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Buying Miles and Points: Promotions Roundup

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There are several buy miles and points promotions going on at the moment, so I thought I would round them all up into one post for folks who were thinking about taking advantage of them. Included below are the current bonuses, the promo periods, the per-point cost, and my thoughts on whether each offer is worthwhile.

Alaska Airlines Up to 40% Bonus Miles

Now through October 14, 2014, Alaska Airlines is offering a bonus of up to 40% on purchased miles.

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The bonus is tiered, and you earn a percentage based on how many miles you purchase. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Buy 5,000 – 19,000 miles, get a 20% Bonus
  • Buy 20,000 – 34,000 miles, get a 30% Bonus
  • Buy 35,000 – 40,000 miles, get a 40% Bonus

Miles normally cost $27.50 per 1,000 plus a 7.5% tax (about 2.96 cents per mile), but buying enough miles to score the full 40% bonus brings your cost down to 2.1 cents per miles. While that’s more than my current valuation of 2 cents for Mileage Plan miles, this offer is useful if you have a specific and immediate redemption in mind and need miles to top up your account.

Worth It?

I value Alaska Airlines miles pretty highly because of all their fantastic partner airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qantas, British Airways, Air France and Korean Air, not to mention American and Delta. You can also redeem your miles on non-alliance carrier Fiji Airways, which is a unique use for them.

One of my favorite redemptions for Alaska miles is on Emirates awards. You can fly from North America to the Middle East for 72,500 miles each way in business class or 90,000 in first class. At the rate of 2.1 cents per point, a roundtrip ticket from the US to Dubai on Emirates in first class would be $3,780. That’s still a lot of money, but not compared to the $30,000 or so Emirates would charge you for a first class ticket like this one from Los Angeles to Dubai.

Emirates First Class costs as much as $30,000!
Emirates First Class costs as much as $30,000!

This could also be a good deal in certain circumstances such as flying partner American Airlines to Europe this fall during the airline’s off-peak season. Awards like this roundtrip economy award from LAX to Paris cost 40,000 miles and about $120 in taxes and fees. At 2.1 cents per mile, that would come to about $960 – not necessarily a great deal, but cheaper than some coach fares this fall.

In addition to the buy miles promotion, Alaska Airlines is also offering a fall award sale with award flights starting at just 5,000 miles each way. This sale is for flights between select cities now through October 31, 2014. You can view all the routes where the fare sale is offered to see if they would be useful for your upcoming travels.

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Amtrak Points 30% Bonus

Now through September 30, you can purchase Amtrak Guest Rewards points with up to a 30% bonus. The bonus for this deal is also tiered based on how many points you buy.

  • 1,000-4,500 points: 10% bonus
  • 5,000-9,500 points: 20% bonus
  • 10,000 points: 30% bonus

You can only purchase 10,000 points in a calendar year, so to max out the bonus, you will also be maxing out your points-purchasing potential for the year.

Amtrak points usually cost 2.75 cents apiece, but with this promo, you’re looking at buying points for as low as 2.12 cents each.

Worth It?

The question of whether this deal is worth it depends, as usual, on what you plan to do with those points. As you can see in my post on Maximizing Amtrak Guest Rewards Points Redemptions, there is a lot of value to be gleaned from Amtrak’s zone-based redemption system. For instance, New York and Miami are within the same zone, as are Seattle and Los Angeles, and Chicago and New Orleans, which means you need just 5,500 points each way for a coach seat – the equivalent of about $117. A Roomette within a single zone is 15,000 points, or the equivalent of spending $318 with this promo – not too terrible a value.

Amtrak's zoning system means some great redemption possibilities.
Amtrak’s zoning system means some great redemption possibilities.

I personally don’t want to spend several days on a train, though, so I might be more apt to use my Amtrak points for the Acela Express between New York and Washington DC, where redemptions start at 8,000 points each way. That’s equivalent to spending about $170 on a ticket. Seats on the Acela on this route go for between $150-$250, so you would have to see how your specific itinerary prices out and determine if redeeming makes sense for you.

I would rather concentrate on accruing Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus and then transferring them instantly at a 1:1 ratio to top up my Amtrak account as needed, rather than spend money on points through a buy-miles promo with a less-than-favorable bonus rate like this. That said, there are still some decent values to be had, especially if you can maximize Amtrak’s generous zone-based redemption system.

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LifeMiles 100% Bonus

Avianca’s LifeMiles program offers frequent buy and share miles bonuses, including the current one where you can earn a 100% bonus on purchased miles now through September 30, 2014.

LifeMiles normally cost $30 per 1,000, but with this promo, that price drops to 1.5 cents apiece, which is a decent price. You can buy up to 150,000 miles per calendar year, and like other purchased miles, they do not count toward elite status. Purchases are non-refundable.

Worth It?

Again, while I don’t encourage speculatively buying miles, you might want to stock up on yours with this promo for a few specific reasons.

First, LifeMiles announced that the price of purchasing miles will go up 10% starting September 30, so this is the last chance to get them at 1.5 cents apiece.

Second, back in July, LifeMiles announced an award chart devaluation for bookings made on or after October 15, 2014. Awards to/from the US will go up as much as 13,000 miles roundtrip for economy redemptions, and 26,000 miles for business class.

So my advice is, if you have a specific redemption in mind and can make it before October 15, then this promo could be worthwhile for you.

