As a frugal travel shopper, I often buy airline tickets that are the best deal at the time, and am not loyal to a particular airline. Every so often I get a notice that some frequent flyer miles I’ve accumulated are about to expire, but I have nowhere near enough of them on a particular airline to get a free flight.
Though I was able to find a number of ideas I hadn’t known about, the value-per-mile is frequently low. However, if the miles are really about to expire and would bring you zero value and just go to waste, then check out your other options.
Here are five things to do with frequent flyer miles (other than fly)!
1. Get free magazine subscriptions: Website Magazines for Miles lets you use your miles (from most major carrier programs) for a wide variety of magazine subscriptions for zero cash cost. The number of miles per title subscription varies by mileage program, for example, weekly periodical People magazine ranged from 1,900 miles to 2,300 miles for a 26-week subscription, while an annual subscription to Sports Illustrated (56 issues) ran 1,400-1,700 miles.
Value: about 2.5-3.4 cents per mile, the highest overall value of any mileage uses found.
2. Get swag: United Airlines’ Mileage Plus Awards site offers items in categories such as sports, travel, style, kids, and home. For 10,000 miles (the lowest-priced award amount I could find), you could get a spinning spice rack, a six-pack of Crabtree & Evelyn hand lotion, or a Melissa and Doug alphabet puzzle for children. Many of the nicer gifts require more miles than a round-trip flight, such as an Amazon Kindle Fire (34,500 miles) and a Samsung waterproof HD camcorder (29,500 miles).
Delta’s SkyMiles marketplace offers many more items starting from just under 5,000 miles. For 4,900 miles you can get a set of Skullcandy earbuds, 10,000 miles will get you an iHome portable rechargeable bluetooth speaker or a 2gb iPod shuffle.
Value range of items checked: 0.22-0.55 cents per mile, though Delta carried some identical items to the United site for fewer miles.
3. Digital music and movies: Purchase music through United’s Mileage Plus digital media store (generally 150 miles for a single/song), or stream a movie. Prices vary by movie title, samples of recent popular movies include Inception (545 miles to rent, 2,545 miles to “buy” with unlimited streaming but not download) and Life of Pi (“buy” for 1,780 miles)
Value: About 0.86 cents/mile for music, 0.59-0.84 cents/mile for movies.
4. Fill your belly: United lets you use miles to purchase a $50 Lettuce Entertain You gift card, “valid at 80 restaurant locations worldwide” (6,800 miles) or buy Restaurant.com gift cards ($25 card for 500 miles), which are generally only good for up to 50% off your meal. Hawaiian Airlines offers a $25 gift card to Hawaii-based grocery store Foodland (5,000 miles).
Value: 0.73-5.0 cents/mile for restaurant cards, 0.5 cents/mile for grocery card.
5. Send flowers: United miles can also be used to send flowers via FTD. Though the splash page lists bouquets starting at 1,800 miles, most boquets ranged from 4,800-7,800 miles. Hawaiian Airlines lets you purchase a $50 e-gift card at FTD for 10,000 miles.
Value: 0.83 cents/mile directly, 0.5 cents/mile for gift card.
Remember, you also have the option to gift or transfer your miles, though airlines charge you for the option. You could potentially buy a small number of miles from a friend to take you up to the amount needed for your flight, or sell your miles to a friend to help them reach a flight award. And most airlines waive the fees if you donate your miles to preselected charities… value: priceless!
If you find another option, such as putting miles toward hotel stays and car rentals, you can compute the value-per-mile by dividing what the item would cost you (in dollars) by the number of miles required for purchase. Also, make sure to take into account any additional cash fees to use the item, or shipping costs.
How do you use your extra miles?