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Short of an Award Flight? Quick Strategies To Reach a Redemption

How annoying is it to be less than a few thousand miles shy of an award flight? Here’s how I quickly topped off an airline account that had 11,768 miles—732 miles short of redeeming a flight.

Look, there’s a lot of way to earn miles, but usually, in our case, award flights are only used in two situations: booking business-class tickets or booking last-minute tickets. Either way, that award flight may go fast, so in a sense, finding a way to get miles that post instantly is usually a high priority.

Generally, I don’t have time to wait those miles from that Lyft ride to post. 🙄 

Clearly, every airline is different, and while the best option for topping off may be different, what we’d like to remind our readers is that the best option may not always be the most apparent option.

The available booking options.

The options available.

Our situation happened on Alaska, and because Alaska Airlines is a great airline, its award booking system quickly gave me the rundown: There were three options for booking the flight: miles (+fees), cash, or cash + miles.

This is briefly outlined in the below chart, and we further broke down the real cost of each option using our award flight calculator. This was to better evaluate each option: More or less, if it’s not completely clear, the cheapest flight is the best value.

Option Cash Cost Mileage Cost Real Cost
Miles $5.60 12,500 $180.60
Cash $198.20 0 $198.20
Cash + Miles $106.20 10,000 $246.20

Buying miles to top off the flight.

On a whim, I decided to check out how much it would cost to buy the remaining 732 miles.

Quickly, we discovered miles could only be bought in 1,000-mile increments, but lo and behold, the cost to reach our goal was a mere $27.50 (without taxes). There was a $2.06 tax fee 🙄 that brought up the total cost to $29.56.

Buying miles directly from Alaska Airlines (through a proxy).

In points-and-miles nerd terms, it meant the miles were being bought for 3 cents per mile, whereas a good value would be 1.4 cents. However, this still seemed like a much better option than shelling out $106.20 for the cash + miles option, and it was important to get a comprehensive look at the overall picture.

The new chart started to look like this.

Option Cash Cost Mileage Cost Real Cost
Miles $35.16 12,500 $210.16
Cash $198.20 0 $198.20
Cash + Miles $106.20 10,000 $246.20

It was quickly apparent that buying the flight flat out was the best value (don’t forget about those miles you’d earn!), but buying miles to top off wasn’t as a terrible option as the initial math would indicate.

However, since the cost of an unused flight and expired miles is a higher risk to us, and the cost difference was marginal at $11.96, we decided to go ahead and take the plunge.

Transferring miles from a credit card program.

This is usually the quickest fix if you can find some points lying around in a Chase Ultimate Rewards program or something like that, either those available to you or from somebody else. These points tend to post extremely quickly, and there’s more flexibility available in moving these around.

Unfortunately, since Chase Ultimate Rewards and similar types of program don’t cover every single program in the universe, there are limitations to this method.

Buying miles through a broker.

There is no way we advocate this, but type in “sell airline miles” on the interwebs and more than a few mileage brokers will pop up in the search results.

Most of these brokers make money not just from buying airline miles from people who want to offload them, but selling those miles to other people interested in buying miles. The common convention is that the best value for airline miles is to use them on an airline, and it is almost often always cheaper than buying business-class tickets.

Enter a whole industry of privately-owned industry. Prices aren’t generally listed and interested parties will have to contact the broker for the exact quote, but as outlined above, if there’s a decent cent per mile rate, it might be a no-brainer to look at alternative options.





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