Does it Make Sense to Spend Miles on Magazine Subscriptions?

Using miles for things other than travel has been an increasing trend, the loyalty programs have been offering several new options over the past few years — whether it’s redeeming miles for other travel like hotels and rental cars, or for LCD toasters.

The idea is that miles are a general currency, they can be spent like money. Heavy travelers may not want more flights. And if there are limited award seats available getting members to spend miles on other things satisfies those members rather than frustrating them.

But frequent flyer programs can buy saver awards (likely to go unsold, spoiling inventory) at a deep discount, a much deeper discount than they can buy toasters — especially since they’re not usually the ones in the fulfillment business actually warehousing and shipping the toaster. So merchandise rewards are rarely a great value, especially compared to travel.

One of the very first merchandise options that was introduced was magazine subscriptions. And it’s remained a part of several programs for years, in part because it’s an inexpensive item so folks with very few miles can get something rather than saving up longer than an individual member’s time horizon (and thus the option can help such a member from getting discouraged).

When it comes to stranded or expiring miles, I always prefer to add miles to an account rather than give up and burn miles — whether to just ‘use up’ orphan miles (in a program where mileage expiration can be extended, earning more miles will eventually yield higher value awards) or to extend the life of a mileage balance.

But there are a few times when spending miles for magazine and newspaper subscriptions can make sense.

  • They are usually the cheapest redemption option there is. Maybe you have just miles from a signup bonus, a single flight, or taking some surveys — and you don’t expect to build more miles. Better to get ‘something’ for those miles for nothing at all, you might be able to burn as few as 400 miles.

  • To keep an account active. Most programs with expiring miles allow you to keep that account active as long as there is some activity of any kind in that account — whether earning miles or burning miles — so spending 400 miles becomes enough to ‘reset’ the expiration on that account.

  • To earn miles in a promotion. For instance, when US Airways was running their “Grand Slam” promotion with progressively more bonus miles earned for activity with more of their mileage partners, most of the partner activity that was required had to be earning miles. But with magazines for miles, you could redeem miles to generate a credit in the promotion. That’s why for the past year I’ve had a subscription to Cigar Aficionado. Even though I don’t smoke.

Many of you are familiar with the frequent flyer community Milepoint.com. A bit of trivia, the original Milepoint.com website more than a decade ago would let you redeem your frequent flyer miles for magazine subscriptions and also for other merchandise. If my rusty memory serves you could redeem for 10% off coupons at Amazon.com, for instance.

Magazines for Miles options exist for Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, United, and US Airways.

Interestingly, the mileage cost for different magazines and newspaper subscriptions are different for the different mileage currencies.

Using American miles I think it’s actually a pretty good deal to get a subscription to the Economist (if that’s your bag):

But how does 1700 American Airlines miles for 51 issues compare to other program offers?

  • 2100 Alaska miles for 51 issues
  • 2900 Delta miles for 38 issues, they do not have a 51 issue option.
  • 2100 Frontier miles for 51 issues
  • 2100 Hawaiian miles for 51 issues
  • 2900 US Airways miles for 38 issues, they do not have a 51 issue option.
  • 2900 United miles for 38 issues, they do not have a 51 issue option.

Presumably Magazines for Miles is both (1) buying subscriptions at a discount, in bulk and as an acquisition scheme for the publishers, and (2) getting paid by the frequent flyer program, and at a set rate per mile. They negotiate different contracts with the various programs, and set their pricing accordingly in order to make a profit.

I wouldn’t read too much into the comparative pricing, Delta, US Airways, and United miles don’t have the same value to consumers and Hawaiian and Frontier miles aren’t worth more than those currencies. Nonetheless it’s telling that American miles are the most valuable for the Economist and Delta miles are not nearly as useful.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Delta recently offered Wine Spectator magazine for 900 miles. WS never has a cash deal. One year of 15 issues is $48. Using miles in this case is worthwhile.

  2. I think it can make sense when you have some acct with like 4k in it that’s about to expire and you can pick up a subscription to WSJ or something. And if you order it again with another acct you can even contact them later and merge extend the delivery!

  3. It’s a no brainer for orphaned miles. I haven’t paid for the WSJ or the Economist for nearly 10 years. And adding miles to an account which you rarely use makes no sense.

  4. I agree with the approach but I prefer to get free magazine subscriptions through deal sites or buying magazines through the airline shopping portals as they offer a good return per dollar.

  5. What about paying 1.7k AA miles to get a 51 issue Economist subscription vs. paying for a subscription through the Chase Rewards mall where it’s often possible to get 30 points/$1( so about 3k Chase points by spending $100 on the subscription).

  6. I wound up doing the Economist last year via Grand Slam for 3k miles or so as I figured I do actually value the Economist.

    Now that my subscription is almost up, I might go with Aceman’s route.

  7. @Aceman, where did you find the 1.7k AA miles to get 51 issues of Economist deal? All I can get is above 3k AA miles. Thanks!

  8. If I was going to buy a mag subscription and it was either Alaska, Delta or American then it makes sense to use miles. A 400m redemption would only cost about $1. So to me it makes sense.

  9. Good info. Just got 38 issues using united miles. Although I live in DC but haven’t fly united for four years. Finally got those redundant United miles from Netflix bonus used.

  10. u may not know that you can ONLY redeem the miles for newspaper/magzine ONCE per address, which means that it is a onetime signup bonus, which is why it looks cheap

  11. I regularly use orphaned miles for a Sunday paper subscription. 500 miles for 13 weeks that otherwise costs $2/week. That is about a 5 cent per mile return.

  12. Yes, you can get a surprisingly good “exchange rate” paying miles for magazines. I extended my Scientific American subscription for several years; I think I got 2-3 cents/mile compared to renewing with cash.

  13. You guys remember the valuemags deal through goldpoints about a decade ago? That was my first big score in the miles game…112.5 miles/dollar. On the bright side I ended up with about 250k miles on AA…but my postal worker hated me for the next year. lol

  14. NO!!! Mags for Miles is an evil company. they will automatically bill your credit card the following year unless you set yourself a reminder to notify them IN ADVANCE. If you call them to complain they will tell you to read the fine print, because of course everyone does that.

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