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Why Buying Points and Miles Without a Bonus (Almost) Never Makes Sense

May 30, 2018
8 min read
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Points and miles can let you travel around the world in style or get you where you need to go at the last minute without breaking the bank. So, it's easy to be lured into the idea of buying miles, especially when you see sky-high rates on amazing redemptions.

Although some buy points promotions offers such strong bonuses that they can be no-brainers, it usually doesn't make sense to buy points without a bonus — and even some lucrative-sounding buy miles promotions don't make sense. However, there are a few narrow situations where buying miles/points without any bonus rewards can be worthwhile. Let's take a deeper look into some of these situations.

When You Shouldn't Buy Miles/Points Without a Bonus

  • When you can wait for one of the frequent miles/points bonus promos

If you think it's a good deal to buy miles/points without a bonus, just wait until you see how good of a deal you can get with a bonus.

It seems that a new buy bonus or discount pops up each week for some program, and these can make buying miles and points much more affordable.

To help you get a sense of what's a good deal, here are the maximum bonuses we've seen for each major program since early 2017:

ProgramStandard RateBest RateBest Promotion
Alaska2.962.1140% bonus
American3.171.7267% bonus + 10% off
Avianca3.301.47135% bonus
Hilton1.000.50100% bonus
Hyatt2.401.7140% bonus
IHG1.350.50100% bonus
JetBlue3.701.9750% bonus
SPG3.502.2835% off
United3.761.88100% bonus
  • When you can earn points and miles for free instead

Why buy points when you can get them without paying for them? One of the best ways to rack up lots of rewards at little to no additional cost is by signing up for an airline credit card or a hotel credit card. Here are some of our best credit card options available now.

But, there are also tons of other ways to earn miles/points, like making purchases through a program's online shopping portal, interacting with a brand through social media, entering a giveaway for free miles/points, donating to charity or a slew of other activities to get points for doing what you'd do otherwise.

  • Saving your miles/points from expiring with advance notice

Say you received an email from AwardWallet alerting you that your miles/points are going to expire in three months. No need to panic and buy miles yet. There are plenty of ways to extend your rewards' expiration date for free. If you can't fly/stay — or redeem for a flight/hotel stay — before the expiration date, there are a number of ways to earn and extend the points and miles. Just make sure that you're aware of particular program requirements, like how Marriott won't extend the expiration date for points earned through social media.

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When It Makes Sense to Buy Miles Without a Bonus

  • Saving your miles/points from expiring at the last minute

One of the easiest ways to keep your miles/points alive is by making a small purchase of miles/points. If you waited until the last minute to save your rewards, now isn't the time to try to earn through a shopping portal — as the points usually take a while to post. So, buying a small amount of points can be an easy and quick way to bail yourself out.

Just make sure that the loyalty program in question counts purchased miles/points as qualifying activity before you make the purchase.

  • You need miles/points now to complete a lucrative redemption

Sometimes an amazing opportunity pops up and you need to pounce on it. Say you've built up 45,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card sign-up bonus, spending and flying. But, then Cathay Pacific business class award availability opens up. You need 50,000 miles to fly from the US to Hong Kong, stopover in Hong Kong and then fly onward in Asia — all in business class. This isn't an opportunity you want to pass up. Spending $148 to buy the last 5,000 miles looks like a pretty good option.

But, before you buying them, check your transferable points currencies and transfer times (Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points) to see if you can transfer points to top off your account.

If you need to buy miles/points, here are the links to do so:

When It's Complicated

  • When you can transfer in points instead

Rather than buying points at expensive rates, you're probably better off by transferring over points to an airline or hotel program. This is the technique that we at TPG use all the time for our travels, as we almost always bank transferable points and transfer them to programs as we need them. The transfer partners and options are going to vary based on the transferable point program, miles/points you need, how quickly you need them and if there are any transfer bonuses available.

That said, as a general rule transferable points are highly valuable. TPG values Starwood Preferred Guest points at 2.7 cents each, Chase Ultimate Rewards at 2.1 cents, American Express Membership Rewards at 1.9 cents and Citi ThankYou Points at 1.7 cents. Meanwhile, hotel points rarely top 1 cent per point in our valuations.

So, say you need just a few more Hilton, IHG or Choice points. It might make sense to buy these points without a bonus rather than moving over valuable transferable points to the hotel programs, since your Amex, Chase or Citi points have the potential to get you significantly more value for first-class flight redemptions and high-end hotel stays — unless you're looking at a redemption for a very expensive hotel stay, in which case your transferable points could take you far.

Points NeededNon-Bonus Purchase RateTransfer PartnerValue of Points
IHG1.35Chase Ultimate Rewards2.1
Choice1.1Amex Membership Rewards1.9
Hilton1.0Amex Membership Rewards1.9*

*Amex transfers to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio, making buy points vs. transferring an equal trade.

Bottom Line

When it comes to buying points or miles without a bonus, you're usually better off waiting for a more attractive offer comes along. That said, if buying points without a bonus means the difference between your rewards expiring and staying active — or if you're just a few thousand points or miles away from that first-class award flight to Asia you've been eyeing — it could be definitely be a smart move.

And don't forget to take into account the transferable points you have; if you're considering a particular hotel stay or flight and you're short on the necessary points or miles to book it, in some cases it may be better to move over your Amex, Citi or Chase points instead of buying points.

Featured image by Getty Images
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.