A LoyaltyLobby reader emailed me a question about buying points or miles and whether it makes sense.
Here’s the email from the reader:
I’ve been seeing so many point-purchase bonus/accelerator offers posted on most of the frequent flyer programs I use. Do you have any assessment on when it makes sense to purchase points?
For instance, on Saudia, AUH-YYZ is offered for 550$US one-way. Here I could purchase the 30,000 points needed to upgrade to business using the Alfursan promotion rather than purchasing a J/C/I fare. In this case it sort of makes sense.
Most of the hotel and airline programs sell points and miles throughout the year and some offer bonus miles/points promotions too that we cover here on LoyaltyLobby.
I have always said that buying miles/points when there is 100% bonus or 50% discount (or anywhere in between) doesn’t necessarily make sense. It all comes down to how you use them.
– Hotel programs don’t dynamically price awards. The best use of points tends to be when there is an event in the city and prices are throughout the roof or at very expensive location such as Maldives, Bora Bora etc.
– Many hotels offer Points + Cash awards where you can use points to substitute part of the payment. Obviously you need some points to take advantage of this.
– You can purchase SPG points and convert those to airline miles. This can be good way to top up your account with frequent flier program that doesn’t sell their miles or sell them at a very high price.
– IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks award sales at just 5,000 points per night for set period. If you buy the points during a sale, your hotel night will cost just $30.
– Premium cabin awards tends to be the best use for airline miles if you compare cash rates to the number of points required.
– Some economy awards can be a good value when there are no reasonably priced one-way fares around. I often redeem my British Airways Avios for Reward Flight Savers on their metal or for short-haul flights on Oneworld airlines.
– Earlier in the year I needed a return ticket from Chile to Ecuador and then to Brazil. An economy ticket would have cost roughly $1K (hardly any competition between the city pairs in question). I ended up using my Avianca LifeMiles that I had purchased during a promotion and then substituting some during the redemption process with cash. I ended up paying roughly the same amount had I purchased the economy ticket but flew in business class.
– You can also use miles to upgrade some fares (these are very airline dependent) and that can be a good value as the reader pointed to in his example. You have to remember that the upgrade usually needs redemption class availability that can be hard to come by. Just do your research before you buy the miles.
I have purchased Hilton HHonors and SPG Starpoints this year and Avianca LifeMiles and Etihad Guest miles during their award redemption process. I like the fact that I have miles and hotel points with a number of different programs, because they all have their sweet spots when it comes to partners and award charts.
You have to be careful when buying points/miles from lesser known programs because they can change their award charts and points/miles required at a whim (for example, Alitalia did just that).
I don’t advise people to buy miles/points for much later use. I would say that if you plan to use them in the next few months in a way that saves you money then go ahead.