Airlines, hotel chains and most loyalty programs have an option to buy points or miles from them, but is it worth it?

Buying miles and/or points is usually not a good deal in the vast majority of situations. Since loyalty programs are an important source of revenue and profit, companies aren’t going to sell you points for more than they’re worth.

Buying points and miles is usually pricy, but many people often buy them because they think they’re getting a deal (they’re not). This is usually a terrible idea, but are a few times where buying miles and points can be worth it. Here is a list of situations where you should consider buying miles and/or points.

You’re missing only a few points for a redemption

Let’s say you need 50,000 points for a redemption, but only have 48,700 points. Buying the remaining 1,300 points could make sense to top up your account to 50,000 points so you can make that redemption. While the cost per point is usually much above redemption value, buying a small amount won’t cost much in absolute dollars and would allow you to redeem your points.

That said, you shouldn’t just buy points because you almost have enough. Take a look at the value of that redemption. Strictly from a dollar value, is it worth it? Or are you make a redemption just because it’s free?

Let’s say the above example is Marriott Bonvoy. I personally value their points at 1 cent each. That means the room I’m getting for 50,000 points needs to be worth at least $500. If the cash price is say $350, it would be better for me to pay cash even though I could get it for free if I bought just 1,300 points.

You have a specific redemption planned and buying miles or points is cheaper than the paid rate

There are some specific redemptions where the redemption value per point is very high such as fixed points flight redemptions. If you’re able to maximize the value of your points, then it would be worth buying some miles or points. The tricky thing is knowing where these redemption sweet spots are. Yes, I’ve written a guide about it, but it’s still in your best interest to know what the best value for your points are when it comes to the best travel bank rewards programs. In other words, buy points if the cost of the redemption is cheaper than paying in cash.

There’s a promotion for buying points and miles 

Many programs have promotions for buying points and some promotions can be generous. For example, RBC Rewards has run promos in the past where you get a 25% bonus when using your points for hotels.com gift cards. Although you’re not technically buying points in this case, it’s still a points promotion where you spend. Others have had deals on buying points so it can be worth it, but again, buying points and/or miles is usually not worth it.

Buying miles and points during a promotion should only be considered for people that know a program inside out and are sure to gain value out of the promotion. If you are an expert in a particular program and are 100% sure it’s a good deal, then take advantage of that promotion. But be aware that all programs tend to increase redemption costs and get rid of sweet spot redemptions over time.

To keep an account active

Many loyalty programs require some activity during a period of time to consider an account active. If you don’t maintain this account activity, your points expire. The funny thing is, some programs say your points don’t expire, they’re just removed after your account has been inactive for a certain period of time. That to me sounds like your points expire but the loyalty program will always argue otherwise.

Marriott Bonvoy points expire after 24 months without a qualifying activity. However, you can buy points directly from Marriott which counts as a qualifying activity so this would be an easy way to keep your account from expiring. Of course, it would make more sense to just get the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card and just make one purchase every two years. Even though the card comes with an annual fee of $120, you get an annual free night certificate which is good for a room worth up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

Final thoughts

There are some situations where buying miles and points might be worth considering. However, this is usually a very costly way to earn these points and miles so I don’t recommend it unless you are 100% sure you’ll get value out of that purchase. If you plan ahead, there are many better ways to earn points and miles such as signing up the best travel credit cards in Canada.