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When to Trade Your Miles Regardless of the Cost

Dear Tim,

I read [% 2607063 | | last summer’s article %] about web-based rewards programs but there was one conspicuously absent that is a little different and I’d like to hear your feedback about it.

I recently joined and I was able to pull together several but not nearly all the points programs I have joined. I was a little disappointed at how few programs were actually represented but I pressed on. When I began to try and exchange points for a retail gift card from Macy’s, I found that they were asking for 32K points for a $25 gift card. That strikes me as a complete rip-off. Do you see any redeeming value to their program????

Thanks in advance for your feedback!


Dear Tom,

As you rightly point out, the problem with transactions is the dismal exchange rate. In the great majority of cases, you will get much better value when cashing in miles for a free ticket than exchanging them through

I have brought the issue to the attention of executives, suggesting that they would do significantly more business if they revised the exchange rates to be more favorable to consumers. They took the point but advised me that the rates were dictated by the companies whose miles and points are in play.

Whatever the source of the problem, it is a serious one that fundamentally undermines the service’s value.

There is, however, a place for exchanges in the mileage-earner’s tool kit: small quantities of miles residing in inactive accounts—what I call orphan miles. Rather than allow those miles to languish indefinitely, it can make sense to exchange them for a gift card, for example, or for miles in a program in which you actively participate. A half loaf is better than no loaf at all.

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