Last stop…Redemption

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So if you follow the simple A to B to C of the miles game, you will end up a few months later with a shockingly large and diverse collection of miles and points.

final miles

After earning, It’s time for burning

At that point if you keep up with the serial card applications, and manufactured spending (or not) you will be pretty set to travel anywhere you want for nearly free going forward.

But the final (and most magical) transformation is taking your earned miles and turning them into real live trips.

This is a subject that is very specific to the particular destination and miles currency that you are using. But there are some broad principles that I will cover here that should make you aware of the possibilities, the pitfalls, and the best general approach to booking the trips of your dreams.

1. Flexibility Is Key.

The miles game is a game with a lot of different moving parts. Different carriers will have different award availabilities at different prices.

There are a few different ways to have the flexibility required to increase your chance of optimizing your redemptions.

Use flexible currencies.
As an example Starpoints can be transformed into almost any miles currency a 1:1.2 ratio. This allows you to top up miles from almost any account to get to your target redemption.

Be flexible with your dates.
This is where early retirees really have a leg up. There are often periods of availability that will open up at strange times. Not needing to go to Hawaii during spring break mix booking your tickets much easier!

Be flexible with your itinerary.
The best route between two points is not always a straight line. Booking strange itineraries, (Like Tokyo via Madrid!) can make for some wonderful sidetrips, and open up new possibilities in getting from point A to point B.

2. Know Your Tools.

If you are looking for a ticket with a particular alliance you should know the best search engines for that particular Miles currency. In general they are:

  • United airlines (or ANA) for Star Alliance redemptions.
  • American airlines (or British airways/Qantas) for One World Alliance redemptions.
  • Delta Airlines (or Air France) for Sky Team redemptions.

3. Avoid Fuel Surcharges. 
If there is one insidious aspect of redemptions, it is the dreaded fuel surcharge.

For some inexplicable reason some miles programs charge you cash for fuel surcharges on top of the miles that you pay to secure your purchase.

Obviously fuel surcharges should almost always be avoided. 

And the best way to avoid them is to collect the right kinds of miles in the first place so that you can book the right kinds of redemptions. 

The chart below (courtesy of extra pack of peanuts) should give you a good idea of how exactly to avoid fuel surcharges (and which miles to focus on in the first place.) 


3. Think Outside Of The Box.

The rules of awards currencies often create strange opportunities that you can take advantage of. To take advantage of these you must first be aware that these opportunities evwn exist.

Examples of such opportunities include:

Using distance based awards for short-haul redemptions.

Because some alliances determine the amount of miles owed by the distance traveled this creates some great bargains. The classic example of such an approach is using British Airways miles for short-haul domestic travel. (As an example a flight from Portland to Seattle only costs 4500 Avios. )

Free one ways.

Some carriers like United allow you both “open jaw” redemptions as well as stopovers for no additional charge. Because of this you can sometimes tack on a free one-way flight to another destination at another time when booking a round-trip.

Hidden city ticketing.

This refers to booking a flight to a further destination with a paradoxically cheaper redemption amount that stops over at your destination of interest. As long as you do not check your bags, you can hop off at the stopover city and never get back on your plane! (You can only book one ways using this trick.)

5. Plan ahead

This is the hardest one, I think. To really get full value from your miles you mustn’t procrastinate.

Although there are some last-minute opportunities that will arise, in general the further in advance you book your trip, The better the chance you have of reaching your travel goals.

6. Save Cash Equivalent Points For Last Minute Travel.

As I mentioned above, planning ahead is the hardest part. One nice out is having cash equivalent points to use to buy last-minute tickets and hotel rooms. I like the Barclays world arrival MasterCard, and the Capital One Venture card for this purpose.

And that’s pretty much it.  The combination of accumulating lots of miles and knowing the broad details of redemption rules will lead you to ridiculous award redemptions.

As always, questions welcomed below…

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9 Responses to “Last stop…Redemption”

  1. Justin January 13, 2015 at 5:45 am #

    Hey Miles MD!

    In case your readers are skeptical about the average joe being able to pull off ridiculous redemptions, I wanted to post my travel plans for the wife and I next month. Everything is booked and confirmed and below is the breakdown.

    I spent roughly 650 bucks to accumulate about 875,000 miles/points. That seems like a lot, but keep in mind I am a noob, and as most noobs do, I signed up for subpar deals or chased miles that I didn’t end up using. Also, 400 of that 650 was the annual fee for the Ritz Carlton Rewards card which gave me 140k marriott/ritz points and basically paid for a ridiculous amount of nights and value for me.

    So the wife and I are going to Milan, Rome, Venice, and London on a 2 week vacation next month. We are getting there using the US Airways off-peak awards that allows 30k points coach RT/PP. This is super easy to get and allowed us to use points and roughly 275 in taxes/fees to purchase tickets that at the time of booking were 1475/pp effectively having a value of 2,950.00. That was a good redemption in my opinion!

