Never Fly for Free!

Why you should never redeem miles for an award ticket for yourself.

For a Frequent Flyer like me who does not travel so much that I make the highest Elite level on an airline with no struggle, I have an axiom:

He who earns the Miles should never redeem the Miles on himself for a free flight!

That statement gets a lot of quizzical looks whenever I make it. Here is my reasoning:

You do not earn any miles when you fly for free!

That’s it, plain and simple. Of course, it all depends upon what your goals for your Airline Miles are. If your goal is to reach Elite status on an airline and getting there is a fight, then this applies to you. If your goal if to earn enough miles for the next vacation you are planning, then it applies to you. When you fly on an award ticket, although you boarded and took the flight, the Award Miles (RDM) and the Elite Status Miles (EQM) you earn are zero. In my mind, that is a crime!

So what would you redeem your accumulated miles on, if not on free tickets for yourself. My suggestions:

  • Spend them on family members or your significant other who does’nt have enough miles to redeem themselves. I myself fly my family around for free every vacation we take. I pay for my own ticket on each of these trips. They fly for free and I earn miles for myself on that trip too. That goes towards the miles we will need for the next vacation.Travel Free.jpg
  • Upgrades! Use miles to upgrade yourself or your family to First or Business class when you are flying on a paid ticket. You still earn miles on the trip and you fly in comfort.
  • Use them on Hotel stays. Hotel stays actually give more value than airline tickets. For one, free hotel rooms are actually free – no taxes of fees. That is certainly not true for Airline tickets. Now, not every airline allows this, but many do. United is the latest to allow redeeming miles for hotels.

There are exceptions to my recommendation:

  • The ticket is way too expensive and it makes more sense to redeem miles than to pay for it. I have done this myself for a last minute trip to UK. The ticket was way too expensive. I will have a post soon on the ‘Economics of Airline Miles’ where I will talk about the value of your airline miles. That will help you determine the breakeven point between buying a ticket or redeeming miles.
  • You have miles that are about to expire. Use ‘em or lose ‘em. I will be writing a post soon that will be a comprehensive guide on keeping your miles from expiring. Come back soon for that post too.
  • You do not have any family or significant others you can redeem your miles for. If you are it. Well, then you earn and you redeem for yourself.
  • You have already reached the Elite level you are shooting for and are too far away from the next level. My recommendation here would be still to earn miles on the flight. As an Elite you get bonus miles for every flight you take (25% to 100%, depending on the Elite level and the airline). Accumulate them.

On a related topic, if you ever are given a voucher for being ‘bumped’ from an over booked flight, always ask for a cash voucher rather than an outright free ticket. The free ticket usually comes with a lot of restrictions and of course, no miles! A cash voucher can be used towards any ticket and the trip would give you full miles.

Have an opinion on my opinion? Do leave a comment.

Like what you read? Receive regular Airline Mile Tips via email or RSS. Join the list via the links on the left.

You can also follow unroadwarrior on twitter.

Shop with your points and miles at



  1. Great points, all! I’ve often played this little game myself. 🙂 I’m looking forward to the comprehensive guide on keeping miles from expiring.

  2. Michelle, thanks for the comment.

    Ah, the miles expiration guide… Have been working on that for a few weeks now. I promise to get it out soon.

  3. Very Educational. Never thought about how to use my points other than to keep the Lounge, baggage and check in privileges. However as the air miles accumulate your notes become very relevant.

  4. Great points! I have a hard time turning down free flights for myself…but am yearning for that oh-so-coveted Elite status! I must change my ways! Looking forward to reading through more of your posts! Thanks. 🙂

  5. Hello Candice,

    Glad to help. Hope you make it to Elite status soon. All the best and safe travels…..


  6. Your travelling companions may miss out on some benefits by doing this. e.g. On United, if they are on the same PNR, they could be upgraded to economy plus with you. Of course, you may be able to find an agent who will do this for you anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.