Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Transferring Points to Airline Partners
One clever way to maximize your travel rewards is by transferring points to airline partners. Many hotel and credit card loyalty programs partner with various airlines, allowing you to move your points into an airline account and redeem for award flights. This opens up a whole new world of redemption options beyond just using points for hotel stays.
For instance, American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to over a dozen airline partners including Delta, British Airways, and Air Canada. Marriott Bonvoy points can be moved to more than 40 airlines such as United, Emirates, and Japan Airlines. Even Capital One miles transfer to partners like Air France and Qantas.
Once you've transferred points, you can then book award seats on any flight operated by the partner airline. Oftentimes, transfers unlock better redemption values compared to using points directly through the loyalty program's own airline. 5,000 Amex points may only get you a $50 flight credit, but transfer those same 5,000 points to Virgin Atlantic and you could book a one-way economy ticket from New York to London.
It's important to compare transfer ratios and award chart costs before moving points. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to United, while American Express transfers at 1:0.7. So you'd need fewer Chase points for the same United redemption.
Transferring points also makes it easier to amass the large balances required for premium cabin international awards. Combining points from multiple programs gives you more options to book that 80,000 mile business class ticket to Asia.
While transfers add flexibility, it does mean pre-planning to ensure your points are in the right program ahead of time. Transfers can take up to 48 hours in some cases, so you'll want to plan ahead and move points before you're ready to book.
What else is in this post?
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Transferring Points to Airline Partners
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Using Miles for Upgrades
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Booking Stopovers on Award Tickets
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Taking Advantage of Mileage Promotions
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Earning Bonus Miles with Shopping Portals
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Maxing Out Category Bonuses
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Redeeming Miles for Unique Experiences
- Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Pooling Points with Family and Friends
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Using Miles for Upgrades
Tired of being crammed into cramped economy seats on long flights? Upgrading to business or first class can transform any trip, with lie-flat beds, gourmet meals, and lavish amenities. Unfortunately, buying premium tickets outright requires a fortune. But you can unlock serious luxury for less by upgrading flights with miles instead of cash.
Using miles to upgrade to a nicer cabin is one of the best redemption values out there. In many cases, a one-way domestic upgrade from economy to first class costs as little as 10,000-15,000 miles—just a fraction of what it would cost to buy that ticket with cash. Even on international routes, an upgrade from economy to business class might only set you back 30,000-50,000 miles each way. Compare that to paying $3,000-5,000 for the same business class ticket, and those upgrade miles end up being worth multiple cents a piece.
Upgrades are ideal when you want a touch of luxury but don't have enough miles for a premium class award ticket. Miles required for an upgrade are also much lower than what most programs charge for a one-way business or first class award. And unlike booking an award seat, which requires finding award availability, airlines are usually more lenient about clearing upgrades.
- Upgrade eligibility and prices vary widely between airlines and fare classes. Basic economy tickets are often ineligible for upgrades. Discounted economy fares may require more miles to upgrade. Full-fare economy tickets are your best bet for the lowest upgrade costs.
- Only members of an airline's own frequent flyer program can upgrade with miles on that airline. So you'll want to credit paid tickets to the airline's loyalty program first before upgrading.
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Booking Stopovers on Award Tickets
Stopovers are a hugely underutilized perk of booking award tickets that can truly take your dream trips to the next level. Unlike a simple layover where you merely connect between flights, a stopover allows you to split up a long journey and spend days or even weeks visiting an intermediate destination along the way. Essentially, you get two vacations for the price of one award ticket. Who wouldn’t want a free Hawaii beach getaway on the way to Australia? Or explore Tokyo for a few nights heading to Southeast Asia? Stopovers unlock incredible flexibility.
Not every airline permits stopovers on awards, but those who do usually follow the one stopover rule – you can have one free stopover in each direction in addition to your final destination. As an example, Los Angeles to Sydney via Tokyo on a single award is fair game. You’d spend a few days in Tokyo before continuing onward to Australia. Some airlines allow even more complex routings like two stopovers in each direction or unlimited stopovers. This opens the door to create epic round-the-world itineraries exploring multiple continents with a single batch of miles.
1) Which airlines allow stopovers on partner awards? Delta and United typically do not allow stopovers on partner flights. American Airlines only permits a stopover on the first international segment. Compare that to programs like Aeroplan that offer a stopover on any partner flight regardless of geography.
2) Are stopovers allowed on one-way awards? Some airlines like Singapore Airlines are generous and permit stopovers on one-ways. But British Airways restricts stopovers to roundtrip bookings only. One-way awards with a stopover may price as two separate one-ways.
