How to redeem frequent flyer flights when you don’t have enough points


Eiffel Tower in Paris from the Trocadero

Hi Frugalistas!  Not quite enough frequent flyer miles to book that dream trip?  Not sure what to do next?  That was the question put to me recently by a work colleague.  Her and her husband wanted to use their Qantas frequent flyer points (part of the One World Alliance) to book flights to Europe.  Just one problem?  They didn’t have enough!  You too can use my advice to maximise your points, regardless of your loyalty program:

Understanding the brief

My colleague had done the right thing and had started looking at flights in plenty of time – they aren’t looking at travelling till mid-next year, so at least there are a lot of flight redemptions available.  They are looking at booking economy (coach) seats, so that makes it even easier – Business and First Class seat options tend to be harder to find.

They are hoping to fly into Rome and fly out of Paris to return to Sydney, but are flexible on that.  This flexibility is key.

While they want to travel mid-2015 the exact dates are flexible at this stage.  Again this is key.  And they want to travel together at all times.

Being Qantas frequent flyers they have access to the entire One World alliance as well as Emirates (through the Qantas/Emirate strategic alliance).

My colleague had looked at flights that met their brief, and there were plenty of seats, but they were short of points.  Enough points for one return seat, but only enough for one way, and return to Dubai on the way back for the second seat.

My recommended options to consider

1.  Know what the price of buying a ticket will be

yellow Oroton wallet with Euros

This allows you to compare the value for money of buying a portion of the fare and using points for the remainder.

Remember that your frequent flyer miles do have a financial value, so treat them like money and spend them wisely.

2.  Avoid using points & pay

In my experience using points and pay is economical only if you are 5-10% short of the points required.  Any more than that and I’ve noticed it is almost the same as buying a seat.

3.  Work out how long it will take you to “save” up the extra points you need

Don’t go crazy on that credit card or buy stuff you don’t need just to get those extra points.  It’s not worth it.  But do work out how long it will take you to accumulate the extra points based on your normal spending patterns.

In my colleague’s situation it was going to take until March 2015 to get enough points.  We decided delaying wasn’t an option given the time of year they wanted to travel, and the fact they wanted to be able to travel together.

4.  Understand the price of the component sectors

Airport direction signage Hong Kong airport


Travelling to Europe for we Aussies always means a minimum of 4 sectors for a return trip.  We always have a layover (and often a change of aircraft) in South East Asia or the Gulf.  My suggestion to my colleague was therefore to look at the frequent flyer seats that were available, and price the individual sectors to buy seats on those flights.

5.  Understand how mileage redemptions work

Your points offer the best value for money on longer sectors.  So if you are short of points look at using your points for the longest sectors possible rather than the shortest.

My colleague was short of points for one ticket on the Dubai-Sydney leg.  My advice to her?  Check to see if she had enough points for 2 tickets Sydney to the Gulf (either Dubai via Qantas/Emirates, or Doha via Qatar Airways).  Then price seats from the Gulf to Europe.  My guess was that they may be cheaper than buying a seat from the Gulf – based on my experience they often cost almost the same as a ticket to Europe.

6.  Understand how flight prices work

Following on from above, return tickets can cost almost the same as a one way ticket.  So if saving money is your aim, do your research and understand the prices of return and one way tickets for the sectors you are considering.

7.  Look at options to decrease the number of points you need

Shortening the flights booked with points is another option.  My suggestion to my colleague was to look at flights from Perth rather than Sydney.  They may have had  enough to book flight redemptions from Perth, then buy advance purchase domestic seats from Sydney to Perth.  Booked carefully, this could be cheaper..

For Australians flying in or out of London is moe expensiveAlso look at your arrival and departure cities in Europe.  Can you shorten your journey and decrease the number of points you need?  If you need to buy a seat will it be cheaper to fly in and/or out of another city what you can make a decent itinerary out of?  Remember to add in any additional cost of travelling to another gateway if that was not part of your itinerary.

8.  Can you “top up” your points from family or friends?

Some programs will allow you to transfer points from family or friends.  Rules vary, so check your program’s conditions before you attempt to do this.  You may be able to borrow some points from a friend or family member to help you achieve your requirements.  Then transfer the points back once you have accumulated them.

My work colleague went off with plenty of ideas to follow up on and think about.  She was enthusiastic about doing the research because she knew exactly what to look at and  what to check for.  I can’t wait to find out what her final solution is!

Regardless of where you live, where you are travelling to or your mileage program, anyone can use these principles to get the best value out of your precious points.


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4 Comments on “How to redeem frequent flyer flights when you don’t have enough points”

  1. Kelly Johnson (@TravelOptimist) 16/09/2014 at 2:54 am #

    Very nice tips – some of which I hadn’t considered before. I think Australians have to have a whole other level of knowledge of the travel industry, given how long it takes you to get anywhere. You guys really are the experts!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 16/09/2014 at 6:17 am #

      Thanks Kelly. We just wish we could get a piece of those amazing credit card hacking deals folks in the US get. We get deals, but no where near as generous

  2. 17/09/2014 at 5:17 pm #

    Good recommendations, Jo. I always fly on miles (almost always!) We are big spenders. In fact, I charge everything on my credit card, from groceries, to insurance premiums, and utility bills. This way a get about two free trips a year (domestic, of course).

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 17/09/2014 at 5:33 pm #

      Yes Anda, I use cards for everything too. The trick is to make sure you pay the full balance every month – paying the interest negates any benefit from the points you earn

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