“You don’t earn airline miles when you use points to pay for tickets!”
I hear this all the time.
It’s true that award redemptions won’t earn you miles. But paying with points is different — and can help you earn status and rack up redeemable miles.
More and more, airlines and credit cards are treating their loyalty programs’ points as currency. This permits members/cardholders to literally cash them in — and offset some or all of a trip’s cost.
Let’s check out a couple of examples.
Paying Through a Credit Card’s Travel Site
When you book travel through a credit card’s travel website (i.e. Amex Travel), that bank pays the airline for your fare.
Your ticket codes as a cash fare, even if you use points (e.g. American Express® Membership Rewards® points) to pay for some (or all) of a flight’s itinerary.
Here’s an example:
I booked my Chicago Seminars trip this year through Amex Travel. I redeemed Membership Rewards points at a rate of 1 point = 1 cent.
The itinerary’s first class ticket price was about 30% more than a coach fare. Because my Business Platinum Card® from American Express gives a 35% points rebate on first class trips paid with Membership Rewards points, I treated myself to the cushy seats.
Ultimately, the trip ended up costing just over 54,000 Membership Rewards points and a little bit of cash!
Here’s how my SkyMiles account credited after the trip:
I earned 7,654 MQM, 5 MQS, and $824 MQD. Plus, I was awarded 7,416 redeemable SkyMiles (which I value at a minimum of $74.16 worth of travel). All for paying with points!
Worth noting: Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can redeem their Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 1.50 cents each through Chase. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Preferred cardholders may redeem URs at a rate of 1.25 cents each when booking travel through Chase. Those are definitely great perks — especially for the Preferred cards, which are significantly cheaper than the Reserve, annual fee-wise.
Delta Pay with Miles (PWM)
Delta Air Lines allows cardholders of select co-branded American Express cards the option to Pay with Miles. Members may apply SkyMiles to offset some or all of an eligible itinerary’s cost.
Pay with Miles tickets earn MQMs (elite Medallion Qualifying Miles) and MQSs (elite Medallion Qualifying Segments). MQDs (elite Medallion Qualifying Dollars) and SkyMiles are earned only for any outstanding cash balance of the fare itself. (Read Rene’s post about PWM)
In March 2019, I took a trip from LAX to Tokyo Haneda. The total fare (including taxes) was $524.83.
I applied 50,000 SkyMiles, which knocked $500 off the price. The remaining balance was $24.83 (which I paid with my Platinum Card® from American Express.)
SkyMiles-wise, I earned 10,976 MQM and 2 MQS. My base fare was only $170 thus my outstanding cash balance was for various taxes not eligible for MQD or redeemable SkyMiles; I didn’t lose sleep over it. 🙂
Not to mention, there was Global Upgrade Certificate inventory available. So my wife and I rode Delta One roundtrip (note: I earned points on the base fare class not the upgraded Delta One seats we flew).
Not bad for $24.83.
Do be aware, though, that you probably don’t want to use SkyMiles miles to pay for your entire trip.
Delta redeems SkyMiles in multiples of 5,000 miles only. For example, Delta was more than happy to accept 55,000 SkyMiles to completely pay for my $524.80 ticket to Tokyo.
But 55,000 SkyMiles is worth at least $550.
So I was fine with applying 50,000 miles and spending $24.80 out of pocket.
What Isn’t “Paying” with Miles or Points
Here’s where people can get confused. They might book the wrong ticket or assume they’ll earn miles because they used points to pay for a trip.
Delta Miles + Cash
This is completely different from Pay with Miles and doesn’t earn you any MQMs, MQSs, MQDs, or SkyMiles. Miles + Cash is considered by Delta the same as a SkyMiles award so you don’t earn any points and you can not apply regional or global upgrade certs either. A friend of mine learned this one the hard way. He understandably thought he was paying with miles. Which he sort of was — not in the Pay with Miles fashion.
Award Tickets for Free Flights
Several years ago, my wife and I each redeemed 130,000 SkyMiles for roundtrip business class tickets to Amsterdam. (Gosh, I love Air France business class.) Those were award tickets (or the classic “free trip”). We didn’t earn any miles for that journey (but had a darn good time).
Say for example you convert Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to United MileagePlus points for redemption through United. Just because those points originally came from Chase doesn’t mean they’ll earn you United miles.
If something wasn’t clear or you have a data point, please let me know in the below Comments section!
This blog series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Are you an experienced traveler but know someone may benefit from this post? Please share it!
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