Airline Miles Travel Rewards Points
If you may want to go to a country overseas, you can only use your miles to go there if you find award availability on dates you can actually travel. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Let’s say you signed up for an airline credit card and met the minimum spending requirement to earn a certain amount of miles. The next obvious step would then be to start searching for the flight you want, now that your miles safely stored away in your account.

While airline miles are widely considered the most valuable award travel currency and is most often far more useful and cost-effective for first-class tickets, the reality is even with the potentially high valuations or benefits, miles are not always worth earning.

“Anyone who has long been a player in the frequent flyer game will tell you that earning miles is the easy part,” said Dubai-based travel agent and itinerary consultant Richa Dev. “No matter how many airline miles are accrued, limited availability can make it difficult to redeem miles in the way you want.”

So if you may want to go to a country overseas, you can only use your miles to go there if you find award availability on dates you can actually travel. If not, well, you may wind up redeeming your miles for something other than airfare — or letting them languish in your account until they expire.

No matter how many airline miles are accrued, limited availability can make it difficult to redeem miles in the way you want

- Richa Dev

While there may be several other reasons why you may want to think twice about earning airline miles, here are five signs airline miles may not even be worth your time, energy and most importantly – your money.

1. If available flight tickets are already low priced, with less demand for them

“Before you sign up for a travel credit card to rack up frequent flyer miles, it's always worth checking the current price of the airfare you hope to book one day,” said Sophia Sanchez, travel planning manager at a UAE-based European tour operator.

“You may be surprised at just how affordable travel can be to certain destinations around the globe. And if you don't check, you might waste your time and money earning airline miles to get there.”

So in other words, if the flight to the destination you want isn't too pricey, it can make more sense to save up the cash instead of dealing with airline programs and limited award availability. Even better, you can sign up for a card with travel credit and then use points to cover the cost of any flight you book.

How is a travel credit card points different from using airline miles?
The difference between credit card points and airline miles comes down to how the issuer designates its rewards currency. Miles are typically redeemed towards award accommodations for airfare. In some cases, miles may also be transferred to other airline travel partners or even hotel nights and car rentals.

If you're awarded points, you can redeem them for various prizes and services. If you earn miles, they will generally be tied to a specific airline's frequent flyer program. Miles tend to have a more limited capacity than points — most often, they can only be redeemed for airline tickets.

2. If your dates are flexible and you can afford to wait for a sale or any offer

“Even if your destination isn't always cheap to get to, you could still wait for a discounted sale. This is especially true if your dates are flexible, or you can book at the last minute since the best deals typically go to those who can travel any time or without much notice,” said Dev.

If you have some flexibility, Dev suggested signing up for a travel rewards card that will let you redeem points however you want, and then wait for a sale. And you don't have to do it on your own. There are now plenty of websites great for finding sales abroad, so make sure to check them regularly.

“You can also follow both on social media and sign up for notifications for sales from your home airport. If you can wait it out, you may be able to find round-trip flights to destinations around the globe for Dh2,000 or less,” added Dev.

Stock - Credit card
Another reason airline miles may not be ideal is when you need to book airfare for several people at once.

3. You need to book tickets for your entire family or a group of relatives

Another reason airline miles may not be ideal is when you need to book airfare for several people at once. This is because it’s a fact that many airlines limit award seats for individual flights, which means that you may not be able to find more than one or two seats that are bookable with miles at one time.

Sanchez suggested that you may be able to get around this by opting to pursue airline miles with a program that doesn't limit award availability. However, even this strategy has its limitations, since all airlines may not fly where you want to go.

“While airline miles can be lucrative even if you have a big family, from my experience, you will likely need to have a plan for your miles and book extremely early if you want to score several seats on the same flight,” said Sanchez.

“If you're not an early planner, you may be better off pursuing flexible travel credit, and watching for prices to drop so you can take advantage when the right opportunity comes along.”

If you're not an early planner, you may be better off pursuing flexible travel credit, and watching for prices to drop so you can take advantage when the right opportunity comes along

- Sophia Sanchez

4. You need to book on specific dates at specific times

Another time you may want to skip airline miles is if you have to book a specific flight at a specific time. This is often the case if you're traveling for a wedding or a work event, or if you have exactly seven days of vacation approved and have to plan your trip during that time frame.

“Since frequent flyer programs are often restrictive and may only offer award seats on certain days, you can be left out in the cold if you need to travel on a very specific timeline. In this case, you would be better off pursuing flexible travel credit so you can book the flight you want,” added Dev.

“As an alternative, you can also consider flexible travel credit cards that let you transfer points to airlines. With this strategy, you could earn a big sign-up bonus and start racking up points then decide later whether transferring to an airline is feasible.”

Tourist woman at beach holding a credit card
Airline miles are rarely useful for consumers who want to travel but aren't sure they can.

5. You're not sure of your travel plans or when you can travel

Airline miles are rarely useful for consumers who want to travel but aren't sure they can. If you earn a ton of airline miles and don't find any time to use them, you could end up wasting them or redeeming them in a less than optimal way (e.g. for gift cards or merchandise at a much lower rate).

Both Dev and Sanchez agreed that it is worth considering travel credit cards that offer several options when it comes to redeeming points, particularly if you're unsure you can travel enough to use up the miles you earn.

“Look for a card that lets you book travel direct, transfer points to hotel and airline partners, or redeem for gift cards or cash-back. With all of those options available, you'll be able to use your points whether you travel or not,” added Sanchez.