When was the last time you did something for yourself? Just yourself and no one else? It doesn’t have to be grandiose or expensive.
As moms, we often put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list and forget to do something nice for ourselves on occasion. So how about taking action to show a small token of goodness and indulgence for yourself that won’t cost you a dime and will take just a few minutes?
Hop on to your computer or phone and use up those miscellaneous airline rewards miles on something just for you!
Do you travel? If so, do you always travel on the same airlines all the time? Most of us don’t and lose out on free flights we might accumulate with reward miles because we never have enough for an entire flight. Don’t let those miles go to waste. While it may not be paying for your next travel experience, there are plenty of other great things those reward miles can send to your mailbox!
Generally, we fly Southwest. In Chicago, Southwest leaves from Midway airport, a much more manageable travel experience than O’Hare, the country’s busiest airport as of late. We also have had pretty good experience with Southwest, and I like that their airline points act pretty much like dollars toward a flight.
Mostly, I like Southwest’s seating policy – no assigned seats. With two children under three, it’s a safe bet that the middle seat next to us will be THE LAST seat filled on the plane. Everyone sees a baby and toddler and keeps right on walking to the next open seat. In other words, if there’s one open seat on the whole plane, it’s gonna be next to me. And, sweet!
Occasionally, however, we fly other airlines. Sometimes the prices are drastically lower. We also travel for work on other airlines at times and take occasional international trips to places Southwest doesn’t fly (like our trip to Switzerland that I shared about in posts about Zurich, Lucerne, and Uetliberg) .These one-off trips on whichever airline happens to have the lowest flights or most convenient flight times leaves us with a handful of airline rewards miles on each of the other airlines that’s not enough for a free ticket. However, I hate to see these reward miles go to waste. Consequently, I’ve spent some time digging into the airline rewards programs for a few of the larger airlines in the US and thought I’d share my findings with you. Hopefully, you might just be able to snag a great new kitchen gadget for free or grab a dinner on “random airline you flew 14 months ago.”
Let’s get started!I had about 15,000 reward miles for both United and American. I thought I had a similar amount for Delta. I was wrong.
*For clarification, I’m ignoring the quality of their system with respect to actually obtaining flights with reward miles. I didn’t have near enough points for that, so that option was out the door.
Summary: I found this program best for those of us with pretty small account balances. They offer easy to obtain restaurant gift certificates and have a great little digital library full of ebooks, audiobooks, music and more. I (eventually) found their marketplace full of all sorts of goods to purchase that I’d actually want to own and displayed in a format that was easy to navigate by type of product and, more importantly, number of reward miles the item cost. Unfortunately, I didn’t find their marketplace right away. I think this was user error…
Purchase: First, I purchased a $50 Gift Card to Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, using 6,800 reward miles.
Sidenote ~ United maintains their corporate headquarters in Chicago. Lettuce Entertain You is a restaurant company (if you hadn’t guessed) that has a ton of amazing restaurants in Chicago and has been expanding nationally. Apparently, the two partnered up for a little Chitown special. Lettuce Entertain You’s impressive restaurant list is comprised mainly of unique and trendy restaurants in and around downtown. Each has it’s own great vibe. The owners definitely have a lot of clout in the restaurant scene in Chicago. In any case, this gift card was PERFECT for us, as many of our favorite restaurants right in our neighborhood are owned by this company. If you live in the city or you’re planning on visiting Chicago (first check out a whole slew of posts I’ve written about enjoying Chicago), this could be a perfect use of your reward miles!
With the remaining points, I purchased subscriptions to Bon Appetit and Conde Nast Traveler magazines (mostly to drool over the pretty food and travel photos) for 700 reward miles. I also threw in All You and AFAR magazines, each 700 rewards points. Finally, I wavered between the audiobook edition of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink and the ebook copy of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, ultimately choosing Blink at a whooping 2,065 reward miles. It seems I’ll have plenty of pretty photos to admire if I can sneak in a few “me moments” with a magazine now and again (fingers crossed). I’m currently listening to Blink and find it really interesting!
