Scott McCartney, author of the weekly Middle Seat column in the Wall Street Journal, is one of my favorite travel writers. Almost every week his columns provide an insightful look into many facets of the commercial airline industry. Once in a while, though, he misses something and yesterday was one of those days.
The column focused on purchasing airline miles and overall, I agree with Scott’s thesis: think twice before you buy airline miles because you may not be getting a good deal. With many airlines offering "accelerator" or "double mile" options when you ticket and check-in, it may be tempting to pay the couple hundred dollars to pad your account. But think twice before you do so, because if you redeem your miles like most travelers do, you are wasting your money.
Now readers of my blog, of course, know better than to burn 25,000 miles for a $349 domestic coach award, but most consumers pay about three cents a mile when they buy directly miles from an airline and redeem at a rate of only 1.5 cents per mile. That’s not a smart use of your money.
Scott does get into the value of redeeming miles for premium class awards, like British Airways first class tickets using Alaska Airlines miles for example (it is much cheaper to buy 120,000 AS miles and pay the BA fuel surcharge than it is to buy a first class ticket from BA), but he neglects one very important thing: US Airway’s perpetual 100% bonus mile offer. Even though the deal isn’t as good this year as it was last year, US Airways hasn’t earned the title of "official Star Alliance premium cabin consolidator" for nothing. You can still pick up a business class ticket from North America to Europe for about $1,500 + tax, making the prospect of purchasing miles from US Airways both smart and affordable, especially if you don’t have time to rack up the miles by actual flying.
Maybe my title was a bit too harsh, because overall the article makes some excellent points, but I think it is impossible to offer proper analysis on purchasing airline miles without talking about the deals that US Airways continues to offer.