by Lyle Daly | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on Sept. 18, 2019
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Thinking of buying miles directly from an airline? You should probably reconsider.
If you have a frequent flyer account, you may have already noticed that you can buy miles from the airline instead of earning them through your trips or credit card spending. Most airlines will have this option listed prominently in your online account, and some will also run promotions when you can purchase those miles at a discount.
This may seem like a useful way to boost your mileage balance so you can travel more, but when you dig into the numbers, you'll see that buying miles this way is rarely a good decision.
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The problem with buying airline miles is the lack of value. You'll usually end up paying more for the miles than you can realistically expect to receive when you redeem them.
Although the value of airline miles depends heavily on the flight you book, economy award tickets will generally get you about $0.01 to $0.015 per mile. Business- and first-class tickets can be a better deal and get you $0.02 or more per mile, but these award tickets are also much scarcer.
Here's the standard cost of buying miles (without any promotions) with the four major U.S. airlines as of August 2019:
|Carrier||Total cost to buy 10,000 miles||Cost per mile|
|Delta Air Lines||$350||$0.035|
Data source: Respective airline websites.
Airlines do frequently run promotions, but even then, the cost is typically still at least $0.018 to $0.02 per mile.
Unless you can score a great award ticket, you'll probably lose money by purchasing miles.
Even though we just established that buying miles is a bad move from a value perspective, there are two situations when it could be in your best interest to do so:
It's always nice to book your airfare in miles and trim your travel costs, but you're not really cutting costs if you had to purchase the miles in the first place. That's why it's better to earn miles instead of buy them.
Here are the best ways to do that:
While buying miles may seem like a good deal initially, if you do the math on what it will cost, you'll see that these offers rarely work in your favor.
You're better off earning your miles through credit cards and shopping portals, because when you've paid for miles, it usually means you've overpaid.
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