before where we could take her out of school whenever we wanted, we’re stuck being on a school schedule. April is Spring Break and I wanted to go to Hawaii or possibly Cancun. Hawaii is a no-go, can’t find anything using Avios and American wants all of my 104,000 points for one damn ticket. Cancun, I can find on American at Super Saver if I fly out of John Wayne in Orange County (LAX is 20 mins from me) and a connection in Dallas. At this point, we’ve decided to either purchase tickets for Cancun or Vancouver, so I got approved for the Alaska Airlines card where I already have a $100 credit and the companion pass.

    I’m finding airline cards to really be a pain – the only bright spot really is United where I’ve never had a problem using miles. I have 46,000 Avios and 104,099 American and can’t use them at the moment. However, I find Chase Ultimate Reward Program and the Barclay Arrival card to be fantastic.

    • I’m with you on the United being the most useful currency, and I say that as a non United fan. United always seems to have an option no matter where in the world I want to go. However, BA/AA, the availabllity of seats to go to Europe has become beyond painful past 12 months. The only real use I can find for AA is to get to Asia on Cathay in First. My plan is spend my balance down and once that’s done, will cancel my AA card.

  3. Last year there were so many good promotions avliable we struggled using our certificates by the expectation dates. Good problems to have, but it was a waste nonetheless. We just stopped taking advantage of “really good deals” (for a while) and will cancel some of our cards to fit back with reality.

    The flexible currencies are great, especially UR and AMEX.

  4. This is a good reminder. I found myself using UR points easy enough but my MR just piled up because I don’t do crazy around the world flights. We have a Baltic cruise coming up and I was getting frustrated at the lack of Points Hotels there. I relooked at MR & on a whim looked up choice hotels there even though in the USA, they tend to be uninspiring. Lo & behold I find the Hotel Skt Petri, an Ascend Collection hotel, for a mere 20k points on the nights that it was selling for over $300. I was thrilled to burn some MR points at such a good value.

    • I also stayed at the Skt Petri on Choice points for a Baltic cruise. That was one of the best trips and the hotel has a great location in Copenhagen! Have fun, that will be an amazing trip!

  5. Sometimes applying Tetris skills to travel lets you piece together a trip that isn’t as efficient pointswise for individual flights and nights, but collectively is a great value. Cash and/or miles might be prohibitive from where you are, but using a different loyalty currency (perhaps with a relatively low balance) to get to a gateway where there’s a good deal can make the net value excellent. Example: a few years ago it was prohibitive to fly my friend from Seattle to Paris with either cash or miles. Using the 10k BA Avios I had lying around I got her to O’hare, met her there, and continued to Paris using *far* fewer AA miles. Similar uses of other airlines’ miles moved us around Europe for two weeks before returning.

    Piecing together something like that can be a great value if you’re willing to put the time and effort into it. Not everyone is, of course. 😉

  6. Glad you took the plunge and booked the Polynesian! Make sure and sit on the beach to watch the fireworks – you will never want watch them in the park again :). I’ve used UR points to book both Disney and Universal hotels – in fact booked 7 nights club level at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal for next week instead of spending $3500. 1.5 is solid and no reason to part with that $$$ when I don’t have any future plans for the points.

  7. I think there are two underlying factors here: 1) It simply isn’t as easy to get value out of airline miles as it used to be; and 2) Recently there have been some remarkable cash purchase offers on flights, especially to Europe and Asia, so that using points seems a bad idea. So yes, the points will just accumulate or sit there if we keep waiting for the kinds of valuable redemptions that used to be possible.

    What confuses me is that the credit card companies seem to be willing to keep entering into mammoth deals for airline miles, a product whose value and usefulness is on the decline.

  8. Just did an across America trip with my family of 6. 11 states (and one province), 13 days, 11 different hotels (usually two rooms per stay) in 5 different programs and not a dollar spent. Not the highest value for points in some cases, but pretty easy on the cash pocketbook.

  9. I would love it if you could share some ideas to do with my roughly 20k SPG points. I used my sign-up bonus and points from stays for a 5-night points stay at a Marriott in D.C. for a great value, but I’m just not sure what to do with the next redemption (or if I should continue using my AmEx SPG in order to get more points with it vs. use something in my Chase lineup).

    The kicker seems to be that since we’re a family of 5, we really prefer to have 3 beds at minimum for us to spread out (2 doubles and a pull-out sofa are fine). I’m having a harder time finding some fun sites that will fit us and be worth a visit. Many of the hotels I’ve seen so far, when available for points, simply are for 4 max.

    One idea is the Sheraton Cuyahoga Falls in Ohio.

    Perhaps something in Florida? We have family in the Fort Myers area. Perhaps something in the Orlando area if we were to go to Universal? Or perhaps something out west and visiting some national parks?

    Any ideas, I’m all ears!

    • We ae a family of 6, so in the same boat. I would look at Marriott options and convert the points. They seem to have room for 5 or 6 in one room more often than SPG hotels. Alternately, there may be suite options in SPG that will hold 5, but I have found that they are rare and usually more expensive than the Marriott alternative.

      • I agree, Marriott seems to have better options for more people. Marriott, Residence Inn, and Springhill Suites are all places we’ve stayed.

        The bummer is 20k SPG can actually get us 5 days at some Starwood properties, whereas 60K Marriott points I think would be fewer nights.

        Updating this suggestion for search’s sake in case anyone comes across, there are some SPG properties in Orlando for low points and that should fit us. Additionally some in Arizona. I would need to call and confirm that the rooms either have a pull-out couch as well, or a rollaway rental option. I’m annoyed when the rollaway costs $20/night. Sheesh!

  10. If you really can’t use your miles, you can also donate. Make a wish and plenty of other charities will accept them 🙂 We did this for a year when my son was in the dark phase of travel (early toddler)!!

  11. Not discussed regularly: UR points are cash at 1c per point for statement credits on any expense, so spending them is still spending cash you could otherwise keep. It may just be getting you reduced prices. Travel is still not free when using UR.

    So a 25K mile United award from transferred UR costs real cash of $250+taxes and fees. A $300 air ticket or hotel room booked directly with UR costs 20K UR worth $200 real cash. If one was REALLY going to spend that much real cash (or more) anyway, UR may be a perfectly fine option.

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