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When Should You Actually Buy Frequent Flyer Miles?

So, who’s up for a transatlantic first-class ticket for under $2,500?

Under most circumstances, there’s really little incentive to buy miles to getting closer to finish an award ticket. The cost at which most airlines offer these are generally pretty horrible, and most of the time you’re better off flying the rest. But if an airline is suddenly offering a 100% bonus on all miles bought, that changes the name of the game. When this happens, if you know when to cash out, you can actually get a pretty killer deal.

It helps that to illustrate our point that Avianca just started offering a 100% bonus back on all miles purchased through their frequent flier program, Lifemiles. The promotion, which runs for August, stipulates that you can only purchase up to 75,000 miles, meaning you’ll receive 150,000 miles in return. Each set of 1,000 costs $30 plus taxes, but let’s see how this plays out when it comes to actually redeeming the miles.

Using Avianca’s reward chart, it’s pretty easy to see whether it’s worth my time. For instance, it takes 145,000 miles to redeem a ticket for a first-class round-trip ticket (bookable on any Star Alliance airline) from North America to Europe. Because blocks are sold in sets of 1,000, you’ll need to purchase 73,000 miles instead of the 72,500 miles needed to get you there. With my handy dandy calculator, I can figure out that 73 blocks (at $30 a piece) will cost me $2,190. That, my friend, is $2,190 for a first-class ticket.

Other bloggers have done the math that this works out to costing roughly 1.5 cents per mile, which isn’t bad. In fact, the general consensus is that a mile is only worth about 1.4 cents. Avianca doesn’t add any fuel surcharges either, so it’s whatever the taxes are after the initial purchase that will end up being extra. You’re only allowed to receive up to 150,000 miles each year like this, so if you fully cash out, you’re going to reach your quota for the year.

The only thing here is that you actually have to be a prior Lifemiles member before you buy the miles, which is why some people suggest signing up for the program if you ever think you might want to bite the bullet in the future. Avianca actually seems to run these deals quite frequently, so that might be worth keeping in mind for the next time.

US Airways is also known for running 100% bonus promotions sometimes (in fact they’re running one right now), but it totally depends on what the current redemption rates are, which seems to get higher every year. Blogger Gary Leff points out that “they’ve more or less jacked up the price only to be able to discount it, making the discounts look better than they actually are.”

Just something to keep in mind.

[Avianca Lifemiles]

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