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Saving FF miles

Old Apr 28th, 2004, 06:39 PM
  #1  
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Saving FF miles

I have about 900,000 FF miles accrued, 700K on DL and 100K each on UA and NW. It is (was) my intent to "save" these miles until retirement when time and schedule flexability will allow their use. Given the financial condition of the Airlines and the ongoing losses, I'm not sure the programs will survive that long. I'm curious if other mile bankers are starting to rethink that strategy, and how they are blowing out big mileage balances.
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Old Apr 28th, 2004, 07:48 PM
  #2  
 
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The airlines and the FF programs will be around. However, it's not going to get any easier to use the miles WHEN you want it.

I think it's important to keep some "elite" level with the airlines you want to fly with, as that would make it much more easier to use the miles, and you'll still get priority boarding, better seats, etc.. Therefore, prepare to PAY FOR at least 25,000 miles a year even after you retire, and not just use the miles alone.

I'd suggest you to use miles whenever possible these days at the "standard" level (i.e. 25,000 miles for domestic R/T). Save the money for some purchase in the future.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 03:26 AM
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The value of FF miles has been depreciating for several years. I saw one news item saying that the number of outstanding frequent flyer miles has doubled in the last three or four years (from 2 trillion to 4 trillion, or some other astounding numbers).

The cost of airline travel has also been dropping and it will continue to drop.

Because of these this, I have changed my strategy and I am planning/hoping to use all of my miles in the next two years. My FF balances (UA, US, AA) are not huge and can be wiped out in one or two trips each.

OTOH, I still might buy a ticket to Japan (instead of using the award tickets that I have) and fly in United Economy Plus and earn double miles as a Premier Executive member and earn the elite qualifying miles.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 03:44 AM
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There are apparently many millions of miles floating around unused in peoples' account - unused for a variety of reasons, not just intentional saving. Airlines are a little concerned about people using these seats for "free". I think that is why they seem to be getting tougher to use.

I do not think anyone can guarantee the long-term safety of these miles on any individual airlines. Much speculation here and questions such as "what happens if airline X goes out of business and I have miles" While intelligent guesses can be made, no one knows for sure.

Also, these programs keep morphing over the years, as do elite flying level perks.

We blew through 200,000 miles on USAirways a year ago (4 first class tickets coast to coast) just so we would not have zillions of miles "banked".

I am not sure what above poster is referring to about paying for 25,000 miles a year. We have used higher number of miles on several occasions to avoid blackout dates, etc. without having any elite status in force at the time.

I would use some of them now if you are going somewhere to which they are useful anyway, figure you are not likely to lose all of them even if business demise strikes a specific airline, but do not plan your entire retirement around these miles (I doubt you would do that anyway). Also depends if your retirement is in 3 or 30 years.

With ever much-reported financial health and expansion of what started as no-frills carriers (Jet Blue, SW), I GUESS these are the airlines of the future, not the ones you and I have a lot of miles on.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 04:32 AM
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What I am saying about having to pay for 25,000 flying miles is that the OP needs to retain at least some "elite" level with an airline in order to get the perks - the most important being able to get standard awards. If he has no status, then he'll likely be spending twice the miles to get the "anytime"-type awards in order to get the dates and flights he wants. That means his miles just depreciate by 50%.

Therefore, one must be prepared to be paying for a lot of the trips in the future too, if he wants to keep the most "value" to his miles. Must keep "elite" level. One should be saying up MONEY, not MILES.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 06:09 AM
  #6  
Jed
 
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I am lucky to have personally survived to retirement in good health. I have spent many FF miles for great trips, and am left with good memories along with some FF for a few more trips. Some of my friends have not been so fortunate. You never can tell what will happen with yourself, the airlines, and the world.

You can lose your FF miles and your health, but you can't lose the memories of a trip already taken.

How long until your retirement? Perhaps using some of your many miles now and leaving some for the future would be a good compromise.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 06:16 AM
  #7  
Cassandra
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I go along with those who are convinced that the best use of miles is for upgrades and/or upgraded travel. It's a better value, and at least with upgrades, you are still accruing paid-for miles. Otherwise, it's such a major hassle to use miles for an international trip, and sort of a waste for domestic trips available for not much money.