Had I found the marketplace before ordering all my magazines, I probably would have gifted myself some fun small kitchen appliance or handbag. Next time, I guess…
Summary: The options here seemed pretty reasonable too. The magazine and newspaper selection looked basically identical to United (I suspect they use the same service provider). Their marketplace also included lots of name brand goods I’d actually like to own. Both Delta and United offered some interesting experiences including everything from cruise travel and hotel stays (WAY out of my budget) to concert and Broadway musical tickets (a little out of my price range).
Purchase: Thinking I had about 15,000 points, I found this really neat ice cream maker. I’ve been wanting an ice cream maker for a while now, and I guess I just never bit the bullet to buy one. All excited, I tried to add the ice cream maker to my cart. “Please log in” the Delta bot informed me. I did, only to find out I had precisely 285 reward miles, just enough to buy nothing and about 8,300 reward miles short of my ice cream maker. Better luck next time, I guess.
Summary: American’s site left me thoroughly unimpressed. I didn’t dig into the travel and hotel experiences they offer, so I can’t say much about those. They were out of the scope of my research for this exercise and beyond my budget. The prospect of ordering various gift cards with my reward miles excited me, until I tried to actually execute the transaction. American uses Points.com, a third party rewards program compilation system that helps consumers manage and use their rewards points from various programs (not just airlines). It sounds fine and dandy, but it’s not. I couldn’t search for gift cards by the number of reward miles I had available. I also had enough points for certain gift cards but didn’t have the right status on American to use the offer in some cases or American didn’t support the program in other cases. It was frustrating to say the least.
Purchases: My purchase transaction ended with a subscription to Real Simple for 700 reward miles, 14,000 or so reward miles unused, and a whole lot of trial and error trying to find a gift card for a store I liked that I could actually purchase. To no avail.
Had I known the annoying nuances of American’s program, I would have purchased my magazines through their system and then ordered my ice cream maker through United. Timing can be everything, though. In this experiment, I left the worst for last and lost out. At least I ended up with a few good things from my United points!
A few years back, I bought a set of golf clubs with 15,000 reward miles or so. I don’t play golf often, but they’ve been nice to have for the occasional golf outing with work. You can see them in the series I wrote about A Beginner’s Guide to Surviving a Professional Golf Outing.I have also used reward miles to purchase a gift subscription to the Wall Street Journal for my dad for Christmas a couple of times. That went over very well (and even better that his Christmas shopping didn’t cost me a penny!)
Donate: All the airlines allow you to donate your miles. It’s a worthy cause, for sure. Today, I wasn’t feeling it…
In the end, using your miscellaneous airline reward miles on other gifts and services really ends up being a win-win-win all around. As an accountant, I know that the airlines have to accrue liabilities for those points we’re all holding on to. It helps them that the points expire over time with lack of activity, but using them up still gets the points off their accounting records which is great news for the company. (If you’re interested in more details on this, email me. I presume most of you find this beyond boring, so I’ll spare you the blank stares.)
The magazines you order love increasing circulation. The restaurants that offer gift certificates obviously want you sitting in their chairs. The stores and brands certainly want their goods in your hands. And for us, what’s not to love about a few free magazines we can browse for relaxation or inspiration, a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant right in my neighborhood, a free set of pink golf clubs to hit the links with co-workers occasionally, or that brand new ice cream machine I’ll eventually have in my kitchen?
Go check your accounts (if you can scour through the cobwebs of your memory to find all the passwords) and go shopping without dropping a dime. Then go thank the airlines!I know this isn’t rocket science, or aerospace space I suppose I could call it. But I thought my little research might be helpful. At the very least, it’s a reminder to spoil yourself a tiny bit if you can’t use those points on an actual flight.
I’d love to hear what fun things you gifted yourself with reward miles!