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From my vantage point reading comments on this blog, emails to me, and tweets @milevalue, I see a lot of mistakes being made in the collection and redemption of miles.

Five of these mistakes are being repeated over and over and are costing people a lot of dream trips.

The mistakes:

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1. Starting at the Beginning

With miles, you want to start at the end. By that, I mean to figure out your dream trip and work backwards from there to figure out which miles are best for said trip.

I see this mistake manifest a lot of ways. Sometimes people will email and say:

Hey, I see that The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® now offers 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase. Should I get it?

Without the context of trip goals, no one can answer that question. US Airways and American Airlines miles are great for Asia and terrible for Africa for instance.

I also see the mistake when people come to my Award Booking Service with 1,000,000 Capital One or Arrival miles and want to fly First Class to Europe. These are fixed-value bank-points. The number needed for a ticket depends only on the ticket’s cash price, so they are terrible for expensive First Class and better for economy. Conversely airline miles like United or US Airways miles are better for international Business Class than domestic economy generally. (See the Six Types of Miles.)

Work in reverse. Think up your dream trip then collect the best type of miles for that trip. If you don’t know where to start, fill out my free credit card consultation form with all the details of where, when, and in what cabin you want to travel. I’ll tell you the right miles.

  • What are mistakes 2-5 (all have to do with redemption)?
  • How many of the redemption mistakes are you making?

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Airlines use miles to reward loyalty as cheaply as possible by only allowing Saver redemptions when they don’t expect to sell a certain seat.

If the flight is going to sell out because it is a peak travel time on a popular route, do not expect to find Saver award space.

Australia over Christmas and New Year’s is a classic example. Flying to a World Cup or the Olympics is another example. Getting a direct flight from the West-Coast-to-Europe in Business Class in the summer is a third example.

There are ways to do all three of those things, but it takes a lot of flexibility, and sometimes it is just impossible.

If happiness really is the result minus expectations, start with achievable expectations, and you will be a lot happier with your miles.

How can you develop reasonable expectations?

Ask around or do some award searches now on routes you might want to fly in the future to see what space is routinely available.

3. Leaving Extras on the Table

Know what stopovers, open jaws, and free one ways are available with the miles you are using before redemption.

Start by reading:

A stopover can mean seeing twice as many places on your next trip, as can an open jaw. A free one way can mean getting the first half of your next trip for free as part of a totally different award. All three mean more travel for fewer miles.

I get a lot of questions like:

Hey, I just read your post on free one ways on Alaska awards. I booked this award last week, can I add a free one way?

Even when you can make changes, there is usually a fee, so it is better to read the linked posts now and be ready to maximize your next award.

4. Taking No for an Answer Online

You have Delta miles, so you went to and searched for award space. You only found Peak award space for 3x the price you expected to pay, so you quit your award search.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Not all partners are available online. Maybe you are going South America, and there is plenty of award space on AeroMexico, which you would have to search on

Even when almost all partners are online (like on, maybe the search engine missed a valid routing you’d be willing to take. Search segment-by-segment to find all possible award routings.

This is the toughest mistake to fix of those listed. The cheaper but harder way is to read MileValue every day to learn all the award search tricks.

The easier way is to hire my Award Booking Service for as little as $125 per passenger to do all the award searching and booking for you.

5. Taking No for an Answer By Phone

You have United miles, so you call United to have an agent search for and book your award. The agent says there is no award space. Or the agent finds award space, but the computer doesn’t the price the award properly. The agent confidently cites a rule your award violates. You believe the agent and give up.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Agents aren’t as good at award searching as you can be. You have an incentive to make your dream trip a reality. Agents aren’t incentivized to help you book an award. You can search many more possibilities online than they are likely to be able to think to search while on the phone.

Agents are also back-fillers. If the computer gives a pricing error, they will invent a reason out of whole cloth that bears no relation to reality.

Look at all the BS reasons given to one of my award bookers for why he couldn’t book a completely legal award. He confidently ignored the “reasons” and insisted until the agents relented and priced our client’s award correctly.

Know the rules, escalate to a supervisor, be polite, and be persistent. Hang up and call back if necessary. Follow and maximize the rules to get more travel!

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the 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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