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Are all travel miles the same?

I am trying to book flights for my family from Chicago to Paris next May. I have several credit cards that give miles. My American Airlines credit card wants 60K miles for the round trip ticket (+ tax & fees) I also have a Visa Premier ("No blackout dates, Flights on any airline ...") For the exact same flight they want 110K miles- almost double!!! I then checked United and their credit card wants 60K.

Is this normal? Is the 60K standard for airlines and the other card "float"? If so, I am very sorry I pay $90 per year for a card that gives only half the value of an airline credit card.

Posted by
2528 posts

It's all a game. Roll up your sleeves and do the math for all permutations as to cards but also alternative airports. I've had too many frustrating experiences just trying to book mileage tickets and crappy flights taken, except with Alaska Airlines. While I still accumulate miles, my main strategy is to accumulate cash rebates and then use the money as I wish.

Posted by
20309 posts

The independent credit card miles are basically used to buy tickets at a penny per mile, 110K miles would indicate that it is an $1100 airline ticket. The airlines themselves can afford to use a 60k threshold, since they are running the planes.

Posted by
5687 posts

60K from North America to Europe is fairly standard with direct airline miles. Sometimes you can get a round trip ticket for a tad less off season. Alaska Airlines for examples charges 22.5K miles each way on some tickets - not much less than 60K round trip but it's something.

The best way to earn credit card miles is to "churn" - that is, keep getting new cards to get a new bonus. It doesn't make sense to me to pay an annual fee year after year - I never do. Just pay it the first year, if you must, to get the bonus, then cancel and get a new card as soon as you can to get a new bonus. Alaska Airlines and Bank of America for example seems to allow you to get a new card at least once a year and get the 30K sign-up bonus each time. (Plus there's a way to get a $100 credit after $1,000 spend to offset the $75 first-year annual fee.) If they let you do it, why not?

Posted by
1175 posts

Go on tripadvisor.com, air travel forum, and ask your questions about FF miles there.

Posted by
1221 posts

Alaska Airlines for examples charges 22.5K miles each way on some tickets - not much less than 60K round trip but it's something.

That's through their partnership with American, which still has some nice off-season Europe award ticket prices. Pretty much every airline program also has their base 'saver' award ticket option and then somewhere between two and ten other different higher pricing bands for award tickets depending on demand. (Common for an airline to only have 2-5 tickets per flight available at the saver price and then award tickets beyond that can get significantly more expensive)

Cards like the Premier and assorted Capitol One cards talk about 'miles' but are effectively cash back cards where you need to spend that cash back on travel purchases. I wish they wouldn't market them that way because it causes this kind of confusion.

Personally, I go with the cards and programs that give me miles with specific airlines (current primary credit card- Delta Skymiles Gold AmEx) because I live in an area with a bunch of smaller airports and not much price competition. So I like that I can effectively arbitrage the miles and spend 70K Delta miles for a ticket with a cash price of $1400. If I lived in an area where the local airport(s) offered more competition and access to long haul low cost carriers, then the cash back travel card becomes more attractive.

If you want to really go down the rewards rabbit hole, the message boards at Flyertalk are quite good.

Posted by
4061 posts

Some of the large airlines now award points according to the price of the ticket rather than the miles flown. Award levels vary both by airline and time of year. Generosity is not an operating principle.

Posted by
5697 posts

When all this started, frequent flyer program "miles" represented miles flown on that airline. Now they should be thought of as "points" to be used towards all sorts of things including airline flights.
If I can get a good price on a flight (SFO>CDG under $500) then I pay cash and accumulate miles both on my credit card AND on the airline's own program; flying in high-cost situations (Christmas) I use miles/points when it's cheaper. Check The Points Guy to see current "value" of points/miles on different airline programs and credit cards.

Posted by
3521 posts

Check directly with the airline from within your frequent flyer account on their web page to see what they want in miles. A lot of the credit cards allow you to book through them, taking miles from your airline account, but I find them to be more expensive with less availability than flights booked directly from your frequent flyer account.

The card charging twice the points allows flights on any airline so is not actually connected to any one specifically. This means they convert your mies/points to money and then buy your tickets from the airline you choose. This has to cost more because, first, the credit card isn't receiving large blocks of miles from any airline to give away, and second, there is no loyalty built up if you can chose any airline to fly on. Most airline credit cards are connected to specific airlines and they hope you will fly them more to get larger point rewards so you get to your "free" flight sooner.

Otherwise, the 60K sounds about right as cost.

Posted by
409 posts

Mark, therein lies the problem. They exchange points with United but not with American. I have four tickets to get and have enough AA points for two tickets. If I send my Chase points to United, I can get two tickets on United. My wife and kids really want to stick together on the same flights. I'll probably have Chase get the AA tickets and have to pay the difference in cash.

Posted by
5697 posts

Are you saying you have enough points for TWO round trips on American and TWO round trips on United ? Could you get FOUR one-way tickets with miles on one airline and the return tickets with miles on the other airline ? Using miles (at least on United) one-way is half the miles of round-trip.

Posted by
409 posts

Great idea but it didn't work. When you book a one way ticket, American wants 45,000 miles instead of 30,000, plus they do not have four mileage seats available on the flights that I want.

Back to square one.

Posted by
11294 posts

Airline points/miles are very similar to lots of other things. When you are buying them, it's all about how useful they will be. When you need them, it's all about how hard they are to actually use.

For instance, when you are buying insurance (of any kind), they promise all kinds of things, and make it sound like it will be very easy to make a claim. They're selling "peace of mind." When you actually need to use your insurance, suddenly the reality is very different, and you discover all the fine print. You're in a similar situation.

So, if you're going to make airline points and miles work, you have to be prepared to play the game. If you only have enough to get two tickets on United and two tickets on American, that's how your family of 4 will have to travel - or else you'll have to buy some tickets with cash to go along with the mileage tickets for this trip, and use the other miles later on another trip.

Posted by
922 posts

Airlines price award seats based on inventory. The two seats at 30k miles were probably the last "saver" level award seats they had. Do a search for 3 seats instead of 4 and see what happens. You may get lucky and get 3 seats at 30k miles and the 4th at 45k (regular award).

EDIT: You can also get more AA credit cards and get the bonus miles. For example, you and your spouse could get the AA business cards (separate accounts) and 70k miles by spending $4k in 4 months. The regular AA card gets you 60k miles with $3k spend in 3 months. A better option might be the Barclaycard Aviator AA card. Make one purchase, pay the annual fee and you get 50k miles.

PS - I just checked AA website. 4 seats available at 30k miles each way for the entire month of May outbound and inbound.

Posted by
4010 posts

Are all travel miles the same?

Nope. They vary based on inventory and historic demand. There are blackout dates too especially on seat deals with the fewest points needed. Good luck.

Posted by
5258 posts

Joseph,

I am trying to book flights for my family from Chicago to Paris next May.

This is not ideal but perhaps you can “borrow” frequent flyer miles from another family member?
We did this a number of years ago when planning a family trip and we were short on miles.

Since you still have time, you may consider “churning” some extra miles by getting a new credit card just like AndrewH does (4th reply upthread)

You may also try searching google.com/flights for cheap (one-way) tickets.

Don’t forget to book you Eiffel Tower tickets 92 days in advance.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
74 posts

Look at splitting your family up on two flights- two of you on American and two on United- that sort of thing.

Posted by
409 posts

Nancy, that is precisely what we did. We are booked. My wife and daughter on American and my son and I on United. Eight hours without female supervision while flying. What shenanigans might we get in????