Frequent Flyer Miles, and what NOT to do with them

Miles & what not to do with them


A few years ago, I was based in Ethiopia for a year, working in a position that involved a great deal of travel. On an almost weekly basis I’d be flying to and from the capital, Addis Ababa, to one of five locations in different corners of the country. On my estimation, I took approximately 59 flights with Ethiopian Airlines during that year, and that’s not including flying Internationally for the occasional holiday.

At the end of my year in Ethiopia, I’d accrued a whopping 47,958 frequent flyer points! Granted they were all with Ethiopian Airlines, but still a worthy effort. To put this in perspective, a one-way flight from Addis Ababa to Paris is worth 30,000 points.

By the time I left Ethiopia, I was also a Gold Member for the first time in my life for any airline. I had free access to all the lounges, and as mediocre as they were compared to say the Emirates lounge, It was still better than sitting on a plastic chair at a crowded gate.

Fast forward three years later and my points are about to expire. I knew this day would eventually come, so I desperately began thinking of ways to use them, investigating flight routes and possibilities for holidays by the end of the year. But sadly, with only a few days to go it seems I’m out of luck.

What a predicament! It could have easily been avoided. As ‘out of the way’ Ethiopia is these days, they have vastly improved their online booking systems and flight routes over the years. Nowadays, you can book flights online, to and from anywhere on their route map. The same goes for most airlines.

In situations like these, there’s not much more than can be done but chalking it up to lessons learnt, and never doing the same thing again.



My top tips for what not to do with frequent flier miles…


  • Forget about them

The moment you sign up to any frequent flier program or start collecting miles, aim to use them. Research your options, and make a plan. Even an idealistic one detailing where you might like to go or how you might like to spend the miles. Alternatively, a lot of programs offer a catalogue of things you can purchase using the miles. Check it out, see if anything takes your fancy and don’t forget about it.


Another reason to research your options, especially if you move around often, is to find a way to be in the right place at the right time to use the miles. I found I was never in a country covered by Ethiopian airlines, however with a little forward thinking i’m sure we could have made it work.

  •  Lose your membership card

One of the reasons I managed to forget about my Ethiopian Airlines points was that I simply never had the card with me. Keeping the card on you is important for two reasons: first, you won’t forget about the miles you’ve already accrued, and second, you’re more likely to keep collecting points for future flights you take (including those with partner airlines). I’ve found Star Alliance works well for collecting miles.
If you don’t like carrying cards with you, just take a photo of the card and store it somewhere that’s easy to find.


  • Wait for the big spend

Another good reason to research your options is that you can take advantage of opportunities, such as upgrades, when they come up. According to some of todays best travel hackers, miles are often best spent as you go especially for upgrades to business or first class flights. Imagine, I have never once in my life flown business class! It pains me to realise that I could have used my miles to upgrade several flights within the past 3 years.
  • Assume that the miles are worthless because of the airline

I am definitely guilty of this mistake. If the airline you are signing up for is an obscure one, operating mostly in the country of origin (great example – Ethiopia airlines), then make a point of going to the service centre and asking them to lay down the terms of redemption. Sounds like a waste of time, right? Yes, it sounds like it, but it’s not. For all the times I’ve tried to contact Ethiopian airlines and ended up on hold only to be dropped half an hour later, I could have easily strolled down to the office in Addis Ababa and had a chat to the staff in person. Trust me, consider it an investment of your time. Also worth checking is the airline partners and what other flights you can redeem points with.



As frustrating as it is to lose a chance to take a discounted holiday, I’m determined never to make the same mistake again, especially with the amount of travel we do these days.

Another way to make the most of your points and travel offers is Travel Hacking. I’ve just started looking into Travel hacking, and so far it seems to work best for residents of either the US and UK, or for those that own credit cards. But, there are still several options available for the rest of us.

Read more about Travel Hacking here.
I hope you have better luck than me with your miles! Give me a shout in the comments below if you have a similar experience to share!

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