Frequent Flyer Miles Aren’t for Everyone

And by everyone, I mean most people.

Don’t get me wrong–I love my miles, and they’ve enabled me to do lots of awesome things that I’m super grateful for. But for the average person, focusing on frequent flyer miles doesn’t make much sense.

In my mind, there are two main reasons why you should collect miles:
1) You value premium cabin travel
2) You have a lot of flexibility, mostly in terms of time, but also in terms of where you’re willing to go

In the first case, frequent flyer miles are the obvious choice, given that you can get access to first class or business class travel for a much cheaper price using miles than by paying cash. In some cases, it’s even cheaper to buy frequent flyer miles using cash to book an award than paying for the ticket in cash outright (I’m looking at you, Alaska Airlines). This is the main reason why I pursue miles.

In the second case, frequent flyer miles generally can get you where you need to go, provided that you have flexibility in your dates and a willingness to take perhaps circuitous routings to get there. That being said, frequent flyer miles can be awesome in that they can allow you to visit many more places than a normal cash ticket would. United roundtrip awards are a great example of this, given that they allow you to have one stopover and two open jaws, which means you can potentially visit five different places on a single ticket (assuming you count your origin as a place).

But most people don’t fall under either of these buckets. I have gotten so many requests IRL along the lines of, “I want to go to Paris in June and need four tickets and just want to fly in economy class and it has to be on these exact dates because I want to maximize my vacation time and I want to take nonstop flights–how do I do this using miles?” And the answer is you don’t. You pay cash for that ticket because what you’re asking is completely unreasonable from a miles perspective. And if you’re going to be paying cash for that ticket, then you should be accruing points on a 2% cash back card instead of a miles credit card.

Of course, you should still collect the miles that you’ll naturally accrue by flying, but you shouldn’t keep spending on your Chase United card or Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi AA card or whatever unless you have a good reason to, since you’ll almost always be better off with 2% cash back.


6 thoughts on “Frequent Flyer Miles Aren’t for Everyone

  1. Dan @ PointsWithACrew

    I agree generally, but I think the fallacy with this is the signup bonuses. It’s all well and good to say put your spending on a 2% cashback card, but the multipliers on signup bonuses just dwarf everything. You’re talking anywhere up to 50x on spending for some cards!

    But yes, for ongoing spending, I agree with you

    1. Edward Post author

      Yes, totally agree with you re:credit card signup bonuses (and I want to write a post about that too), but most people also aren’t comfortable signing up for multiple credit cards per year (as misinformed as that may be).

  2. ffi

    Please star your post with the date
    It is very hard to follow some of the comments and then find that it was from a year ago.

    1. Edward Post author

      If you click on the actual post, the date does show up in the url. For example, the url for this post ends with “/2015/04/21/frequent-flyer-miles-arent-for-everyone/”. The comments are also dated.

  3. Joey

    I agree. I’ve always collected miles ever since I started travelling on my own but the main reason I collected miles before the introduction of huge signup bonuses back in 2009 is to simply redeem for an economy class ticket for a flight to Australia or someplace far. I live a simple life and I don’t need all these luxuries, especially since I tend to travel during low season when there’s high likelihood of me getting an entire row in economy class.
    Whenever friends ask me how I can afford to travel in premium cabins the past few years, I always tell them about the miles/points world and give them some pointers but I’ve noticed that less than 10% of them actually sign up for credit cards or dining rewards network or online shopping portals, etc. This game or hobby is definitely not for everyone nor does everyone want to partake in it. 😉

  4. Pingback: No, Frequent Flyer Miles ARE for everyone! - Points with a Crew

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