Using Frequent Flier Airline Miles: A Simple Example

In 2015 I traveled to Ireland, Sweden, Costa Rica and Oktoberfest in Munich. Instead being asked about the trips themselves one of the first questions I’m usually asked is “How do you afford all those flights?” When I explain that I don’t have a trust fund (yeah I’m bummed about that too) or a hot stock tip for them and just use frequent flier miles to travel cheaply I can see their eyes start to glaze over. Of course everyone has heard of frequent flier miles, points, and award flights but there is a common misconception that they’re hard to earn, even harder to redeem and therefore it must be some sort of scam. I wanted to point out a quick example from earlier this week to show that those misconceptions are just that and the use of frequent flier miles is pretty easy and can save you a lot of money.

I’m planning a trip to Nicaragua next month and sat down to look at prices and book my flight. It’s very easy to search on many airline websites like American Airlines and United for both paid flights and reward flights. Using AA as my example you can search for paid flights or award flights simply by clicking an additional box when conducting your search.

Click the award box to search using points
Click Redeem Miles to Search Award Flights

I am looking for flights from NYC to Managua, Nicaragua and did two searches. In the first I’m looking for the best price I can find and in the second search I’m looking to use my airline miles. I used the same flights for both searches to help illustrate my point. Let’s take a look at the paid option first. I typed in my criteria and dates and came up with search results. Then I picked the flights that I felt were reasonable both in terms of price and flying times.

Time/Price I would be willing to pay for this flight
Time/Price I would be willing to pay for this flight

Now let’s see what my results are if I redo my search but this time search for award flights using miles.

Nicaragua with Miles
Same Flights with AA Miles

So of the two options, would you rather pay $579 or use some miles and pay $77? Of course you would want to use your airline miles and save $500 on the flight. There are numerous ways to accumulate these airline miles through flying, dining, shopping, and using your credit card to name a few and I’ll go into some of these in later posts if there is interest. Keep in mind that this is just a simple example of what using frequent flier miles can save you and I’m using this one because it is fresh in my mind for an upcoming trip. Using miles can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars and enable you to fly in business/first for way less than buying a ticket to fly economy class. That is why I highly recommend using frequent flier airline miles as a tool to get where you want to go inexpensively and the money you save on flights can be put towards the rest of your vacation or additional trips. These tactics are what allow me to take multiple trips a year for very little cost.

Disclaimer: I am far from what you would call an award flight guru and there are dozens of websites dedicated to finding the best award flights/using credit cards to get miles etc. Some people may say I could have gotten a better deal or used less miles if I looked at other airlines or different routing. Others might say to just buy the flight outright and keep the 42k+ miles to use them on longer oceanic flights in business/first class.  I won’t disagree with either of those points, but at the end of the day I used miles to go on a trip next month and saved myself $500. I can now move on with the rest of the trip planning. Sometimes it’s not always about spending hours trying to get the absolute best deal possible, but about finding the means to be able to go on the trip and having those experiences that really matter the most.

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