Monetizing your frequent flier miles

What? I travel quite a bit for business, and these travels usually result in a premium status with an airline or two as well as accounts full of frequent flier miles at the end of the year. Having young kids makes it really inconvenient to travel by air for leisure trips, and you can forget about taking a spontaneous weekend trip to... well, anywhere unless it's within driving distance, so these frequent flier miles accumulate.

It's not unusual for one or more of my frequent flyer account(s) to have balances of 100,000+ miles. When I've accumulated 75k+ miles, I do what I've done for the last 10+ years--I contact my ticket brokers to convert my frequent flier miles into dollars.

Why? If you choose to embark on this path of selling frequent flier miles for cash, expect to earn 1.5 to 1.75 cents per mile, making a 25k redemption ticket worth $375 to $437.50. When load factors are high, your ability to squeeze more money out of the broker goes up. In addition, I've found that the more miles you have, the more bargaining power you have with a broker. And brokers can move your miles faster if they're from an airline with a global footprint rather than from a regional carrier. From miles earned through flying, airline rewards credit cards, dining, and airline affiliate partners, it's pretty easy to accumulate and sell over 100k miles in a year, worth over $1,500.

How? First off, understand that you're not really selling miles--you're selling a ticket which has been redeemed with miles from your frequent flier account. For this, you'll need a minimum of 25k miles and preferably 50k+ to make it worth the while.

Selecting the right ticket broker is key. Don't use just any ticket broker; I use brokers I've worked with for years who I trust and who I interviewed to ensure they only sell my miles/frequent flier tickets to those they trust so as to not raise the suspicion of airline personnel who can deem a purchased frequent flier ticket void and cancel it on the spot.

Should you choose to work with a broker by selling miles, here are some questions to ask:

  1. What is the broker's vetting process to ensure the traveler purchasing my miles/ticket (via this broker) understands they should be silent about how they acquired the ticket?
  2. Will I know/have the name of the individual traveling on my miles along with their itinerary information? You should. If you're ever questioned by the airline, you need to know who's using your miles.
  3. Has the broker ever been investigated by an airline for being a broker?
  4. Have any sellers (to the broker) ever had their frequent flier accounts suspended or penalized for working with the broker?
  5. How are the service charges for the frequent flier tickets paid? My recommendation is to have these charged to your (the seller's) personal credit card to be reimbursed by the broker.
Note: This is a work of fiction, since the practice described violates the terms & conditions of participating in an airline's frequent flier program. There is a good article here which summarizes the risks, and I can vouch for its accuracy (including the tenacity of the airline they mentioned to crack down on the activity).