As COVID-19 (otherwise known as the Coronavirus) continues to spread around the globe, travelers everywhere are having to cancel their upcoming trips and hunker down. Many of us who have accumulated airline miles and credit card points are wondering: what should we do with these miles if travel is not currently possible?
This article will explore some of the ways to use airline miles and credit card points during these uncertain times.
1. Make Travel Plans for the Future
While traveling during the COVID-19 outbreak is next to impossible, that doesn’t mean we can’t make future plans. In most cases, you can book flights up to a year in advance. So, if you feel so inclined, you can start making travel plans for the future. Nobody really knows how long the virus outbreak will last, but if you start making plans now, it’s probably a good idea to plan 6+ months in advance.
Because there is still a lot of uncertainty about the duration and severity of the Coronavirus outbreak, it’s a wise idea to book travel that will be refundable, in case you need to cancel. For flights, we recommend checking airline cancellation policies (usually there is a small fee of around $50-$150 to cancel or change a ticket booked with miles). Most airlines also have special policies in place due to the Coronavirus outbreak – Here’s a breakdown of current airline policies.
2. Redeem Airline Miles for Gift Cards
Many people don’t realize this, but most airline and credit card reward programs allow you to redeem miles/points for gift cards. The image above comes from United Airline’s MileagePlus program, which offers gift cards from over 250 retailers.
To be clear: This is often not a very good use of miles, as the redemption rates are poor. As you can see above, a $100 Domino’s Pizza gift card will cost you 15,625 miles. That same quantity of miles could likely get you around $150-$300 worth of flights in the future. On the other hand, if you’re wanting to burn up your miles, this is a good option to get some free gift cards with airline miles.
One last note: Be sure to do the math before choosing a gift card. Each retailer has a different cost in miles. For example, a $100 Walmart gift card costs a whopping 33,333 miles, while $100 to Domino’s costs less than half that amount at 15,625 miles.
3. Redeem Miles & Points for Cash
Some reward programs offer a way to redeem your miles for actual cash. This is usually an option with rewards programs like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, etc, but it’s often not possible with actual airline miles. We wrote a detailed guide on how to cash out your airline miles.
Terms, redemption rates, and other details vary significantly from program to program. It’s best to check your individual rewards program for details.
4. Donate Your Miles to Charity
Many airline programs allow you to donate miles to various charities. There are options to donate “miles”, which the airline converts into cash for the charity. In other cases, it may be possible to directly donate the miles to charities that will actually use them for flights and other travel expenses. We wrote a detailed guide on donating miles to charity – read through it for more details.
5. Online Shopping with Airline Miles
Many rewards programs allow you to redeem your miles or points for physical products. You can often choose between electronics, household goods, clothes, and much more. Redemption rates vary hugely, so it’s important to do some math to see if you’re getting a good deal for your miles.
- To figure out the math, divide the approximate retail value of the item (check Amazon or similar) by the number of miles. For example, the Garmin GPS unit pictured above retails at $399. Doing the math, this means you’re getting approximately $0.0075 per mile, which is a decent rate.
The image above is from the United MileagePlus program, which offers a huge range of products available for mileage redemption. As you can see, the program offers some good options in the electronics category, as well as products in beauty, golf, travel, clothes, and accessories, and much more. There are products available for as little as a few thousand miles, all the way up to 100,000 miles or more.
6. Use Airline Miles for Magazine Subscriptions
Since we’ll all likely be spending more time at home in the coming months, having things to read and keep us entertained will be important. And here’s something most people don’t know: Many airline programs allow you to use your miles to subscribe to certain magazines and even newspapers!
Using airline miles for magazine subscriptions can offer good value, as it requires very few miles. However, keep in mind that they are short introductory subscriptions that will transition into normal cash-paid subscriptions. If you don’t want to pay cash, you’ll have to cancel the magazine before it transitions to a normal subscription.
As you can see, there are actually many different ways to use airline miles without traveling. However, always remember this: In most cases, using miles for flights will offer the best value per point. If you’re looking to maximize the value of your miles or credit card points, it’s best to wait this all out until you can travel again. But if you’d rather burn through some miles right now and get some free stuff, the methods listed above are great options.