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When does it make sense to buy points and miles?

March 05, 2022
5 min read
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Many loyalty programs will sell you their program's points or miles currency with no strings attached.

You can jump online, log in to your account and buy points or miles with a credit card and a few clicks. These programs usually have generous purchase limits, meaning you could top up your balance with a six-figure amount in minutes.

What's the catch? Well, the cost. The purchase price per point or mile is usually much higher than TPG's valuations.

The good news is that programs occasionally run promotions to buy points and miles. During these promotions, you can often snag points and miles for about half their typical cost.

However, you may not want to buy points and miles even when they're on sale. So, in this guide, I'll discuss when it makes sense to buy points and miles.

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When should you buy miles?

A United Boeing 777-300ER in Hong Kong. (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

It makes sense to buy miles when you can obtain more value for redeeming them than it costs you to purchase them. Say you were looking at a flight that would cost $500 in cash or 20,000 points plus $50 in fees and taxes. If you could buy those 20,000 miles for 1 cent each during a bonus promotion, then the cost of that airfare with your purchased miles would only be $250 (20,000 x .01 + $50) rather than the $500 for a standard cash fare.

That would be a great deal.

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But there are caveats.

The calculation above assumes that you can redeem the miles for the airfare you want, at the redemption rate first quoted. The first problem with this assumption is that redemption availability constantly changes. The seat that may have been available today when you considered buying the points and miles might not be available tomorrow when you have purchased the points and miles and try to use them.

The second issue is that the number of miles you need could increase. Most programs increase mileage requirements from time to time — this is called a devaluation, as the miles become less valuable. Some programs will give members warnings before changes happen, but programs have also devalued miles overnight without notice.

If you're confident you can redeem the miles for the purpose you bought them for at the price you are happy with, it can make sense to buy miles.

It can also make sense when you are a few thousand points or miles short of a big redemption, such as first-class flights for your honeymoon. Even if the miles aren't on sale, it can make sense to buy the last miles you need so you can go ahead and lock in your redemption.

Related: How to decide whether to use cash or miles for airline tickets

When shouldn't you buy miles?

Delta One on a refurbished Boeing 767-300ER. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Obviously, if it's cost-ineffective, you shouldn't buy miles.

You should also keep in mind that when you are buying miles, you are subject to the cost of the miles and the taxes and fees associated with booking your award tickets. For example, Virgin Atlantic only requires 20,000 miles for a round-trip flight from New York to London. With the current promotion, you could buy 20,000 Virgin Atlantic points for around $350. But before you think that you've effectively found a $175 one-way flight to London, you need to understand the fee structure associated with this type of ticket.

First, you'll need to pay a $33.50 transaction fee to buy the miles. Then, when booking your ticket, you'll pay $365 in taxes and fees. In this case, the taxes and fees alone are more expensive than the cost of the miles. Suddenly, your ticket looks closer to $750. You might be able to do better by paying cash outright for a paid fare.

Also, when you are traveling on miles, you are almost always unable to accrue airline miles or earn status.

It rarely makes sense to purchase miles if you don't plan to redeem them immediately — known as purchasing them "speculatively." This is because you can't guarantee their value in the future when you decide to use them because of devaluations and other ways loyalty programs can change their programs.

Related: Why points and miles are a bad long-term investment

Bottom line

You can get some amazing deals by buying miles and points in the right circumstances. Over the past decade, I've bought more than a million points and miles in different programs. That is because, at the time, I had immediate uses for them and could (and did) really maximize my travel.

If you are considering buying points or miles, know that it's unlikely those points and miles will ever be worth more than they are right now. After all, now that travel is back, points and miles devaluations are on the rise. So, if you're buying speculatively, it's possible your newly purchased points and miles could drop in value before you use them.

Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
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.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023