4 Ways to Use Up Frequent Flyer Miles When Life Slows Down

Note: Today’s post is for those #301 & #401 Milenomics who have stepped down to #201/#101 due to a change in life.

Life is constantly changing…

One of the reasons I have tried to subdivide Milenomics by Traveler Type is because not all of us have the same travel needs. For example, many great blogs are written by writers who love to travel and have a very flexible schedule. Most of these Blog writers would fall into the Milenomics #301, or #401 level categories. And I know some of you out there are in those categories as well.

Today I’ll ask, What happens to our miles when life slows down? For some a new job wipes out the prospect of vacation days; for others a new baby on the way means slowing down trips in the coming months/year. Either way you’ve collected your Miles based on long term demand, and now an event in the short term has changed everything.

What can we do?

I’ll cover a 4 great ways to use up frequent flyer miles when you just can’t use them the way you used to. Letting go of old habits is hard–and using your miles the way I’m describing today is not for everyone; but remember, miles hate sitting around. In fact hoarding makes Miles sad:

An empty account is nothing to fear! It means two things: It is ready to be refilled, through pooling methods we've discussed, and also that you used those miles for wonderful memories.
Look How Sad Miles is!

Full Disclosure: I’m Slowing Down in My Old Age

I’ve got my demand schedule set for this year, and the numbers are low. 50,000 flown miles or so over the whole year. Yes, it is true, I’m slowing down in my old age. Because of this I’ve started a somewhat public change from Mile earning to Cash back earning, and I’ve started to brainstorm new ideas for my Miles.

What follows is by no means an exhaustive list. Rather these are the ideas I find useful.  As always, share your own ideas in the comments section, and together we can learn more as a group.

When You Can’t Bring Yourself to the Vacation: Bring the Vacation to You

Miles are wonderful for connecting with friends and family.  My wife and I enjoy flying to see old friends. Using Miles for last minute trips certainly beats spending money to take the same flights.

If you’re unable to take time off from work, or if you and your significant other can’t sync up your vacation days then bring the vacation to you.

  • Fly in an old friend
  • Bring your parents to you for the holidays
  • Take off on a shorter flight to somewhere close by. Not every mile collected has to be used to fly around the world.

Flying others to you is a great gift to give, and a good use of miles which will otherwise sit and spoil. Using miles for someone else is easy. Ask what days work for them, and simply book the ticket in their name.  An added benefit (and opportunity cost savings) is that if you’re traveling to see a specific person (say your parents) you don’t have to spend the hours (at your T-Rate) flying to see them. Instead they’ll spend their time to come to you.

Note:For those of you to whom the thought of having your parents come visit you is a form of torture, one of these other possibilities is likely more up your alley.

Booking Hotels & Cars with Points Miles

Jamison has mentioned this a few times on his blog, but Miles can be used to book hotel rooms, and even car rentals. Some of you might disagree, and look to get the absolute “most” out of your miles–but Milenomics isn’t about setting an arbitrary level to redeem at. Trying to extract a specific value usually means you end up paying cash for flights–this increases your cost for your miles, and ends up hurting your wallet.

Instead know the value you’ve placed into your miles. When you have 55,000 miles acquired at a total cost (TC) of $660 you know your floor for redeeming them is $660. You’ve put your money and time, at your T-Rate, into this $660, and booking above it means you’ve paid yourself for your hard work.

Anything which earns you $660 or more in absolute value is a valid redemption to Milenomics. Buying a hotel room? Shop the price everywhere you can. After you’ve seen the lowest price for the hotel you want to stay at head over to an airline booking site:

AA miles: Book Hotels and Car rentals with AA miles at www.useaamiles.com

United Miles: Especially good for those last orphaned United miles left over post 2/1/14.  Book Hotels and Cars with United Miles here.

Remember to compare the lowest price you’ve found with the price in miles. Ensure you’re getting enough value to pay yourself back for your time and fees spent. These sites won’t always give you a high enough value for your miles, as can be seen here:


62,000 AA miles versus $618 in cash. Remember to compare apples to apples--find a hotel you're looking to pay cash for first, then check the mileage requirement. Doing the opposite may mean you're cherry picking a high mileage hotel which has a good redemption rate--but could save more money (or miles) at an equally comfortable hotel.
62,000 AA miles versus $618 in cash. Remember to compare apples to apples–find a hotel you’re looking to pay cash for first, then check the mileage requirement. Doing the opposite may mean you’re cherry picking a high mileage hotel which has a good redemption rate–but could save more money (or miles) at an equally comfortable hotel.

Compare the two portals. This same hotel, on the same nights does work better with United’s Hotel booking page:

3 nights at the palms for 32,250 UA miles. If you have to stay at a specific hotel for a convention or a wedding look into booking it with miles on one of these two sites--you'll save money and might even get a great redemption value.
3 nights at the Palms for 46,149 UA miles. This booking falls within our redemption level of $660 for 55,000 miles. If you have to stay at a specific hotel for a convention or a wedding look into booking it with miles on one of these two sites.

