By Jake Redman
There are plenty of ways to make the travel points you've collected matter to you, your family, or even someone you don't know. Whether it's a trip to Disneyworld to reward the kids for a great report card, a romantic getaway to celebrate an anniversary, or a gift for your favorite charity, those points you've worked hard to collect might go further than you imagine.
Here, we explore a few ideas for making those miles matter from the common to the less obvious:
Flights In Coach
Using points and miles for flights is increasingly difficult with airlines changing (or, as they like to call it, "enhancing") their redemption rules. That doesn’t mean there aren't ways to work out a good deal. For example, if you're sitting on less than the minimum number of miles for a hard-to-find round-trip domestic flight, both American Airlines and United Airlines allow one-way redemptions for as low as 12,500 miles.
You can use the one-way award and simply pay for the return or split the trip between airlines (United there, American on the way back). Whether it's a one-way ticket or a standard round trip, try to book six to ten months in advance for the best results. If you're a procrastinator, don't worry. Airlines often open up unsold seats as award space in the days leading up to the flight, so it can be worth it to check just a week or so before you want to go.
Flights In First
This is the certainly the most luxurious way —and, arguably, a sensible way—to use your miles. If you're planning the trip of a lifetime and have the miles, booking a seat in business or first class can be a ridiculously great value. Finding the flights you want can be tough, though.
If you're a hardcore do-it-yourselfer, you can try using flight tools at sites like itasoftware.com
to sort out routing and availability. These require some time and patience...neither of which most people have. We, at ModHop.com
, leave the tough work of finding the best premium award availability and the routes we want to paid services, like those offered by PointsPros.com
. However you plan and book, you'll be in for a special flight in a cabin that's typically a lot less affordable when paying cash.
Points that are directly connected to a hotel often offer more practical award redemptions. One of our favorites remains the Starwood (Hotels) Preferred Guest program. Starwood—like a few other major programs—allow you to transfer miles to partners, but the best deals are usually at their hotels. Use your points to book a room or combine a smaller number of points with a fraction of the entire price of the room using a "cash and points" option when available. However you book it, a hotel room is often a smarter redemption than a domestic coach flight.
Doing something that matters with your miles is no longer limited to what you can do for the good of your own family. Increasingly, points and miles can be used to give to people who need to be transported for medical care, for families traveling to be with relatives who are sick, and other very worthy causes. The major U.S. airlines all have charity partners and dedicated donation pages that make it easy to transfer your miles. These donations aren't typically tax deductible.
Whatever award means most to you is, ultimately, the most valuable, so take time to plan and strategize before booking. A quick flight to see a long lost relative a few states away, a luxurious seat or hotel room on the trip of a lifetime, or helping a family in need spend time together...There's no wrong way to use miles if the result is meaningful to you.
Jake Redman is the founder and host of ModHop. In addition to producing and hosting shows on SiriusXM Radio, he travels, spending his time in airports, lounges, and hotels. He shares his findings on ModHop.com to help others determine whether travel upgrades are truly worth the extra cost. Follow Jake Redman on Twitter @ModHop and Facebook.