A year ago, airlines were still coaxing travelers back to the skies with dirt-cheap fares to … well, pretty much everywhere. My, how things have changed.
Travel is back in full swing, with more than 2 million travelers moving through U.S. airports nearly every day. With travel demand surging along with fuel prices, flights seem more expensive than ever heading into summer, fall, and through the end of the year. But remember: Through the pandemic, travelers racked up record numbers of points and miles while staying at home. It's time to cash them in.
Using any points and miles you've got saved up is the perfect way to offset the higher costs of your travels – with some additional flexibility just in case your plans change. And remember: Points and miles are not an investment. Hang on to your miles too long, and they'll get less valuable over time.
Keep reading to see why it's time to shake off the dust and put those miles to use in 2022.
When Prices Are High, Turn to Miles
This is our mantra. There's no better way to redeem your points and miles than on a trip you otherwise could not afford. And suddenly, many trips are looking unaffordable.
It's undeniable that after two years of unthinkably cheap fares, flight prices are on the rise. But on many airlines, the amount of miles you need have nothing to do with the cash price.
Sure, there are some like Southwest and JetBlue whose points programs are tied directly to cash rates: The more expensive the flight, the more Rapid Rewards points or TrueBlue points you'll need to book it. That's true when using credit card points through platforms like the Chase travel portal or Capital One's Purchase Eraser. Cash prices are a big factor in how many Delta SkyMiles you'll need these days, and that's increasingly true whether you've got American AAdvantage miles or United MileagePlus miles to burn, too.
But in the end, nothing beats taking an expensive flight and making it free – or nearly free – using points and miles. And there are still plenty of ways to get outsized value using your miles.
At Thrifty Traveler Premium, we're constantly on the look out for great opportunities to use points and miles in addition to cheap domestic and international cash fares. And we just keep finding stellar deals to put some hard-earned miles to use.
Even short flights to Denver (DEN) are looking more expensive these days. But just last month, we unearthed another unadvertised Delta SkyMiles flash sale with fares to the Mile-High City as low as 4,000 SkyMiles … roundtrip! At the time, you could hitch a ride to Denver at these rates through the spring, summer, and all the way into early 2023.
Australia has reopened to travelers and even dropped testing requirements for vaccinated visitors. Flights to all the way down to Australia can break the bank, which is why we loved this nationwide SkyMiles flash sale to Australia for 80,000 miles roundtrip.
Really want to get the most bang for your buck using your points? There's no better way than redeeming them for a business or first class award on a longhaul journey. While these tickets might cost thousands of dollars more than a seat back in economy, they don't have to break your points piggy bank – especially when you use the right mileage programs.
Case in point: A nonstop flight to Switzerland this summer could easily cost you $1,000 or more – or $5,000-plus in business class. But we sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members an alert for an incredibly rare chance to book nonstop flights for two from New York City (JFK) to Geneva (GVA) all summer long. Thanks to a transfer bonus using Capital One Venture Miles at the time, you could do it for just 52,500 miles each way – or just 105,000 miles roundtrip!
Want award space alerts like this, plus cheap domestic and international fares? Try Thrifty Traveler Premium now!
Many of these flights would cost $4,300 or more each!
Got a stash of American Express Membership Rewards points from cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card burning a hole in your pocket? You won't find a better way to use them than this: Roundtrip flights in the world's best business class to almost anywhere in the Middle East for 108,000 points … or less!
Read our review of Qatar Airways Qsuites!
How? Some solid award availability to fly Qatar Qsuites from the U.S. to Doha (DOH) for 70,000 miles each way – or 75,000 miles for a one-way to Dubai (DXB), Abu Dhabi (AUH), Muscat (MCT), and beyond. Factor in a 40% transfer bonus to British Airways using those Amex points, and you'd need just 100,000 points plus about $200 in taxes and fees for the nonstop to Qatar and back in Qsuites.
Flexibility to Cancel and Get Your Miles Back
All the major U.S. airlines are offering free change and cancellation so long as you buy at least a main cabin ticket or higher.
And that's great. But if you book a flight this week for a trip in 2022 or early 2023 and eventually decide to cancel, you'll get a voucher to use within the next year. That's certainly better than nothing. But here's where using airline miles can shine.
