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Miles, and Miles, and Miles, ... And what to do with them?

So I am in a position (maybe) a lot of people are right now. I have accumulated more airline miles than I intended to and don't know how to spend them. With a totally honest look at my future travel, I will not be going anywhere for 18 to 24 months that will require air travel. Not that I don't want to, it's just nowhere I want to go wants me there (but that's a different topic).

I am beginning to get worried that several of the airlines I have miles with will go out of business leaving me with a large number of useless miles. Southwest has already tightened down their redemption to airfare only and only with them where they used to have a wide variety of partner businesses you could redeem their miles and get various merchandise. I have cashed in the miles I had on other airlines where I did not have enough for a flight with each by donating them to the charities that accepted them. I am left with one huge pile of miles on United and a few scattered among other airlines. Since I also have credit for several flights that United refused to refund to me (multiple domestic flights I had bought in January for various trips through this summer), I will definitely be using those credits before miles due to expiration dates. The rest, I will find someway to get rid of them.

United still allows merchandise redemption for their miles. I can pick up several electronic items I am in need of through their redemption program. While not cheep, an Apple iMac goes for about what a round trip to London in business class would cost in miles, at least I will be getting something and not have a complete loss of the value if I chose that option. Thoughts?

Posted by
6538 posts

Easy. The miles have $0 value to you now and in the next 2 years. So spend them on any items that do have value to you, that you can use and derive value from immediately. I don't see the point of hoarding unspent miles in the hopes that they can be used someday, especially as airlines continue to devalue their programs. If you have no way to spend some of them, then donate them...I'm sure someone could appreciate them.

Posted by
18119 posts

Check to see whether gift cards for businesses you patronize are an option. Those might give you a better return than buying merchandise, though I am not sure about that. I once cashed in a small number of hotel points for a CVS card. Not exciting, but useful.

Posted by
3666 posts

I don't know much about US airline points as it doesn't work the same in Canada, but I have seen promotions to convert air miles to hotel points, but I suspect you have reviewed those options. Alternatively, can you give them to someone else or 'sell' them?
I suspect you won't be alone. Maybe you and your friends can run some sort of poker game where you use points instead of chips....

Posted by
3444 posts

Maria. Yes thanks, United is closely partnered with Marriott and allow a one-for-one exchange of miles for points in either direction. I have done this in the past to move points to Marriott to get a free night in Paris, but once again not doing enough travel in my foreseeable future to make this worthwhile, especially as it is possible that hotel chains may be in just as much financial difficulty as the airlines. And "sell" is not an option, it would break the rules and result in my losing all of my miles and frequent flyer status.

acraven I have been looking at gift cards as well. The dollars per mile ratio is all over the place. For example, $50 Starbucks costs just as much as $200 Home Depot in miles. It will take a good deal of planning to get the best exchange rate, or of course I can just blindly take whichever cards look best and ignore the cost.

Agnes, I have asked friends and family and former coworkers about their travel needs. They all have similar forecasts as I do and are mostly avoiding flying except when work demands it. United does, fortunately, allow booking a ticket for anyone you choose with your miles, so I can still help if their plans change.

I hope I am worried about nothing and the airlines will get past the current issues and not cancel their frequent flyer programs. If they did cancel, there would be a huge number of people extremely upset. Airlines don't want that where they run the chance of losing any customer right now. And I'm sure they have sneakier ways of making their miles worthless without actually cancelling their programs.

Posted by
3640 posts

“ I can pick up several electronic items I am in need of through their redemption program. ”

Since you wouldn’t be wasting your miles since you need these items, I would definitely go that route. The only reason to hold onto your miles would be if you think having the miles three years from now would be the tipping point to be able to take a vacation that you would want by that time.

Posted by
147 posts

Or you could (theoretically):

Most airlines allow you to donate your miles to partner charities and nonprofit organizations, like the American Red Cross and Make-A-Wish.
How to donate airline miles

Log in to your frequent flyer account.
Select a charity.
Donate airline miles.

Posted by
9183 posts

I have lots and lots of miles. All my "expiring" miles have been extended a year. I doubt it's going to take 18 to 24 months before we can travel but if that is the time frame that makes you happy, then so be it.

There's lots you can do with stuff, donate them, convert them to something else.

If you don't think you will be traveling anytime in the near future, why not convert your cards to something that will give you value now? Store branded cards, cash back, etc. Most of the larger card issuers will work with you on that. And then, if you ever wish to travel again, you could always switch back. And the good news is......if it really is more than 24 months before you travel again, you might be able to go back to your travel cards and get the sign up bonus.

Posted by
2303 posts

I doubt frequent flyer plans are going away any time soon. Airlines historically have made a ton of money off of them and are leveraging them now to build cash reserves to stay afloat through the pandemic. FF programs have enough value that it's hard to imagine they would get wiped out during a bankruptcy reorganization.

As Agnes notes, though, miles are a depreciating currency. If you can find some value in them now, you may be best served to take advantage of that.

Posted by
3444 posts

Jean, Yes, the electronics for miles option is looking like the best way for me to get immediate value.

RobertH, Thanks for that. As mentioned in my original posting, I have donated a large number of miles to charity. I have already gotten a very nice heartfelt response from one of them which was unexpected but appreciated.

Posted by
3444 posts

Frank II. All of my expiring miles were the first to get donated to charity. The remaining miles are in programs with no expiration currently, which is nice if I can't find something to do with them. I do agree that travel should be more open than it currently is before 24 or even 18 months for the general public, I am just not going to be open to it for many reasons I'm not going to bore anyone with. I am keeping the one United branded card I have, but I also have one each for Southwest, Alaska, and Hawaiian that I really have no current need for, i.e. they get me no benefit I wouldn't already receive due to the class of service I usually fly with them. No point in paying annual fees to them if I will not be using them at all. All three have a no fee option, which I am sure the credit card issuer will temp me with to keep me on, but I will be letting them go (not worried about impact to my credit score, already checked on that). And as you mentioned, two years will clear my history so I can get whatever bonus offerings may be in place if I choose to reapply for them.

Dave, Yes, I am more worried about the depreciation of the mile value than the programs actually being cancelled. Even if they declare bankruptcy and reorganize or merge, the programs will remain. No airline will cancel their program unless every airline cancels theirs, which is true for every decision made by airlines that might impact revenue.

I was able to use up some of my miles today by purchasing tickets for a couple cousins who have an urgent need to get somewhere but are short on funds. 100,000 miles gone and only a million more to go.

Thanks to everyone for your ideas and thoughts on this, it has been very helpful.

Posted by
415 posts

You can extend your American Airlines miles by purchasing something through their eshopping link. In the past I’ve purchased items from Target and Kohl’s, 2 stores I shop at regularly. So it didn’t cost me anything extra to maintain my miles.