You’ve probably noticed during self-check-in or when booking tickets, some airlines offer an option to purchase an extra 1,000 or more frequent flyer miles to add to your flight. These mileage “boosters” are supposed to give you a few extra frequent flyer miles at a discount, making you wonder if the cost is worth the reward.
What Are Mileage Boosters?
More common in the United States, the trend is spreading to other airlines around the world. Basically, mileage boosters are discounted miles, made available only as an add-on purchase to an existing flight. The idea is that you’ll be able to earn extra frequent flyer miles for a given flight without paying full price for them.
Unfortunately, discounted or not, buying miles is almost never a good deal because the equivalent monetary value in airfare is going to be cheaper.
Adding Up The Numbers
Frequent flyer programs are intentionally vague since airlines want you to disassociate miles with money. Let’s use United as an example (here’s why you should sign up for their mileage program even if you don’t fly United.) They frequently offer 1,000 mile boosters for $35.
A free round-trip flight from, say, North America to Europe, is around 50,000 miles with United on Star Alliance. At $35 per 1000 miles, to get a free flight would cost $2,100 in boosters. Going to United’s website and purchasing 50,000 miles directly costs $1750 – chances are in either case you’ll find airfare for a North America to Europe round trip flight to be half as much.
Additionally, mileage boosters don’t count toward the premier or status miles on United, Delta, and other airlines. In other words, frequent flyer programs have status levels (more miles more status) that give you lounge access (here are the wifi passwords), free upgrades, or other perks but not all miles are counted equally. Some are “special” miles that add to your total status, others like the “boosters” don’t count.
Stick To Flights
Frequent flyer hackers will tell you, if you’re going to buy miles, it’s best to go through some third-party promotion. Otherwise, accumulate your miles in one place like this, wisely use reward cards, or earn frequent flyer miles without getting any credit cards.
In general, refrain from buying miles and earn them the best way – by traveling more – and keep this habit every time you fly so you’re credited the miles you’re due. The airlines have a tendency not to be incredibly diligent in adding miles after a flight and not getting miles you’ve earned is an even bigger waste than a mileage booster.