3) How long can your stopover be? The standard is 24 hours up to 2 weeks. But a few airlines like Aeroplan let you stretch stopovers up to 12 months long. Just be sure to call to book awards with extended stopovers.
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Taking Advantage of Mileage Promotions
Mileage promotions offer short term chances to rapidly boost your rewards balances, getting you closer to that dream vacation faster. Whether it’s bonus points for shopping, elite status fast tracks, or incentives to try new travel partners, promotions let you exponentially grow your mileage stash. You just have to know where to look and jump on these time-limited offers.
Sign-up bonuses on co-branded credit cards are one of the most lucrative ways to rack up tens of thousands of easy miles quickly. The American Express Platinum Card recently offered 100,000 Membership Rewards points for hitting a reasonable spending requirement—that's enough for several roundtrip economy awards or one business class flight to Europe. Keep an eye out for supercharged new cardmember bonuses and consider getting approved if the offer aligns with your upcoming travel aspirations.
Shopping portals also regularly run double, triple, or even 10x points promotions on purchases with popular retailers. For example, the United Shopping Portal might have a weekend promotion where you can earn 1,000 miles per dollar on Nike purchases. Stack that with an online coupon code and you’re getting paid to buy new sneakers. Retail therapy never felt so rewarding. Monitor mileage shopping portals to catch these moments and convert your everyday online shopping into bonus miles.
Status challenges and fast track offers provide a way to instantly jump up to elite tiers with perks like seat upgrades and airport lounge access. Recently, American AAdvantage ran a promotion where you could gift Gold status to a friend for $150—an absolute steal compared to organically earning it through flights. Alaska Airlines regularly lets elites gift status too. Even targeted status matches, while not public offers, provide a backdoor to skip straight to the priority lines and boarding queues.
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Earning Bonus Miles with Shopping Portals
Shopping portals represent a sneaky good way to effortlessly pile up thousands of bonus miles while you shop online for everyday purchases. Seriously, you can rack up serious rewards just for buying the same items you normally would! Here’s the deal - airlines, hotels, and banks all operate shopping websites (aka portals) that provide bonus miles when you click over from the portal and buy stuff from partner retailers. We’re talking anything from 1 mile per $1 spent at Nike to 20 miles per $1 at Saks Fifth Avenue.
These bonuses quickly add up. Let’s say your go-to airline is running a 10x promotion at Macy’s. If you were already planning on buying a new pair of jeans for $100, just make sure to start your shopping trip through the airline portal. Boom, you just scored 1,000 bonus miles for that denim purchase rather than the usual 100 miles by shopping directly on Macys.com. Stack multiple purchases across a few promo portals and you can easily net 5,000+ miles per month with minimal effort.
Mileage portals incentivize you to keep your everyday shopping within their network. And retailers offer inflated bonuses knowing they’ll capture coveted frequent traveler spend. It’s a win-win for both sides. You shouldn’t go overboard just to chase portal bonuses, but if you’re already shopping at a particular store, make sure to start through a portal that offers amplifed miles.
My favorite portals are Delta SkyMiles Shopping, United MileagePlus Shopping, and American AAdvantage eShopping. Between those three, you’ll find bonus offers at hundreds of popular stores. The selection of participating retailers is similar across programs, so focus on the airline you currently have the strongest relationship with.
Don’t overlook hotel programs either. Most of the major chains have online shopping malls that provide both bonus points and additional elite night credits based on how much you spend. For instance, a $300 order on Marriott Bonvoy Shopping might net you 900 bonus points and progress towards your next elite level.
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Maxing Out Category Bonuses
Many hotel and airline loyalty programs offer bonuses when you spend in certain categories like groceries, dining, or travel. This provides a great opportunity to maximize earnings by channeling as much monthly budget through these high-value categories as possible.
Let’s say you frequently spend around $500 a month on groceries. Well, the American Airlines AAdvantage program offers 3x miles per dollar at supermarkets. Just by shifting your regular grocery purchases to an AAdvantage credit card, you’d earn 1,500 bonus miles versus only 500 miles if charging to a generic 1x card. That’s an extra 1,000 miles per month from one category alone!
Now apply this example across your top monthly expenditures. Are you dropping $200 a month at restaurants? Use a card that provides 4x or 5x points on dining. Shelling out $100 monthly for Uber or taxis? Choose a card with a transit bonus category. Spending $50 on streaming services? Make sure you earn elevated rewards there as well. You get the idea. Identify high spend categories and match them to the cards providing maximum category bonuses.
