Does it make sense to play the points “game” outside the US?

I asked you guys what you’d like to read about, so this post is in response to a question posted there. I’ll address as many of the questions as I can in the coming weeks. Feel free to keep adding to the list and I’ll use it as a basis for future posts.

Reader Autor requested the following:

Earning miles/ hotels points as cheap as possible without credit cards.

For readers from Europe it is impossible to acquire a lot of points through credit cards. So it would be nice to read about different ways.

Given that I live in the US and have a good credit score, I often take for granted the ability to earn 500,000+ points per year exclusively through credit card sign-up bonuses. Not everyone has that luxury, especially those outside the US.

While there are co-branded credit cards outside the US, rarely do they come with mega sign-up bonuses, and it’s also rare to see huge category bonuses whereby you can earn multiple points for every dollar spent like here.

And to add insult to injury, non-US frequent flyer programs are consistently less generous than US programs, especially for discounted coach tickets, making it impractical to efficiently mileage run.

So does that mean those outside the US shouldn’t play the game?

Well, I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for. If what you’re after is premium cabin international travel, one of the best ways to get into the “game” is by purchasing points when they go on sale.

For example, for a long time now US Airways has been consistently selling miles for ~1.88 cents each. If you live in North Asia, for example, it takes 90,000 miles to travel to the US in business class, and you can even route through Europe. That’s about $1,700 for a business class ticket to the US via Europe, which is usually about what you’d pay for a coach ticket on such a route. In October of last year they even had a promotion whereby you earned a 100% bonus when sharing miles, which was an opportunity to purchase miles for about 1.1 cents each.

So it’s a no brainer in those cases. Now, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen to these sales once the merger happens, but for the time being it’s definitely worth continuing to take advantage of this.

Similarly, American has gotten into the mileage selling game, and at the moment is selling them for about two cents each. Now, the difference between them and US Airways is they cap mileage purchases at 60,000 miles per year. But still, it takes only 55,000 miles for a one-way business class ticket from Asia to the US, so that’s just $1,100 for business class, which is a killer deal, in my opinion.

Similarly in the past we’ve seen Delta offer a 100% bonus on transferred miles. This means that you’d basically double your miles when you transfer them from one Delta account to another. This was a creative way to purchase miles for about 1.1 cents each, which is an amazing value. For example, if you live in Australia it costs 150,000 SkyMiles to travel roundtrip business class on Virgin Australia from Australia to the US, so that’s the equivalent of $1,650 for a business class ticket.

AviancaTACA’s LifeMiles program has similarly gotten into the mileage selling game, and frequently sells miles for 1.5 cents each. At the moment they’re offering a 100% bonus on transferred miles, making them just 1.5 cents each. What makes their program especially unique is that as long as you have at least 40% of the miles required for an award you can purchase the remaining miles for 1.275 cents each, lowering the cost of purchased miles to well below 1.5 cents each. That’s a spectacular value.

Similarly on the hotel front, Hyatt frequently has sales on Gold Passport points. For example, just a couple of weeks ago they were selling Gold Passport points for 1.85 cents each. Their most high end properties, like the Park Hyatts in Paris and Sydney, often go for over $800 per night when booking a revenue rate. They only cost 22,000 points per night, though, so by purchasing the points you could bring down the cost to about $400 per night. It can also make sense to take advantage of Hyatt’s stay certificates, which offer some great discounts compared to revenue rates.

So for the most part I think the best way to take advantage of the points “game” outside of the US is to just pay attention to the best opportunities for purchasing miles.

In some cases it can make sense to mileage run outside the US, though, especially if you’re crediting to a US based frequent flyer program. For example, if you mileage run on American and can fly 100,000 miles per year you would earn eight systemwide upgrades, which can be used to upgrade any revenue fare to business class. If you live in China, for example, and can consistently find sub-$800 fares to the US, it might make sense to mileage run.

So long story short it’s definitely tougher to play the “game” outside the US. But if it’s premium/luxury travel you’re after there’s still lots of value to be had by strategically purchasing miles and points.

Filed Under: Advice
  1. Since buying US miles with 100% bonus specials was much cheaper then acutally buying First Class Tickets to the States this made perfect sense. I bought nearly 500K miles without flying a single tim on US Airways… However with the suspension of LX and LH awards tickets things are changing.

  2. Ay, it sure works – it’s just a matter of creativity. Even weird and generally expensive programs like Lufthansa’s M&M regularly have too-good-to-be-true offers both for earning and spending miles..

  3. German based readers might be able to take advantage of the Lufthansa Credit Card which comes with up to 20,000 Miles. In addition it is still possible to stock up miles by opening accounts at RBS, DKB, Cortal Consors, DWS Investments, Deutsche Bank, etc…
    T-Mobile clients will earn quite a few miles for ADSL or cell phone contracts.
    Furthermore you are earing a lot of miles by using third party programms like Payback (quite common with a lot of participating stores and companies) where you can earn a lot of miles for shopping in addition to the miles you earn for swipping your credit card.
    It is also possible to subscripe Newspapers which will earn a lot of miles for a few EUR´s.
    The same goes for the BA programm where you would receive a companion certificate after spending 20K EUR with your Visa Card. So you could buy a First Class Ticket to Australia and receive a second First Class Ticket for free (there award chart would require nearly double the amount of miles compared to the AA chart)
    In my opinion it might make sense to use european based frequent flier programms.

  4. Lucky, has there been any kind of discernable pattern to when US Airways offers the 100% bonus on dividend miles purchases? Definitely trying to get in on a 90k award before the merger.

  5. @ Max — I haven’t noticed a discernible pattern, other than that they seem to offer them almost nonstop. They have one this month, it’s just targeted.

  6. Any advice on how to find mileage runs from outside the US? They are extremely rare on the flyertalk forums that I’ve been able to find.

  7. The trouble with the European based FFPs is while it is easy to earn (although still no way near as easy as the US) you are stuck with incredibly high fuel surcharges when you spend. The BA 2 for 1 probably averages around £1,000 in taxes/surcharges for both people on long-hauls and the award chart is poor for long distance.

  8. @ Liz H. — Unfortunately that’s a challenge. I don’t know of any sites that regularly publish them, so it’s a function of using ITA to monitor the best fares out on your preferred airline.

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