    We are staying at top tier hotels the entire time using almost none of my points, except for Marriott because I splurged. In Milan we are redeeming my 2 free nights vouchers from hyatt and then using points at a nice IHG I got on discount for 100 euros for our third night there. I could have used the points but at 20k points per night it wasn’t a good value so I used my cashback card to pay for that one.

    In Rome we are staying at the Waldorf Astoria for 2 nights on vouchers from my hilton card and then 2 nights at the Hotel Indigo with vouchers from the Into the Nights Promo. I am then using my free Marriott night for a stay in Venice and 30k points for another 2 nights at the same hotel.

    My big splurge was Rome. I am staying at the Marriott London County Hall, a top tier Marriott property with GORGEOUS views and prime location. At 45k points a night it is steep, but I think it will be worth it. I am staying there for 5 nights and then 2 at the Ritz London because I have never stayed at a Ritz and thought it would be fun =).

    If you added up the cash value of the rooms nightly rates for the entire vacation it would be approximately 6850.00USD. One you add the flight costs, the 300 dollar airline credit I used to pay for seat upgrades (coach upgrade unfortunately–I am too poor for 1st class seats right now), the cash back credits of roughly 1750.00USD I will be using for trains, food, and fun(I got most of that Manufacturing Spending!! For Free!!), I have a value of over 10k USD!

    I admit I spent a terribly long amount of time reading blogs like this one and have invested way too much time figuring out the best deals, making mistakes along the way, and then fixing this problems, but in the end I have saved an enormous amount of money and am able to do a vacatio I could only ever have dreamed of (my typical hotel stays are Best Westerns before I joined the miles game…now I’m staying in hotels that movie stars, royalty, and world leaders frequent).

    To make a long post short–It isn’t impossible to have an uber luxurious vacations for pennies on the dollar without sacrificing quality and flexibility. By going on an off-peak time I have saved hundreds of thousands of points.

    P.S. I still have entirely too many points and overdid it on point accumulation. My next vacation is already being planned and I have more than enough points left over to go on several more if I stopped right this second and didn’t earn another point or mile…but we all know how addicting and fun it is to hoard and earn!

    • Anna R January 13, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

      Hey Justin! How long did it take you to accumulate all these points? Also, in your experience, what were the best airline and hotel credit card deals that are musts for travel hackers?

      • Miles Dividend M.D. January 15, 2015 at 2:44 pm #


        I’m sure Justin will respond, but stay tuned for an exciting announcement for a (free) travel hacking course that will answer all of your questions and more.


      • Justin January 16, 2015 at 7:26 am #

        Hey Anna!

        I have been accumulating points for about 6 months now. I don’t usually sign up for cards unless they are at their peak amount and the deal is much better than it has been in the past. I learned after my 1st sign up that you have to do a little research on past promotions before committing to a card. I got burned and ended up signing up when there was a separate deal worth 20k more points =(.

        To answer your questions, I really really like Chase cards. They have so many and they are a great company and their cards give great value. I currently hold the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus for everyday spending and 5x bonus on office supply purchases and the marriott rewards card and Ritz Carlton because I was planning on staying a lot at their properties and the deals were too good to pass up. Signed up for Hyatt for their 2 free nights and hilton for the same.

        If I had to pick 3 cards it would be Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold/Plus, and, US Airways for the free checked bag and other perks.

        Almost all of my points have come from sign-ups. About 120k or so have come from spending (both in real purchases and MSing). I have really taken it down a notch on MS because 1. the deals are drying up, and 2. It is a time commitment that is hard to stick to (especially if you go the gift card route).

        Hope this helps and as always, Miles MD has some fantastic articles that go over new ways to really stretch your miles.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. January 15, 2015 at 2:42 pm #


      That is inspiring. Thanks for posting this. It makes me feel great to know tyhat I had some small part in your success.

      My only quibble is that you can never overdo it on points accumulation. If you need to burn some fly some family and friends out to visit you, it’s the best sort of gift to give; experiences.

      Keep up the good work,


  2. Kevin Davis January 15, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

    Great story above! Alexi, my wife and I just got the cards from our first CC cycle, so I went back to the beginning of your blog (and others) to learn the basics. You mentioned in one post that you dictate via an iPhone. Random question (b/c I like the way your posts look): Which app do you use? Thanks

    • Miles Dividend M.D. January 15, 2015 at 2:45 pm #


      Congrats on your first churn. You are going to have some serious fun!

      I dictate using a free app called werdsmith. It’s not bad at all. Much preferable to typing…


      • Justin January 16, 2015 at 7:28 am #

        I use dragon =) but this is because my work pays for it. If I had to shell out the cold hard cash for it I wouldn’t. Going to DL werdsmith and see how well it works. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. John January 18, 2015 at 2:52 pm #


    I understand the diversification part and have the major US carriers and Arrival + covered. I was curious about MS spend after the minimum spending is done and you’re waiting for the next app o’rama. Do you and/or your readers pound one card hard to maximise the miles or continue to spread it around?


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