What Can I Do With My Expiring Miles?

Frequent Flyer Q&A
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on January 12, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: frequent flyer, Frequent Flyer Q&A, Tim Winship.

Dear Tim,

I have 18,000 miles in my American Airlines account that are expiring in the next few months. I have no plans to travel anywhere before then, and I do not wish to open a miles card account. Could I open an account with the Hilton or Marriott hotels and transfer the American airline miles to one of those hotel accounts?

- Roland G.

Dear Reader,

You generally get the best value for airline miles by redeeming them for free airline flights, not by exchanging them for other types of points. The exchange process itself is time-consuming and sometimes generates service fees. If you don't have plans to travel in the near future, you can extend the life of your miles for later travel or even book a ticket for someone else to fly out to you.

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So, how can the life of those 18,000 miles be extended? Pretty easily, actually.

In American's program, as in the programs of most major U.S. airline programs, any transaction that changes your account balance will extend the life of all miles in the account for another three years. A qualifying transaction would include earning more miles, of course. But what's often overlooked is that it encompasses redeeming miles as well.

There are a number of ways to redeem relatively small numbers of AAdvantage miles, but the quickest, easiest, and best bang-for-the-buck option is exchanging miles for magazine subscriptions. Through American's "Magazines for Miles" feature, you can spend as few as 400 AAdvantage miles for a subscription to more than 50 magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, Fortune, Golf Digest, and Time.

In fact, magazine subscriptions are among the only awards that rival free flights from a value standpoint. For example, one of the magazines available for 400 miles is Wired. A paid subscription to Wired would cost $10, so redeeming 400 miles for that subscription yields a cents-per-mile value of 2.5 cents. That easily trumps the one-cent-per-mile average value of miles cashed in for free tickets.

Factor in the added benefit of saving your miles from extinction, and miles for magazines looks like a pretty good deal. You can visit the Miles for Magazines website for more information, including a list of available titles.

Still interested in hotel points?

There's no easy way to convert miles into Marriott Rewards points, but Hilton's Reward Exchange allows HHonors members to exchange AAdvantage miles for points in the Hilton HHonors program. The exchange rate is 10,000 HHonors points for every 5,000 AAdvantage miles, so your 18,000 miles would convert to 30,000 points, with 3,000 miles left over.

In Hilton's program, 30,000 points would be enough for a one-night award stay at a "Category Four" hotel, a category that includes mid-priced properties in the Hilton portfolio with room rates in the neighborhood of $150 per night.

There's a $25 service fee when exchanging AAdvantage miles for Hilton points, which somewhat reduces the value of the award. Still, getting a $125 room for 15,000 airline miles amounts to just under one cent per mile redeemed—not ideal, but certainly better than letting those miles expire altogether.

 
 
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