Four Ways People Make the Biggest Mistake in the Miles Game

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The biggest mistake in the miles game is collecting the wrong miles for the job.

That’s why I always advocate that people start at their end goal and work backwards. Figure out your dream trip and then figure out the best miles and points to collect for that trip. If you can’t narrow down your plans yet, at least collect flexible points that can cover the most possible trips.

And yet people make the mistake of collecting the wrong miles over and over and in a lot of ways.

  • What are four ways that people collect the wrong miles?
  • Are you collecting the wrong miles?

Fixed Value Bank Points vs. Traditional Miles

Do not collect fixed-value bank points like Arrival miles or ThankYou Points for international premium cabin travel.

These points are worth a fixed amount toward any flight on any airline, 1.14 cents each for points earned with the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® and 1.25 cents each for points earned with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

These are the two best cards for domestic economy flights since they can be used for the cheapest or most convenient itinerary without having to search for award space AND you get all the perks of a paid ticket like earning miles and status.

But they are atrocious for international first class. A Cathay Pacific First Class trip I booked cost over $16,000 one way. That would be over 1.6 million Arrival miles. I booked it with 67,500 American Airlines miles instead.

Traditional airline miles that can be used on award chart are the best for international premium travel. Fixed-value bank points are the best for domestic economy travel. Don’t collect the wrong one for your style of travel.

Miles that Have Fuel Surcharges

Any award ticket you book with traditional miles will require you to pay the government taxes on the ticket.

Some award tickets will also require you to pay fuel surcharges associated with the flight. Whether you have to pay fuel surcharges depends on the miles you use and the airline you fly.

Awards booked with United miles never have fuel surcharges while awards booked with Lufthansa miles have fuel surcharges any time your award’s flights would have fuel surcharges if you paid cash for them.

That means if you want to fly from the United States to Europe, you’d want to collect United miles instead of Lufthansa miles to avoid big fuel surcharges. (But if you want to travel to Hawaii, you’d want Lufthansa or, better yet, Singapore miles.)

Here are the rundowns of when Delta and British Airways collect fuel surcharges on awards.

No or Bad Partner

Most major airlines are members of global alliances that fly basically all over the world. But some types of miles still can’t get some places, at least not easily.

For instance, don’t collect United miles to go to Tahiti. American and Delta have partners that fly there from Los Angeles, but with United, you’d have to route through New Zealand!

Don’t collect American Airlines miles for Africa. American Airlines has no African partners, so to get to Africa you’d have to route through Europe and pay fuel surcharges on British Airways flights or Qatar and fly way out of your way.

There are other examples of places where major airlines don’t have a good partner. This goes back to my advice to start at the end and figure out your goal and then the best type of miles to achieve it instead of just signing up for cards willy nilly.

Hub Captive

Delta miles are the worst miles of any major American airline. But people in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City are hub captives who are forced to fly Delta if they want convenient schedules and direct flights. It’s fine for those people to fly Delta on paid tickets and bank Delta miles from the flights.

However when those hub captives open credit cards for their big trip to Europe, they probably shouldn’t collect Delta miles. United miles are the best to Europe, and that is usually true even if you live at a Delta hub. Sure you might have to make an extra connection, but you also might NOT need to make an extra connection, and you will almost certainly see better Saver award space in all cabins with United miles.

Bottom Line

The biggest mistake in our game is to collect the wrong miles, and a lot of people make that mistake.

I couldn’t list the right and wrong miles for all scenarios in this post, so leave your specific questions in the comments.

Better yet, fill out my Free Credit Card Consultation, and I’ll let you know the right miles for your trip and which cards will earn you those miles.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Actually, I think collecting AAdvantage miles to fly to Africa via Doha is a great idea. Qatar is a solid biz product, and it’s only 1.5/2K miles longer than a trans-Europe routing. And, when you get to Africa, Comair is a oneworld partner, so you can get around pretty easy.

    • Yes but United miles allow direct routings to Africa on South African, Ethiopian, Egyptian, and some United flights.

  2. Worth noting in Minneapolis that Sun Country is a very viable substitute to Delta for nonstops to many major US cities. I’ve started flying them regularly and upgrading to first class for around $100 extra each way. Given that base fares are often hundreds below Delta, I basically get paid domestic first (and a better first than Delta) cheaper than I could fly Delta economy comfort.

    The elite problem is not great for tickets, it’s spend-based. But they do offer free upgrades whenever space is available.

  3. A great start to the discussion……….the real need is for a comprehensive look at how to avoid or minimize fuel surcharges on international tickets……….and partners application of those surcharges…….

  4. I’ve gotta tell you, AA miles for getting to Africa is far from a bad redemption. Especially if you use them to fly in the First Class suites on Etihad, through AUH. It takes a little longer, but the experience is unbelievable.

  5. Great info !What are the best miles to collect to fly to Hawaii from the east coast in first or business? Thanks.

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