So everyone knows the basics of earning miles and redeeming them for a free flight, right? Well, here are some tips on using those miles in a smarter manner and for ways that are applicable to military flyers.
A key fact to remember is that dollar prices of miles almost always rise the closer you get to the flight’s date. With miles the price stays constant, although “saver awards” can be gone if you wait too long. Many people complain that “saver awards” are so hard to get for the flight that you want that you might as well plan on paying the “standard award”. My own experience is hit or miss and just consider myself lucky if a saver award is available without trying to book a trip a year in advance. Life is too hectic for me to plan that far in advance.
With that in mind, use the axiom that if you can lock in a flight far in advance, use dollars, if it is short notice use miles. The mile to dollar exchange ratio here will be very much in your favor. So your flight for your wedding anniversary = dollars. The flight to Vegas for your buddy’s bachelor party = miles.
This rule come in handy for a great military benefit, Space-A Travel. The problem with Space-A is that you are dependent of the Air Force following their schedule and this is often not a good bet. So while the flight may get you to your destination, you may get stranded for several days there if the bird breaks down or fills up with a priority mission. FF Miles to the rescue! Take the flight and use miles for that ticket home if you get stranded. If you really want to be smart about it, go ahead and book a one way ticket home using miles and cancel it if the flight looks like it is going to be a go. That gives you a better chance to get a saver award, but make sure you don’t forget to cancel if you don’t need it.
Another great use of miles is for one way tickets. Some airlines, such as Southwest, Alaska and American, price a one way ticket at half of the round trip price. Makes sense, but that is not the traditional way airlines priced these. They priced a one way ticket as half of the full fare price, meaning a discounted round trip ticket could be less than a one way ticket. United and some of the legacy carriers are still this way, so it creates a real problem to use them for a one way flight. Only a few years ago, FF programs did not have redemption levels for one way flight, but now most do. This makes a great value when you have to take a one way flight and save you a lot of dollars. The military seems to end up in situations where we need to fly one way quite a bit, mostly due to our many moves, but this strategy can come in handy in many situations such as when your kid flunks out of college and wants a one way ticket home. Just kidding.
Lastly, don’t forget when spending your miles the traditional way to use them for your lovely spouse first and pay for your own seat so you can earn more miles and greater status.