Trouble with Miles : Amazing Travel Concierge
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Trouble with Miles

by david daly on 05/21/12

Hi David,

    I am nowhere near the 200,000 frequent flyer miles that I will need for a business class award ticket to Bangkok.  I think I have about 27,000 with my credit card and 15,000 with American Airlines.  How do you always end up with so many airline miles and upgrades?  Do you have any suggestions for beating the system such as buying miles?  Can you tell me what economy plus means and is it worth it?




Hi Rosemary- there are many tricks to accruing a mass of airline miles but it does take some determination and usually A LOT of flying.   

The best ways to accrue a ton of miles is with the airline credit cards- which you have.  They usually offer bonus miles when you hit a certain threshold of spending per year and double miles on flights booked with the credit card.  The initial mileage offer for a new card member typically ranges from 25,000-50,000 bonus miles which will really help you get closer to an award ticket. 

If you have accrued a mass of Amex points- they can be converted into Delta Skymiles at a 1:1 ratio.  For airline tickets, your Amex points will always get you farther for less points if you use them as Delta Skymiles than if you book travel directly with Amex Points.  For example, a trip I recently researched would have required 240,000 Amex points for a NYC-Milan business class roundtrip, but only 100,000 Delta skymiles were required.  However, once converted you cannot change Delta miles back into Amex points.

I also travel a ton and am addicted to any cheap flights I can find so I accrue a lot of actual frequent flyer miles from these flights.  In addition, elite status gives me a 25-50% bonus on those miles.  Just to retain elite status for a year requires flying a minimum of 25,000 actual miles per airline so it is essential to fly on the same airline(s) whenever possible.  I rarely upgrade with miles because I prefer to get as many free award tickets as possible.  I have been getting a lot of free upgrades within North America with my elite status on United and Delta (although most of my upgrades come from Delta- United has been a disaster since the merge with Continental), but for intercontinental travel I usually book economy and occasionally pay an upgrade fee at check-in when they are offering super cheap upgrades- but that is rare and definitely not to be expected. 

 Economy Plus is the same meal and beverage service as economy but with 4-8 inches of extra legroom and increased recline with a slightly wider seat.  It is usually about 25% more space than an economy seat, but it is usually double the price.  It is by no means similar to business class which is an entirely superior level of service and comfort on every front. 

 I would not suggest buying miles.  You pay an enormous premium when buying miles that it only makes sense when you are just a few thousand miles short of a mileage ticket that you would otherwise not be able to purchase.

 There are tons of chatrooms and forums set up to discuss airline miles because of all of the complexities they entail.  My favorite is but there are so many different ways to accrue and redeem miles that it can make your head spin!  The simplest rule of thumb is to try to stick with one airline partnership (OneWorld, SkyTeam, or Star Alliance) for the majority of your flights and supplement the frequent flyer miles you earn with a credit card from an airline in that partnership.



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