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Understanding the Rules of the Air Miles Credit Card Game

By Edited Jun 28, 2016 0 0

Getting The Best From Your Airmiles

Earning airline miles on a credit card to redeem for free flights may seem like a simple enough aim. You may need involved understanding, though, to make proper use of the system. Here are a few pointers on how best to use an air miles rewards system and a few on where you might trip up.

Thinking about the taxes

Under the old Air Miles system, if you had miles or points, you could just redeem them for flights completely free of charge. Under the new Avios system, though, a return flight between London and Europe can cost £100 in taxes.

You don’t pay taxes or fees, though, if you redeem your Avios points for tickets on EuroStar. As long as you book ahead to take advantage of the limited number of cheap seats that Eurostar sets side for Avios redeemers, you should get a good deal. Once these cheap seats are gone, you need to use more points for your tickets.

Long haul economy can be very poor value. For instance, an economy return trip between London and Boston can take about £350 in taxes in addition to more than 35,000 Avios points. If you simply pay cash for the trip, you only need to spend £90 more and not waste your Avios points, at all. If you wish to redeem your air miles for free tickets, business class is the best value.

You need to look for a card with good customer service

It may appear that an air miles card deals in a simple enough concept that doesn’t offer much opportunity for problems. In fact, though, consumers tend to have an anxious time sorting out a variety of serious problems.

  • The thousands of air miles that you get for free upon signing up are often only redeemable when you buy an unreasonably expensive hotel-plus-flight package. Customer service is usually unable to offer any help with such rules.
  • Finding an available seat to use your points on can be very difficult. Customers often report seeing the message “No seats available,” no matter what route or date they try. This tends to be a problem on airlines that set very few seats aside for air miles customers on any given flight.
  • Some air miles cards require you to contact the company to warn them every time you plan to take the card to a new country to use. Many customers find it difficult to accept that on a card that’s meant for travel, passing through several countries would require several calls to customer service. Sometimes, customer service can be difficult to contact with long hold periods required,
  • The system that credits air miles to your account for flights taken on partner airlines may work unreliably.

Using your miles for a car rental

When you use airline miles to book a rental car in Europe, you can find that you have to deal with a huge insurance excess worth €1500. If you would like to lower your rate to around €100, you need to pay an additional fee of €150. This compares to the €20 that customers are usually charged to lower their excess.

How widely accepted is your card?

Amex tends to offer cards with the best air miles plans. Yet, it can be difficult to find retailers in the UK who accept Amex. When you travel overseas, finding cash machines or money exchange counters that accept Amex can be difficult, too (it’s usually a bad idea to use your miles card for cash withdrawals anyway, though; cash withdrawals attract fees and interest even if you pay it all off immediately). While MasterCard and Visa don’t generally offer generous programs with air miles the way Amex does, they find wider acceptance.

The time window

At one time, many people would collect their air miles for years to put enough together for a grand trip somewhere far away. These days, though, the air miles that you collect may remain usable for only a limited period of time. On some card products, the free companion ticket that you get comes with a short window, too. These restrictions can make your rewards difficult to use.

With some card companies, if you need to close a card for some reason, you could lose all the miles that you’ve accumulated on it. Your miles could expire for this reason, too.

While an airline miles system can be used to great benefit, you need to learn the rules.

Get The Best From Your Credit Cards

The Skinny on Credit Cards: How to Master the Credit Card Game
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(price as of Jun 28, 2016)

Getting The Best From Your Air Miles

Earning airline miles on a credit card to redeem for free flights may seem like a simple enough aim. You may need involved understanding, though, to make proper use of the system. Here are a few pointers on how best to use an air miles rewards system and a few on where you might trip up.

Thinking about the taxes

Under the old Air Miles system, if you had miles or points, you could just redeem them for flights completely free of charge. Under the new Avios system, though, a return flight between London and Europe can cost £100 in taxes.

You don’t pay taxes or fees, though, if you redeem your Avios points for tickets on EuroStar. As long as you book ahead to take advantage of the limited number of cheap seats that Eurostar sets side for Avios redeemers, you should get a good deal. Once these cheap seats are gone, you need to use more points for your tickets.

Long haul economy can be very poor value. For instance, an economy return trip between London and Boston can take about £350 in taxes in addition to more than 35,000 Avios points. If you simply pay cash for the trip, you only need to spend £90 more and not waste your Avios points, at all. If you wish to redeem your air miles for free tickets, business class is the best value.

You need to look for a card with good customer service

It may appear that an air miles card deals in a simple enough concept that doesn’t offer much opportunity for problems. In fact, though, consumers tend to have an anxious time sorting out a variety of serious problems.

  • The thousands of air miles that you get for free upon signing up are often only redeemable when you buy an unreasonably expensive hotel-plus-flight package. Customer service is usually unable to offer any help with such rules.
  • Finding an available seat to use your points on can be very difficult. Customers often report seeing the message “No seats available,” no matter what route or date they try. This tends to be a problem on airlines that set very few seats aside for air miles customers on any given flight.
  • Some air miles cards require you to contact the company to warn them every time you plan to take the card to a new country to use. Many customers find it difficult to accept that on a card that’s meant for travel, passing through several countries would require several calls to customer service. Sometimes, customer service can be difficult to contact with long hold periods required,
  • The system that credits air miles to your account for flights taken on partner airlines may work unreliably.

Using your miles for a car rental

When you use airline miles to book a rental car in Europe, you can find that you have to deal with a huge insurance excess worth €1500. If you would like to lower your rate to around €100, you need to pay an additional fee of €150. This compares to the €20 that customers are usually charged to lower their excess.

How widely accepted is your card?

Amex tends to offer cards with the best air miles plans. Yet, it can be difficult to find retailers in the UK who accept Amex. When you travel overseas, finding cash machines or money exchange counters that accept Amex can be difficult, too (it’s usually a bad idea to use your miles card for cash withdrawals anyway, though; cash withdrawals attract fees and interest even if you pay it all off immediately). While MasterCard and Visa don’t generally offer generous programs with air miles the way Amex does, they find wider acceptance.

The time window

At one time, many people would collect their air miles for years to put enough together for a grand trip somewhere far away. These days, though, the air miles that you collect may remain usable for only a limited period of time. On some card products, the free companion ticket that you get comes with a short window, too. These restrictions can make your rewards difficult to use.

With some card companies, if you need to close a card for some reason, you could lose all the miles that you’ve accumulated on it. Your miles could expire for this reason, too.

While an airline miles system can be used to great benefit, you need to learn the rules.

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