FlyerMiles 101

Buying & Transferring Miles

In this section, you'll learn about your options when you're a few miles short, or want to combine miles from multiple accounts or programs.

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Buying Miles

If you're a little short for an award, Aeroplan allows you to buy up to 50% of the miles needed for that redemption, at a cost of 4 cents per mile. That's pretty expensive compared to the regular value of miles, so I would consider it a last option; you're much better off transferring miles if at all possible.

Other programs like Alaska allow you to buy miles up to the full value of an award, but put a limit on the total number of miles you can buy in a year. The dirty little secret here is that Alaska Miles are priced relatively cheap, compared to what you can use them for; for example, you'll pay $1,478.13 USD (~$1,900 CAD) to buy the 50,000 miles you'll need for a one-way, business-class Cathay Pacific flight from North America to Asia, that would otherwise cost over $6,000.

Alaska also offers sales on purchased miles from time to time, in which you might receive 10-30% bonus miles on top of your purchase.

Before you get too excited, the catch with this trick is that it takes a few days for the (non-refundable) miles to show up in your account, and if someone else snaps up that award in the meantime, you'll have to use the miles for a different flight. The best time to use this trick is when your search for Cathay award flights shows a flight with several seats available in the specific flight and cabin you want; I've seen as many as 7 business award seats on one Cathay flight.

Transferring Miles Between Airline Accounts

Aeroplan miles can be transferred from one account to another, but you'll pay a fee of 2 cents per mile. Again, not great, but it's not uncommon for a household to pool all their miles for one ticket, then buy cash tickets for the rest of the trip.

Alaska miles can be transferred from one account to another, in blocks of 1,000 at a time, for 1 cent per mile (USD).

Transferring Miles From Hotel Loyalty Programs

Given the sheer number of hotel programs out there, and the wide range of values each program gives to one point, I'll keep this general. It's possible to transfer hotel loyalty points into a variety of airline programs, but it's usually not a very good deal.

For example, 25,000 IHG points transfer to 5,000 Aeroplan miles. I would value the IHG points at $150-200, and those Aeroplan miles at about $100, but since many people have a few thousand points in each of several hotel programs, it might work well for some users.

The one standout here is Marriott (formerly SPG) points, which I value highly simply because they transfer to so many different airline programs, and give a 25% bonus when transferred in chunks of 60,000 at a time.

Important: Because every hotel program's miles are of a different value, I strongly suggest doing a bit of math before you convert. The right question to ask is, "am I better off using these hotel points for free hotel rooms?"

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