LifeMiles does have a few positive features:

  • There are no fuel surcharges – this is a big plus over other loyalty programs like Singapore Airlines Krisflyer and Air Canada Aeroplan.
  • You can book one-way awards for half the price of round-trips
  • You can purchase miles at 1.5 cents each for up to 60% of an award ticket with their cash & points option

Just beware that you cannot redeem miles for mixed-cabin awards (if you want a business class award, all legs must be in business class), and they have a terrible call center with spotty customer service.

You can view the airline’s award chart here. In terms of specific sweet spots, there are a couple worth mentioning.

North America to Southern South America (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia) is 100,000 miles for business class compared to 110,000 miles with United. That would amount to paying $1,500 for a business class ticket – not bad.

North America to Europe now requires 105,000 miles in business class ($1,575) and 145,000 ($2,100) in first class. That’s a lot of miles and cash, but it’s still a bargain compared to the 115,000 miles in business class or 160,000 miles in first that United would charge you for flying on its own planes, or 140,000 and 220,000 roundtrip for business and first respectively on partners like Lufthansa and SWISS. Plus, the cash price for buying Avianca Lifemiles is well below what airfare on these routes generally goes for.

Keep in mind that, unlike other miles purchases, Lifemiles purchases are processed directly by the airline rather than through a third party like Points.com, so they count as an airline purchase and should earn you bonus points if you pay with a credit card that has airline or general travel category bonuses, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

Up To 100% Bonus on United Miles

If you’re looking to top up your United account, you have until the end of the day today (September 4) to take advantage of a bonus promo that United is offering where, depending on how many people buy miles, you could earn up to 100% bonus miles.

United's bonus is currently only up to 40%.
United’s bonus is currently only up to 40%.

The number of bonus miles available is based on how many people take advantage of the deal. It is broken down into the following tiers:

As of now, the bonus is up to 40%, which is pretty dismal. Miles normally cost about 3.75 cents apiece. Even with the full 100% bonus (which would require over 4,501 people to buy miles), you’re looking at a cost of 1.88 cents per mile. You can purchase up to 150,000 miles per account per calendar year; miles are non-refundable and do not count toward elite status.

*Update as of Sept 4th 4pm ET, it’s now up to 60%*

Worth It?

Let’s assume that the bonus is not going to surpass 40% (which appears likely at the moment). That means you’re getting miles at about 2.69 cents apiece – far more than the 1.5 cents I value them at.

To put it in context, let’s say you wanted to buy 25,000 miles for a domestic roundtrip economy ticket. You would be paying $672.50 for those miles – that’s an expensive flight! Even if you were thinking of purchasing 50,000 miles for a transcontinental BusinessFirst award, you’d be paying $1,345. That’s well below the $3,000-$4,000 those tickets regularly go for, but still a fair amount of cash to lay out.

Personally, I’d rather take advantage of the LifeMiles promo for Star Alliance redemptions, or look into other options like getting a Chase card with transferable Ultimate Rewards points, like the aforementioned Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and Ink Plus, so that I could top up my account cheaply and quickly with the points I accrue on a day-to-day basis rather than buying them through United.

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US Airways Up to 100% Bonus Miles

US Airways is again offering a targeted (check your email) bonus of up to 100% on purchased Dividend Miles now through September 30, 2014. However, unlike some recent promotions, this one is targeted. Check your email for a notice from US Airways to see if your account is eligible. The bonus amounts are as follows:

  • Purchase 1,000-9,000 miles, get a 25% Bonus
  • Purchase 10,000-19,000 miles, get a 50% Bonus
  • Purchase 20,000-29,000 miles, get a 75% Bonus
  • Purchase 30,000-50,000 miles, get a 100% Bonus

As usual, the maximum bonus miles you can earn is 50,000, so any miles purchased beyond that amount will not qualify for the bonus. Miles normally cost 3.5 cents apiece plus a 7.5% tax, but if you buy enough miles for the full 100% bonus, your per-mile cost goes down to 1.88 cents.

Worth It?

I currently value Dividend Miles at 1.9 cents apiece; and while this offer comes in slightly below that rate, it’s not enough to make buying miles worthwhile just to bank them for later, especially since we don’t know what changes will be coming down the pike as the American-US Airways merger progresses.

However, for the moment, there are still a lot of reasons why this bonus is worth taking advantage of. Earlier this year, US Airways exited Star Alliance and joined Oneworld. While it lost some great airline partners, it gained some other fantastic new ones like Qantas and Cathay Pacific.

US Airways Dividend Miles also underwent a small devaluation back in April when the price of certain awards like business class to North Asia increased from 90,000 miles to 110,000 miles. However, there are still sweet spots to be found. North America to North Asia in first class on Cathay Pacific is still just 120,000 miles roundtrip – a good deal compared to the $10,000 premium Cathay would charge you. You could also score a roundtrip business class ticket to the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, for just 110,000 miles.

Plus, remember that US Airways has very flexible routing rules on awards that allow you to plan stopovers or even make what would be a roundtrip ticket into a round-the-world ticket if you plan strategically, as explained by TPG Contributor Eric Rosen on his recent trip to Southeast Asia and Europe. So there are a lot of ways to squeeze value out of this promo, though I would discourage buying miles speculatively to book awards far in the future.

For more ideas on how to maximize your US Airways miles, read my list of the Top 11 Awards To Book With US Airways Miles Now That It Is A Member of Oneworld.

As a reminder, you can get 5,000 miles off US Airways awards if you have the US Airways Premier World MasterCard, though this benefit is set to expire in 2015.