It’s one of the biggest and best perks of traveling for business — you rack up loyalty rewards points and miles like crazy. But what’s the best way to use your points?
As you might know, airlines provide a wide variety of options when it comes to spending your points. Did you know they also try to nudge you to use your points in low-value ways.
Make sure you’re getting the most value when you follow these tips for the best and worst ways to use your points and miles.
The Best Ways to Use Points and Miles
You can use points and miles in so many ways that it begins to feel overwhelming. But it’s helpful to think of points and miles as another form of currency. What’s the best exchange rate you can get for them when translated to dollars?
Here’s a look at some of the best way to use your hard-earned rewards points and miles. Which is to say: Here are the ways to use points and miles that give you the best possible exchange rate.
- International Travel: There’s typically a significant price hike when you start shopping international travel vs. domestic travel. While it typically requires more miles or points to book international flights, too, the jump isn’t nearly as large as it is when you’re dealing in dollars. For that reason, booking international flights is a good way to get great value out of your miles and points.
- First-Class Domestic Travel: If you’re not interested in international travel, use your points and miles for booking first- or business-class seats on domestic flights instead. Again, you’ll need more points to book first class than you would economy, but the increase in points required isn’t nearly as large as the increase if you were paying in dollars.
- Booking Early, One-Way Trips: To get the most value for your points and miles, try these two tricks: 1) booking early, and 2) booking one leg at a time. You often get greater point value the earlier you book. And you can also book one leg of a trip that requires few points, then wait to see if better options for the other leg emerge closer to your travel date.
- Giving Gifts: If you know someone who’s graduating or getting married soon, the gift of miles of one of the best gifts you can give. Miles often provide an experience that’s far greater than what a traditional gift would cost. The gift of miles is also fun and unique — a gift that will be treasured and appreciated by the recipient.
- Donating to Charity: Many travelers don’t realize that they can give miles to charity. Fisher House, for example, accepts mileage donations that it uses to accommodate wounded veterans and their families. Make-a-Wish does something similar, providing travel experience for sick children and their families.
One last thought on using your loyalty rewards effectively: It’s always best to use them sooner rather than later. When you use them sooner, you stay away from the possibility of letting them expire (more on this below). And, when you use them sooner, you take advantage of your points before airlines have a chance to change their policies — which often means watering down the value of points and miles.
The Worst Ways to Use Points and Miles
While there are plenty of high-value ways to use your points and miles, airlines love to give you opportunities for low-value redemption. Here’s a look at the worst ways to use points and miles. Which is to say: These are redemption opportunities that deliver the worst exchange rates.
- Anything Other Than Air Travel: You can use miles to buy items out of catalogs, to subscribe to magazines, to obtain gift cards, to stay at hotels and even to buy food and drink while in flight. But redeeming miles for any of these things greatly reduces the value of each mile. You would do better to pay for these things out of pocket and save your miles for a flight later down the road.
- Inexpensive or Short-Haul Flights: It’s rarely a good idea to use miles for short domestic flights. Trying to get from Dallas to Denver? Or from San Francisco to Seattle? Maybe Philadelphia to Chicago? When your traveling from hub to hub within the United States, use a flight search engine to find the cheapest fare and pay out of pocket. You’ll get far greater value using your miles for longer trips.
- Cash-Plus-Points Offers: Airlines are getting savvier in how they try to separate you from your points. In fact, they will often offer flights for cash-plus-points rather than just for cash or just for points. But you overpay in both cash and points when you choose the combo methods. It’s better to pay in all cash or to use all miles. You’ll get much better value that way.
- Letting Them Expire: There’s nothing worse than simply letting your points or miles expire. This isn’t often an issue for business travelers, as they fly often enough to prevent expiration. But it’s far better to use your points for anything — even a magazine subscription — than to simply let them expire.
If you are facing the expiration of your points, consider a couple of the options from the section above. Remember you can always gift points or donate them to charity. Doing either is simple and easy, and you’d be facilitating a special experience for someone else. So keep track of the expiration date for your miles, and make someone’s day.
Miles as Perks: An Idea for Business Owners
As a business owner, you may have more miles than you know what to do with. Or, you may find that you don’t have the time to take advantage of your miles. If you’re in this situation, there’s a still a great way to put your miles to work.
Considering giving them away to your team members. You can raffle them off as part of an annual event, give them away to high performers, or even adding them as a different type of end-of-year bonus.
This is particularly helpful for small businesses that may not be able to compete with larger companies when it comes to incentives and perks. Giving away miles to your employees might be a great way to build loyalty and to reenergize your team for doing the job at hand.
Make the Most of Your Miles and Status
At JTB Business Travel, we know the right buttons to push on behalf of our clients. Not only do we provide tools, services, resources and recommendations that help companies make the most of their investment in business travel, we can also help negotiate status for our client’s business travelers — which may give you greater flexibility and buying power when using points and miles.
Contact us today and learn more about our services as a comprehensive corporate travel agency.