The main benefit of using an airline rewards credit card or joining a frequent flyer program is the ability to earn miles and redeem them for free flights. However, given the current pandemic, taking a trip may not be an option for most people.
In fact, a recent report from ValuePenguin found that approximately 48% of Americans have canceled their summer travel plans this year because of Covid-19. But you don’t have to let accrued miles go to waste or hold off on using those rewards for a future trip — your miles can be useful in many other ways to help stretch your budget.
In fact, many airlines partner with various companies to give members access to a broad range of redemption options. Here are seven ways you can put your airline miles to work even if you aren’t flying any time soon.
1. Buy Something You Need
Whether you’re looking to replace a kitchen appliance, spruce up your backyard with a new barbecue, or upgrade a personal gadget, you may be able to save your cash and pay with airline miles.
Redeeming miles for merchandise is fairly simple, but it isn’t a benefit offered through every airline or to every frequent flyer. This redemption option may be limited to elite frequent flyer members or to those who have the airline’s co-branded credit card. For example, Delta only allows its Medallion Members and Delta SkyMiles Amex card members to redeem miles for merchandise.
If you’re trying to determine your eligibility, log in to your frequent flyer or airline credit card account online to view mile redemption options. If eligible, you can begin browsing products across various categories, including kitchen, office, sports and recreation, kids and family, home and living, beauty, food and wine, and more from name-brands like Tumi, Calloway, and KitchenAid.
Some airlines even allow you to redeem miles for Apple products. For example, United MileagePlus members can now use miles to snag an Apple iPad, iPhone, MacBook, or AirPods.
2. Enjoy Exclusive Experiences
Air miles can often be cashed in for unique entertainment experiences, such as a virtual video chat with your favorite football player or a virtual wine tasting with an acclaimed winemaker.
Such exclusive events offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences and can be a fun way to use your airline miles. Keep in mind, some events may be set up as an auction where you place bids on the experience, so make sure to read the fine print.
For instance, Delta’s SkyMiles Experiences uses an online auction platform where members bid miles for an array of unique events and experiences. Recent experiences included a virtual cooking demonstration with Chef Michael Mina that could be purchased with 12,000 miles and a live exclusive virtual acoustic performance with country star Sara Evans with an opening bid of 10,000 miles.
Regardless of the format, be ready to give up a lot of miles for these experiences.
3. Book a Hotel
Many families are planning staycations this summer due to travel restrictions and budgeting concerns, but this doesn’t mean you have to sequester yourself in your own home. Instead, find places to visit within driving distance and book a hotel using your airline miles.
Consider skipping the road altogether and staying in a hotel in your hometown. Although this may not seem that exciting, it provides you with a change of scenery and, if it offers a pool, a great activity for your kids. Pack some food to lower the cost of dining out and enjoy a staycation on the cheap.
Check your airline credit card account for redemption options at its hotel partners.
4. Stock Up on Gift Cards
Another option is to redeem your airline miles for a gift card to a favorite store, restaurant, or even spa. For instance, Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cardmembers can get a $50 gift card to The Cheesecake Factory for 5,000 points or a $60 HelloFresh gift card for 6,000 points.
Meanwhile, United MileagePlus members can use miles to purchase eGift cards from over 270 merchants, including Starbucks, Outback Steakhouse, and Grubhub. If your rewards program does not offer gift card redemption options, check out Points.com, a free site where you can manage all your loyalty programs in one place.
You can exchange points and miles between programs on Points.com and redeem them for retail gift cards to popular stores such as Target, The Home Depot, Wayfair, and Macy’s.
5. Donate Your Miles
If you want to donate to a charity that is near and dear to your heart, but you don’t have the cash to do so, you can use your miles to make the world a better place. Many airlines allow you to donate miles to various charities across the globe.
For instance, Delta SkyMiles can be donated to a charity of your choice as part of its SkyWish program. Among the organizations your miles can benefit are the American Red Cross, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Fisher House Foundation’s Hero Miles program.
Meanwhile, JetBlue’s TrueBlue members can donate their miles to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Make-A-Wish, and Americares.
6. Subscribe to a Newspaper or Magazine
You can use your miles to subscribe to your favorite magazine or newspaper, which is usually the cheapest redemption option available. Using those miles for a magazine or newspaper subscription is better than letting them go to waste, especially if you don’t travel enough to earn a free flight or you accrued miles from an airline you rarely fly with.
Redemption programs typically have a wide selection of magazines to choose from, including magazines on personal finance, entertainment, travel, and more — and this could even make a good gift.
7. Give a Gift
If you have a loved one who is celebrating a major milestone such as a wedding, graduation, or big birthday and can’t come up with a gift idea, consider gifting them your miles to help cover the cost of a future vacation to celebrate this important life moment.
Most airlines allow you to transfer miles to a friend or family member, but each program has its own terms and conditions, so make sure to review their websites for details. Keep in mind, airlines may require that the gift recipient be enrolled in the airline loyalty program for the miles to be applied to their account, so you may need to ask your gift recipient to sign up.
You can still transfer airline miles to family and friends even if you don’t have a specific celebration coming up, which can be helpful if your loved one wants to plan a trip, but flights are more than they can afford. In this case, you can help them out financially without really pulling money out of your own wallet.
It’s important to note that you get the most bang for your miles buck when redeeming them toward a flight. However, these other options can help you stretch your budget when you’re strapped for cash, or your travel plans have been foiled by a worldwide pandemic.