How to Make the Most of Your Airline Miles
If you're like most travelers, you're not taking full advantage of your points. We've identified the most common challenges, come up with smart solutions, and figured out the top strategies for a rewarding 2016.
With all the loyalty programs out there, it's easy to end up with little stashes of points that hang around like those handfuls of foreign coins you find in your pockets after overseas trips. But just because the amounts are small isn't a reason to ignore points; they are baked into the price of your hotel room or car rental, and you should get the full value of what you paid for. Here's how to turn small pools of miles into useful, redeemable balances.
You don't have to keep count yourself. Use an app that accesses your accounts and collects all your balances in one place; just be sure to choose wisely.
Transfer what you can
Don't let those Sri Lankan Airlines miles go to waste— even obscure loyalty programs have partnerships that let you exchange points with other brands. Because the options for shuffling balances can seem endless, start with a goal, such as moving soon-toexpire points or bundling several smaller balances into your largest one to score a free ticket. Then start scouring program websites for partnership details.
Let's say you have 23,000 United miles and need another 2,000 to book a roundtrip flight. If you have 1,200 Hertz Gold Plus Rewards you know you won't be using, you can swap them for 1,000 United miles (at a rate of 600 points to 500 miles). Toss in those 6,000 languishing Wyndham points—which are not nearly enough for a free night—and that gives you another 1,200 miles.
Points.com makes it simple to transfer points throughout hotel and airline brands: sign up for an account, link your programs, and click "exchange" to see which moves are eligible. The ability to swap between certain programs is limited, but Points.com allows some otherwise impossible trades—moving miles between Virgin America and JetBlue, for instance. Unfortunately, the site doesn't offer any insight into whether a particular use of points is a smart idea.
Spend small balances on small pleasures
Can't muster enough points for a flight or a night? You can still squeeze value from those rewards. You can buy ebooks and albums in United's MileagePlus portal (Taylor Swift's 1989 will take care of 1,600 miles). A magazine subscription can be had for 400 miles through sites like MagsforMiles. Delta allows you to exchange points for, among other things, an Amazon gift card. Or, give instead of get: Make-A-Wish and the American Cancer Society accept donations of as few as 500 and 1,000 miles, respectively. (Those gifts are not tax-deductible.)