Frequent Flyer Miles: What to Do With Extra Miles

Three ways to avoid letting your frequent flier miles lapse.

As each year draws to a close, many road warriors face the prospect of forfeiting their hard-earned frequent flyer miles because they won’t be able to use them before they expire.

Here are three interesting ways to use such seemingly “wasted” miles.

Incentive miles: Very often, you may find that you don’t even have enough miles to take advantage of an upgrade. Experienced frequent fliers recommend purchasing incentive miles instead. Incentive miles are blocks of airline frequent flyer miles that companies can buy to distribute as business incentives. Suggest that your employer buy these miles; they are available in practically all of today’s frequent flier programs.

If you are an individual business traveler, however, you may be limited as to which airline’s miles you can purchase. United Airlines, for example does not allow individual members to purchase miles – only organizations.

A warning: Although incentive miles generally cost two cents a mile, airlines often add a service fee of $60 to $75 per transaction. Also, incentive miles generally have minimum purchase requirements. Companies are also subject to a 7.5 percent federal tax on all frequent flyer miles purchased from an airline. Be sure to weigh all of these factors before you decide whether or not to purchase incentive miles.

Award Vouchers: If you have traveled so much that you are left with at least 25,000 miles expiring at the end of the year, request an award coupon or voucher even if you don’t have any immediate travel plans. These vouchers usually expire one year after you acquire them. For many airlines, you don’t need to specify on which flight or route you want to fly; just ask for a voucher at a specific mileage level.

If you have less than 25,000 miles, consider purchasing an upgrade certificate. These awards generally start at 10,000 or 15,000 miles and are also good for a year after purchase.

Check for special deals: Some frequent flyer programs offer special bonuses for travelers who have miles or points that will soon expire. These often include hospitality awards that may be utilized for car rental deals and hotel room stays. These deals usually require just 10,000 to 12,000 miles. Certain airlines also allow program members to exchange a small amount of their miles in exchange for fare discounts. Although this still leaves you with miles to spare, it is better than allowing the entire mileage to lapse.

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