This is a very common mistake because domestic airfares are usually competitive, meaning that you can buy a cheap ticket instead of using your miles. A good test is to determine how much value you’re getting on a per-mile basis. To determine the real mile value, you should divide the ticket cost for the amount of miles. A good mileage value is usually ten cents per mile or more.
Mistake 2: Letting miles expire
Some programs do not expire your miles, but most programs do. If you don’t have any account activity over a 12 or 18-month period, you could lose your entire balance. The good news is that earning or redeeming any amount of miles will end the life of your entire balance. Some programs (specially on Star Alliance airlines) will expire miles even if you have activity in your account during the 18-month period (eg. you fly from A to B and get some miles. 1 year later you fly A to C. Now your current miles amount is the sum of those two trips. Once you get to the 18-month threshold the accumulated miles from flight #1 will expire and your account will only have the miles from the second flight. Be aware!)
Mistake 3: Using miles for consumer goods
There are lots of temptations on airline websites in order to spend your unused miles for televisions, iPads and other consumer goods. That’s advantageous to them, but not to you. With exception of hotel stays, miles should be used to purchase airfare. Period.
Mistake 4: Spreading your mileage earnings around different airlines
Building a frequent flyer miles balance takes time. Pick an airline, stick with it and build your mileage and elite status there. If you’re flying Delta tomorrow, American next week and United next month, you’re squandering an opportunity to build elite status with any one airline. Elite status is a cornerstone of a successful mileage strategy. Even the lowest tier can entitle you to an upgrade, for instance.
Another mileage sin is scattering miles among alliance partners. American and British Airways are partners in the Oneworld alliance. Post your miles to a single account (typically the airline you fly the most), as this will help build your balance more quickly. Except in very rare circumstances, you would not want to post your miles to different accounts, consolidate instead. Collect miles with your airline, redeem on partners.
Mistake 6: Transferring miles between programs
In general, you can’t do this without a major loss of value. The only exceptions are programs that allow “household” accounts, where two people living at the same address can freely transfer points between them (British Airways and Starwood Preferred Guest programs offer this feature).
Mistake 7: Buying miles from an airline
Airlines are in business to make a profit, and their mileage programs are no exception. Airlines sell miles all the time, to credit card companies, hotels, retailers and many others. Selling directly to consumers is fairly new, and the prices are usually not to your advantage. The only exceptions are some airlines call “award accelerator deals” that double or triple the miles for your flight or if you’re only a few hundred miles away from an award, and you’ve already found award space on flights you want, buying miles from an airline is the fastest way to get miles into your account.
A frequent flyer strategy is the key to getting the most value from loyalty programs. Once you have collected a good amount of miles, you don’t want to spend endless hours fighting airlines systems in order to redeem those miles! It’s time to find a reliable award travel service to do that easily for you.