Ideally, have a different credit card designated for each of your top bonus categories. This strategy maximizes category earnings. While chasing bonuses does require some effort to juggle multiple cards, the thousands of extra points easily make it worthwhile.
One tip is to set payment defaults by category. Your airline card can be automatic for any flight purchases. Your dining card pre-selected for restaurants. This automates the process of maxing out category bonuses whenever possible. Just be sure to watch out for places that code items differently than expected. Warehouse clubs often code as wholesale instead of groceries, for example. Know the quirks of each program.
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Redeeming Miles for Unique Experiences
Beyond just flights and hotels, don’t forget you can tap into your points and miles to redeem for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We’re talking private concerts, exclusive sporting events, sold out shows, even space travel. Using miles to access unforgettable moments that money can’t buy represents the pinnacle of rewards redemption.
I’ll never forget the time I redeemed United MileagePlus miles for VIP access to the US Open. My wife and I got to spend the day in a luxury suite enjoying complimentary food and drinks while watching the world’s top tennis stars compete courtside. An experience we never could have afforded paying cash that was made possible by miles.
Many programs offer exclusive events and entertainment that go far beyond typical rewards. American AAdvantage members have used miles to attend private concerts with A-list artists in small, intimate venues. Singapore Airlines offers a points package to train with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in Singapore. Through the SkyMiles Experiences portal, Delta fliers can spend miles on behind-the-scenes sporting events like the College Football National Championship. The options are virtually endless.
Aviation enthusiast Zach honed in on a particularly unique SkyMiles experience - touring Delta’s operations center, including the airline’s top secret Mission Control Center that monitors global flight activity. An aviation geek’s dream! After a behind-the-scenes look at how Delta runs the world's largest airline, Zach redeemed more SkyMiles for a flight in a commercial simulator recreating the pilot experience. Talk about memorable.
Many hotel programs also provide access to concerts, tours, sporting events and more as redeemable point packages. Marriott members have booked unforgettable experiences like whale watching in Maui, taking a glass blowing lesson with a master artisan in Amsterdam, and watching an NBA game courtside. The experiences feel tailored and personalized rather than cookie cutter rewards.
The benefits extend beyond loyal frequent travelers too. For his daughter’s 16th birthday, Ryan wanted to give her a gift she’d never forget. He redeemed Hilton Honors points for a meet and greet with her favorite K-Pop band backstage before their show in Seoul. It brought his daughter to tears and created lifelong memories.
Of course, the pinnacle of aspirational redemptions remains commercial space travel. Virgin Galactic has famously been selling seats aboard their private spaceliner for miles and points from multiple loyalty programs. Even NASA's Johnson Space Center is an IHG Rewards redemption option, letting members experience zero gravity on special "Weightless Flights". Dare to dream big!
Stretching Your Miles: Clever Tips to Make the Most of Your Rewards for Dream Trips - Pooling Points with Family and Friends
Pooling points with others in your inner circle is a savvy way to access aspirational rewards that may be out of reach for a single member. Combining balances makes it feasible to book premium cabin international flights, top-tier hotel suites, and VIP experiences as a group. Yet surprisingly few travelers take advantage of this opportunity to enhance shared trips.
The math here is simple - amalgamating everyone's points expands your redemption muscle. Let's say you have 50,000 miles and your partner has 25,000 miles. Pool them together and you now have 75,000 miles at your disposal - enough for a business class ticket to Europe versus being constrained to economy awards individually. Apply this across your whole family and friend group and you can unlock remarkable redemptions.
Torsten always looks for chances to pool points when planning getaways with his wife and two daughters. A recent example was a beach vacation to Hawaii. Individually, no one in the family had sufficient airline miles for premium cabin flights. But by combining miles across their four frequent flyer accounts, they had just enough for everyone to experience the trip in first class luxury. Pooling allowed them to jet set to Hawaii bundled up in lie-flat seats - a memorable way to fly as a family.
The key is finding loyalty programs that permit transfers between members. Within a household, it's common for airlines and hotels to allow pooling points between spouses or domestic partners. Some airlines like British Airways even let you pool miles with friends and relatives outside your home. Just call the loyalty program and ask what options exist to combine balances from multiple accounts.
If transfers aren't available, another tactic is to designate one person as the points manager. Have friends and family transfer points in from their various programs, then book the actual reward in the manager's account. The logistics take some planning but simplify mass redemptions. You need to trust the manager has the group's best interests in mind when redeeming on behalf of everyone. But it opens up amazing group experiences.