Be Strategic with Frequent-Flier Points and Mileage Awards


When it comes to getting award tickets, there are ways to get a better value for your frequent-flier points or miles.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your miles and points.

In 2011 when Southwest Airlines changed its frequent-flier program from segments to points, no one was happy with the change. The old program, in which travelers earned a free ticket after flying 16 segments, was popular, especially for the travelers who were buying the cheap Wanna Get Away airfares.

The current points program can be a really good deal if you redeem points when Southwest is offering a short-haul blowout sale. Southwest currently allows travelers to redeem approximately 60 Rapid Rewards points per dollar value of the cheapest tickets, the Wanna Get Away fares.

When Southwest offered its blowout sale earlier this month, there were 16 cities that you could fly to from Dallas for $100 round trip, or 6,000 points. That included New Orleans and flights to Texas cities such as Harlingen and Corpus Christi.

If you want to fly on a short-haul trip, you can get an unbelievably good deal if you’re a frequent flier on Southwest. With other airlines, you would have to use 25,000 miles for domestic travel, even if you’re just going to Oklahoma City.

The average traveler earns six points for every dollar spent on Wanna Get Away fares, so for every $100 you spend on a ticket, you earn 600 points.

You would have to fly four times on $250 tickets to earn a free short-haul trip if you cash your points in during a sale. Compare that to 10 to 12 round trips it would take to earn 25,000 miles if you were flying on other airlines.

Racking up points

The big winners are elite business travelers on Southwest who can earn up to 24 points per dollar spent if they buy the right ticket, which is Business Select.

While Southwest wants to take care of the leisure traveler, it also wants to cater to the elite travelers who travel once or twice a week and pay big dollars for tickets. The airline does this by allowing them to earn points and free tickets faster.

Elite travelers who have A-List Preferred status earn double the points and can get up to 24 times the dollar amount spent in points on paid Business Select fares.

If they buy a no-advance $500 ticket, they would earn approximately 12,000 points per ticket.

An elite business traveler could buy two free Wanna Get Away award tickets during a sale like the one we saw earlier this month with the miles earned from a $500 Business Select ticket.

Just remember, when you see Southwest do a wild-and-crazy airfare sale, that’s the time to cash in points.

We also sometimes see the occasional bonus miles offer, and Southwest is currently offering double points on systemwide travel through Nov. 21 that is booked through Southwest. You must register for the promo at double prior to travel.

You can also earn triple miles for travel to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico, through Dec. 12 when you register at points.

One thing to note is that Southwest is changing the program, and beginning March 31, you will have to redeem 70 points per dollar value of a Wanna Get Away fare.

Travelers will still have good value during sales, so you’ll really want to make sure you purchase when fares are cheapest.

Shopping sites with points

Another note on frequent-flier miles or points is that if you are worried about losing your miles, or you just want to make sure your account remains active, go on the airline shopping-mall websites and make some holiday purchases.

Because most airlines require some kind of activity in your account every 18 months, it’s an easy way to keep your accounts active. seems to be aggressive with these programs lately, offering eight Southwest Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent, so you could earn 8,000 points if you bought a $1,000 refrigerator or LCD TV. On American’s shopping mall, you could earn 12 miles per dollar spent at Sears, so that would be 12,000 miles and almost halfway to a free ticket.

Just about anything you want to buy online can be found at one of these airline shopping malls. With the holidays coming, you could earn bonus points for your gift purchases, plus you can keep your miles active.

These special bonus offers can vary by day, by week or by month, and some are more aggressive than others.

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