It doesn’t always make sense to use AA or UA Miles for a hotel booking. If you’re saving them as part of a Domestic/International Mileage Conservation strategy surely this isn’t a good idea. But if you’ve slowed down, and aren’t using those miles for anything, then by all means, look for alternative ways to extract value.

Give the Gift of Miles

There’s nothing that says you have to use your miles for yourself.  Why not surprise someone you love and book them a trip wherever they want to go?  This could be your parents, friends, or family members. Miles are a great gift for those around you who just don’t get away enough.

Have someone who’s getting married? A great gift would be booking honeymoon tickets for them.  At coach levels this wouldn’t cost you too many miles, regardless of where they’re going. A gift like this could be something they remember for the rest of their lives.

Save Just Enough for Rainy DaysRainy

It always seems to rain when you least expect it.  If your travel has slowed way down make sure you still hold some miles.  Bad news seems to strike without warning. Visiting someone who’s illness took a turn for the worse is often least expensive when booked with Miles.  Having an emergency 25,000 Miles could save you $800 or more in the event that you absolutely need to be somewhere tomorrow.

I can remember getting a phone call from a family member with some bad news. The only way I was able to make it to their side was with miles–the cost of the ticket was just too much otherwise.  I hate to bring these types of morbid situations up, but life throws us curve balls when we least expect them–plan for the worst, and hope for the best.

The Best Solution is Matching Supply and Demand

Of course the best way to make sure you’re not stuck with miles you can’t use is to match your supply and demand of miles as closely as possible.  Doing so means gradually stepping down as your travel tapers off. But sometimes even the best laid plans get thrown off course, and today’s post is for when life throws your plans upside down.

In a way, you could say that today we looked at a few ways to “cash out.” our miles. The secret is to isolate areas of your normal spending and use miles instead of dollars for this spending.  This works whenever the amount you spent on acquiring the miles is less than the amount you get out of them.  Have any more good tips on using miles when travel plans slow? Share them in the comments section for fellow Milenomics readers.

Newspaper Clipping

Big News on Milenomics This Week.

I can hardly contain the excitement. I’ve been working on some great things for 2014, and the first of these is a great promotion for readers of Milenomics.  I’ll detail it all much more on Friday, but be sure to follow on Twitter, or Facebook!

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. I don’t like the idea of booking hotels and rental cars using miles. If you earned the miles largely from non-bonused spending, then it would be better to do a rental car booking using Barclaycard Arrival “miles”. You would get 2.2 cents of value per dollar of credit card spending, which oftentimes would beat the value from using airline miles for rental cars. In addition, it seems like budget lodging such as hostels, Airbnb, or Couch Surfing seems like a better value in general instead of award hotel stays. Budget lodging is oftentimes just as cheap, and it takes less effort than accumulating hotel points.

    Milenomics, I like the idea you suggested in the “Bring the Vacation to You” section, of doing shorter-distance weekend trips. A new job doesn’t necessarily have to keep someone from traveling. Most people have more than 100 vacation days, come to think about it, if you take weekends into account.

    Old age also doesn’t have to keep people from traveling. My great-aunt is retired, and she enthusiastically does all sorts of trips to exotic destinations. If anything, old age helped her travel more, because she’s retired and has more free time.

    1. Brandon: Thanks for such a detailed reply. I agree with you that high end hotels aren’t the best value, but some prefer them. Overall I hope the post has something for everyone–and there are people out there with millions of miles sitting in their Mileage accounts. For them booking a hotel, and using their cashback for something like regular spending is a good way to get those Mile balances down lower.

      I agree with you, hotels with hotel points aren’t the best value. I’ve stopped Hotel point collecting for just such a reason. Also between Best Rate Guarantees and last minute hotel sites there seem to be discounts on hotels to the point where using cashback or flexible points make it so much cheaper than using hotel points. I’m not brand loyal, so I think that helps as well.

      Short distance trips are great, aren’t they? You’re in a new location, and it feels like a vacation just because you don’t have to do your “usual” errands and such. I highly recommend Avios for such trips, with Southwest points (and a companion pass) also great for them.

      Great point about almost everyone having 100+ “vacation days.” It doesn’t feel that way, but you’re so right, this is something I need to tell myself and also remind others!

  2. I dunno… I think many of us who have raised a family and worked for a decade or two are ready, willing and able to move up to a 301 category. I know I am, and have… my kids are nearly grown, the pocketbook is in fine shape, and the miles bank represents a whole cache of places not yet visited. Your definition of 301 is skewed by exposure to “travel bums” who have figured out a way to go and keep going. But, there’s a whole lot of 301ers like myself… I go a lot, my schedule is flexible, but not without responsibilities. I’m self employed, so 7-10 day trips start to push the limit of what can be done without having the rest of my life crumble to bits.

    1. Jill: You bring up a good point, there really aren’t (or at least there shouldn’t be) super rigid rules of who is which travel type. You knowing your own type is much more important than knowing anyone else’s type–and you seem to be really well dialed into your own strengths and weaknesses.

  3. Yeah! Let’s go!!!

    BTW- Just used your ANA tutorial for hopping around China next month. Great tips, keep them coming!

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