“Can you tell me how I can sell my frequent flier miles?” asked a reader. “My wife and I are in our mid-80s and we don’t fly anymore. I have a combined 230,000 miles divided between two airlines and I don’t want to lose any. Airline websites aren’t much help.” You might well be in the same situation. Airline limits on the number of miles you can transfer to other people are restrictive and the fees can be more than the miles are worth. So transferring miles through airline programs is a nonstarter.
Unfortunately, my reader won’t like a direct response to the question. You can’t sell miles, as such, at all; the only way to get any money for your miles is to sell mileage-based awards. But the program rules of all major airlines forbid buying and selling awards, and airlines enforce those rules: They managed to shut down most “coupon brokers” who once made a lively awards market and they’ve been ruthless about confiscating miles/tickets from anyone they catch.
Nevertheless, a few remaining coupon brokers remain active. They don’t actually “sell” your miles to anyone; instead, they have you use your miles for free-ticket awards, and they sell the awards. To start, you register your miles with a broker, and when someone wants to buy, the broker has you issue whatever travel award the buyer wants, in the buyer’s name, from your account. Because of the way airfares and mileage levels work, virtually 100 percent of the award action is in business and first class, mostly international. The selling price seems to be around 1 to 1½ cents a mile, but you don’t get paid until someone wants to buy a specific award. That means you’re unlikely to be able to unload all your miles. Say you have 112,000 miles with one line and someone wants an award that requires 90,000 miles. That would leave you with 22,000 miles nobody wants. If you still want to try selling through a broker, however, check awardtraveler.com, frequentflyerdepot.com and travel-enterprises.com.
But rather than try to sell awards through coupon brokers, consider three other more constructive and less risky uses.
• Use some of them for international trips in business class. Even if you’ve decided that the hassles and discomforts are enough to discourage you from flying economy class, international business class is still easy and pleasant. As long as you are physically able to travel, you can really enjoy flying again. As a senior, myself, I faced the need to start using up the miles piled up over the years. So two years ago, I splurged 250,000 miles on a round-the-world business-class trip to check out some places I’d always wanted to visit and to revisit some old favorites, and the trip was great.
• Consider “gifting” trips rather than miles. You can give away unlimited award trips to family members and friends without breaking any rules. Can you think of a better wedding present than two award seats to Hawaii or Cancun? Or a better graduation gift than a round-trip to London? Unlike selling through a coupon broker, this ploy isn’t limited to business- or first-class awards: Even economy seats are welcome when they come as gifts.
• Become your own coupon broker: Snoop around for people you know who are interested in traveling in business or first class for greatly reduced prices and get them to pay you a couple cents a mile for an award.
One additional consideration. No matter what your age, you or a spouse might suddenly become unable to travel. Make sure both of you know how to access any frequent flier accounts either of you might have, so that if one of you can no longer travel, the other can continue to have access to the miles.