Many major airlines are currently allowing free cancellation on award tickets, waiving the typical $50 to $150 redeposit fee. That means you can book a trip now and cancel it later to get your miles back free, as well as any taxes and fees you paid. For instance:
- American Airlines ditched its award cancellation fees altogether. Previously, everyone except top-tier status holders had to pay the $150 redeposit fee to cancel an award ticket and get their AAdvantage miles back.
- Any award ticket booked with Delta SkyMiles can be easily canceled online for free to get your miles back, too – so long as you don't buy a Delta basic economy award
- Ditto with Alaska Airlines, which is waiving its usual $125 redeposit fee to cancel an award ticket to get your miles back.
- United lets you cancel award tickets and get your miles back free so long as you nix your trip at least 30 days before departure.
- Southwest never charges a fee to cancel any flight, whether you book with Rapid Rewards points or cash.
That's just a small sample – the list of airlines waiving or eliminating fees to cancel an award ticket goes on and on. Canceling award tickets is typically quite easy: You can usually just make a call (or slide into your airline's DMs) with your flight confirmation number and ask to cancel. Delta allows you to easily cancel award tickets booked with SkyMiles online, as do both American and United.
This is no small matter. Free cancellation on award tickets means you can use your miles to speculatively book a trip and hope for the best. If it doesn't pan out, cancel and get your miles right back. This way, there's no need to worry about putting an airline voucher to use if your plans change.
Your Miles Aren't Getting More Valuable
There's one more reason to seize the opportunities of booking with miles right now: Because they won't last forever. And your miles aren't getting more valuable over time – just the opposite.
Points and miles are not an investment. They are there to be used. And as tempting as it might be to watch your mileage balances grow and grow, you're asking for trouble.
Why? Because over time, airlines keep charging more miles for the same flights. It's inevitable: Welcome to the world of airline devaluations.
Over the last few years, we've seen airlines charge more and more miles, eliminating sweet spots, raising taxes and fees. Here's a brief look:
- To ring in 2021, Virgin Atlantic massively devalued their miles by destroying the sweet spot to book Delta flights. One-way flights in Delta One suites from the U.S. to Asia that once cost 60,000 miles now cost as much as 165,000 miles.
- Delta has pulled the same move three times in the last year on partner award tickets flying Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, or Korean Air. In economy or business class, Delta increased award rates to Europe, Asia, and even the Middle East.
- In the last few months alone, Emirates has hiked award rates for many business class fares and also drastically increased award taxes and fees on nearly all its routes.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg of what could be coming as American travelers have (understandably) hoarded their points and miles for a day when travel is easier. When that day finally comes, you can bet there will be even more changes in the landscape of points and miles – and many of them will be bad for your miles.
At the same time, banks and airlines have been flooding the market with points and miles through a shocking number of huge credit card offers.
Chase had its biggest-ever bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card last year, rolling out an unprecedented 100,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 within three months before returning with the current 60,000-point offer. Capital One launched its brand new Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card with an eye-popping 100,000-mile bonus, too – though that has dropped to 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 within three months.
Amex has introduced record-setting welcome offers on both The Platinum Card® from American Express and the American Express® Gold Card. Delta just rolled back the biggest offers we've ever seen on its suite of co-branded American Express cards, with up to 100,000 SkyMiles available. All that over the course of just a few months!
See our list of the best credit card offers this month!
That's great for consumers looking to stockpile points for future travel. But in the big picture, it spells trouble down the road: More and more (and more and more) miles sitting unused is bad for the airlines. In the points and miles world, it's the equivalent of inflation. And that means…
- Travelers who hoarded miles will rush to book travel once it's safe and predictable, causing the current glut of award availability to evaporate as airlines pull back. We're already seeing this begin as travel slowly regains its footing.
- To offset that huge stash of miles in the market, airlines will eventually have to increase the cost of awards.
When will that happen? Well, it's already started. But it's not done yet.
That means the current opportunities to use your points and miles have an expiration date. And that should give you the kick in the pants you need to use your miles wisely now before it's too late.
Before COVID-19, the mantra of every traveler using points and miles is “earn and burn.” Get the miles, redeem them, wash, rinse, repeat.
With travel so shaky for the the last two years, travelers are understandably wary of cashing in the miles. But things are changing: It's time to put those miles to use.