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Is Buying Miles Worth It: A Rundown of Current Promotions

Feb. 06, 2014
6 min read
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Is Buying Miles Worth It: A Rundown of Current Promotions
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Though they're not often the best ways to accrue miles, if you need to top off your frequent flyer account in a hurry and your options are limited, it can be worth it to purchase the miles you need. Luckily, airlines run frequent bonuses, though some are better than others. While there's no public offer of up to 100% on bonus miles at the moment (the US Airways one is targeted), there are still several decent buy miles bonus promotions currently being offered and a lot of readers have been writing in with questions about them, so I thought I'd just put together a quick hit list with the three major ones and their details so you can decide whether any of them is worth it for you. The 10% American Airlines discount ends tonight at 11pm CT, by the way, so if you're interested in that one, better buy up today.

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Now through March 15, 2014, Alaska Airlines is offering bonuses of up to 40% on purchased miles. As usual with Alaska, this is a tiered bonus that works as follows:

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

There is no limit to the number of miles you can buy, but you are limited to 40,000 miles per transaction.

Miles normally cost 2.75 cents each plus a 7.5% tax. They are non-refundable and don’t count toward MVP or MVP Gold status. With the bonuses, when you purchase 5,000-19,000 miles they cost about 2.3 cents each, when you purchase 20,000-34,000 miles they cost 2.27 cents each, and when you purchase between 30,000-40,000 miles, they cost 2.11 cents each. For the biggest bonus, that basically equates to a discount of about 29% on your miles.

While I don’t normally take advantage of buy miles promotions unless the bonus is bigger – at around 100% – Alaska is the exception that I might consider thanks to some very valuable aspects to its MileagePlan program.

First, you can now earn elite-qualifying miles on all Alaska’s partners including American, Delta, British Airways, Air France, Cathay Pacific and Emirates. Second, Alaska recently added Emirates as an award redemption partner, so you can now put your Alaska miles to use on one of the world’s top airlines, as I recently did in November to fly Emirates’ A380 First Class Suite.

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American is running two simultaneous promotions on purchased miles that bring the price down to 1.98 cents per mile. The first is a 30% bonus on purchased miles running now through February 28, 2014, that's tiered as follows:

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20,000-29,000 miles: 5,000 bonus miles
30,000-39,000 miles: 8,250 bonus miles
40,000-49,000 miles: 12,000 bonus miles
60,000+ miles: 18,000 bonus miles

Much more limited in time and scope, now through 11pm CT on February 6 (Thursday), the airline is also offering a 10% discount on purchased miles. This discount is automatically coded into the purchase, so you don't have to do anything extra to make sure you get it.

If you were to max out this bonus with a 60,000 mile purchase and end up with 78,000 miles, you'd be paying a total of $1,542.69 (including taxes and transaction fee) - a price of 1.98 cents per mile. That's not an amazing deal, but it is much better than usual, when miles cost closer to 3.5 cents each, so if you have a specific award in mind and need to top off for it, this could be a good opportunity to do so for less money than usual. However, if you are just looking for a big AA miles haul, remember that there is currently an offer of 100,000 miles for the Citi Executive AAdvantage card when you spend $10,000 in 3 months that is probably a better opportunity.

Just note that buy/gift miles transactions are limited to a combined total of 80,000 miles per calendar year, so you would almost be maxing out your potential miles purchases with this one promo.

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US Airways loves to sell its miles, and lately they've been offering targeted 100% bonuses including the current one for cardholders of US Airways credit cards where they can buy or gift miles with a 100% bonus now through February 28, 2014.

The bonus should be hardwired into your Dividend miles account when you log into the buy miles page, and you should see a message on the main page even before logging in that says: “Use your US Airways MasterCard® or Visa® credit card to buy or gift miles and you’ll get or give a 100% bonus – up to 50,000 miles.”

You can buy up to 50,000 miles (so get 100,000 miles total), and you must use your US Airways credit card for the purchase in order to earn the bonus, so if you use another card at check-out, you likely will not get the bonus points. US Airways miles are normally sold for 3.5 cents each plus a 7.5% tax, but with this bonus, the price per mile comes out to 1.88 cents each – so you could buy up to 50,000 miles, receive a bonus 50,000 for a total of 100,000 miles for the grand total of $1,881.25.

US Airways still has some amazing award chart sweet spots such as just 90,000 miles for roundtrip business class to North Asia, and 110,000 miles for roundtrip business class to South Africa. Those awards are likely to disappear when American and US Airways merge their frequent flyer programs with the merger, and possibly even as soon as March 31, when US Airways leaves Star Alliance and joins Oneworld. For the time being, however, you can redeem for Star Alliance awards, whereas on March 31 or after, you can use them for Oneworld awards, so there are some great opportunities here. Especially since United’s devaluation should be going through any day (or moment) now, which means US Airways miles are your best bet for booking Star Alliance awards at decent levels for the next two months. Check out my post on Tips For Searching Star Alliance Availability for more info.

NOTE ON BONUS POINTS processes these transactions, so you don’t earn 3X points per $1 with the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card’s airfare bonus or 2.14X points per $1 on the Sapphire Preferred since this isn’t categorized as a travel purchase.
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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.