I don't have a crystal ball, but I think that the airlines are going to have to do something to begin to get rid of that huge backlog of FF miles, but one certainty is that they will continue to be working to erode their value as much as possible. As for bankruptcy, gail makes some good points.

Spokaneman, unless you are retiring in the very near future, I wouldn't sit on those miles very long. I know of people using the certificates as very welcome gifts to less-well-traveled people, or donating them directly to worthy causes (anyone know the accounting involved with that? How much can you deduct and how is it calculated?).

Last comment: from sad experience with my father, travel NOW not later. And First Class, of course!
 
Old Apr 29th, 2004, 06:57 AM
  #8  
Jed
 
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USair has a program to donate miles to charity. <http://www.usairways.com/dividendmil...typrogram.htm>.

I have seen some where you can donate miles to servicemen to come home from overseas.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 08:35 AM
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I will probably retire in about 7 years, and then it would likely take me another 10 years or so to use them all up. I am currently using miles where it makes sense to do so. I took my two kids to DC this spring and will take my wife and kids to Hawaii this summer (cost double miles for that one). I just accrue them faster than job and life committments allow me to use them.

Short of giving them away, I probably don't have a lot of choice but to keep a bunch of them and hope for the best.

I was really just soliciting other's opinions on the future of the programs. My own opinion is that within my lifetime, the airlines will have all bankrupted out of the programs and likely will be quasi-governmental operations. The only question is how long it will take.
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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 09:18 AM
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I agree with rkkwan's take: the miles are much more useable if you maintain some sort of elite status. (I recently tested a fixed pair of dates for availability award seats using a gold elite, silver elite and base level account on the same airline. The difference in what was produced for standard award availability was like day and night.

I look for good opportunities to use miles, which include redeeming miles instead of purchasing higher-cost tickets or when promotional opportunities allow me to get more for less miles.

Personally, I don't like to maintain a balance of much more than 200,000 miles because the rules and life's circumstances can change at any time. Mileage balances don't earn interest, either.

The future of FF programs is anybody's guess, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. With a lot of air travel being mostly about getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply and conveniently as possible, FF programs are one of the major motivators for customer loyalty out there.

2. Huge numbers of FF miles are sold every year by airlines to other companies that use them as promotional premiums, so there are large revenue streams involved with these programs. In short, it's not just about having a liability for "free travel" with popular FF programs.

These factors make it rather difficult for airlines to break away from the game. (They may not like to hold this tiger by the tail, but they don't necessarily want to see what might happen if try to let go.)

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Old Apr 29th, 2004, 09:33 AM
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To Spokaneman - it sounds like it will take you 17 years from this point to use them up (by your estimate) - way too long to plan on much of anything in life.

Though I am as frugal as anyone, try not to think of these as "wasted" if you don't use them. You did not pay for them, they are wonderful perks that can make your life happier/easier/cheaper. We sometimes plan vacations around where our miles will take us - since hotels, food, etc. are not all that different in cost in many cities.

So use what you can, give some away if you want. Fly first class anywhere you go - my husband has used miles for upgrades on silly distances (Boston to Washington, DC) just because we have them. Especially if you are continuing to accrue them, as you stated.

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Old May 2nd, 2004, 09:26 AM
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Due to a bad experience w/Delta, I am planning to use all my miles instead of "saving" them for the future. it's so hard to get seats for international travel in business class which is what I would normally use them for, and I don't want to pay higher fare to buy coach ticket so I can upgrade with miles, so am using them for first class domestic tickets. And like a previous poster said, who knows what the future holds in store? Want to enjoy flying first class now...
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Old May 4th, 2004, 08:19 AM
  #13  
 
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As far as bankruptcy, no one knows, but for most of the airlines the worst is probably behind them for this cycle. I think the most likely risk is that the "value" of the miles will decrease over time - it will take more miles to get to a destination while the ticket price for that destination falls. So, in my mind, from an "investment" perspective I would use the miles as I could good because I think the cash saved and theoratically invested is more valuable than the uncertain value of the miles in the future.
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