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When to buy miles for your loyalty program

Stick to sales and promos if you want to purchase miles.

Updated

Fact checked

It’s typically not a great idea to buy miles from the airline for a simple reason: purchased miles cost more than they’re worth when redeemed. Most airlines charge around three cents per mile on average. Considering you can transfer miles to an airline at a 1:1 ratio with an eligible credit card, or earn miles at better rates directly with cobranded cards, buying miles directly usually isn’t worth it.

But on some rare occasions, it can make sense to buy miles. Here are the most common reasons you might choose to purchase miles.

Best times to buy airline miles

There are three instances where it could make sense to purchase airline miles.

Discounts and promos

Occasionally, some loyalty programs will run promotions or sales for buying miles. Depending on the loyalty program, you could find miles selling at a price closer to what they’re worth when redeemed.

It might make sense to buy miles using Avianca LifeMiles, for example, as this program is known for offering frequent sales.

Topping off your miles

It could be worth buying extra miles if you’re just short the few miles needed for a redemption. Of course, you will won’t get a great value for those last few miles, but your eventual redemption of accrued miles could make the trade-off worth it.

To keep your account from expiring

Many loyalty programs require you to earn or spend miles within a certain time period in order to keep your account open and avoid forfeiting your accrued miles.

Consider purchasing miles if you have a cache of miles on a loyalty program account you don’t use very often, and you don’t have an eligible credit card that can earn miles to that account. Buying miles will count toward mile accrual requirements and keep your account open.

Other considerations when buying miles

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re purchasing miles:

  • Minimum purchase requirements.
    Most loyalty programs only sell miles in certain quantities, such as 500 or 2,000 miles.
  • Values change all the time.
    The value of miles on a loyalty program change fairly frequently — often for the worse. While the 10,000 additional miles you purchased might have given you enough for a reward flight at the time of purchase, waiting even just a few months can put that reward flight out of reach. Check out our latest miles valuations for more information.
  • Miles are best earned with credit cards.
    Just about every loyalty program out there allows you to earn miles with an eligible credit card or to transfer credit card points into loyalty miles.

Compare airline credit cards

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Foreign transaction fee Welcome offer Rewards Filter values
United℠ Explorer Card
None
60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1x miles on all other purchases
60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
None
50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles on Delta purchases, restaurants and at US supermarkets and 1x miles on all other purchases
Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. Rates & fees
United Club℠ Infinite Card
None
100,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
4x miles on United purchases, 2x miles on travel and dining and 1x miles on all other purchases
Get United Club membership with access for you and two guests at any United Club or Star Alliance lounge -- a value of up to $650 annually.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
None
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
This popular travel card's signup bonus is worth up to $1,000. Get even more value out of your travel, dining, and Lyft rewards by transferring them to miles.
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
None
N/A
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
Earn valuable cash back on everyday purchases at gas stations, restaurants and Costco as well as eligible travel with no foreign fees.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Provided it’s part of a larger strategy, buying airline miles can help you inch toward your next big redemption. Just make sure it’s not your primary method of earning miles — the cost of purchasing miles will far outweigh your ultimate redemption value.

Compare rewards cards to find a card that lets you best earn points or miles on your favorite loyalty brand.

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