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Points and miles can be a lot more dynamic than they are given credit. Yes, you can use airline miles to take reward flights and hotel points for award stays, and those choices usually provide the best redemption rate. However, many popular points and miles programs can do so much more than get you from A to B.
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Whether you’re tired of traveling or looking for unique travel experiences, you may be able to use your miles and points for everything from getting a massage to taking a flight to space. In some cases, you’ll be able to use airline frequent flyer miles or hotel points to pay for your experiences. In other cases, you’ll need to transfer your points from one of the four major credit card rewards programs.
Let’s explore some of the fascinating uses of reward currencies available at time of publication.
1. Take Flight in a Flight Simulator
Everyone knows you can use miles to fly in the passenger cabin of a plane. But did you know that some airlines will also let you redeem miles to take a flight sitting at the controls? Thankfully for everyone’s sake, this isn’t during an actual flight. Instead, some airlines will let members redeem frequent flyer miles to take a flight in one of the airline’s flight simulators.
Flight simulator time is very valuable for airlines. So, most airlines will periodically auction off a flight simulator experience for mileage program members. That’s what airlines like United Airlines and Aegean Airlines have done in the past.
Other airlines offer flight simulator experiences on an ongoing basis. But the mileage price and quality vary. On the cheap end, Thai Airways charges just 12,500 Royal Orchid Plus miles for an hour-long “Thai Simulation Experience”. Thai Airways lists a picture of a full-motion flight simulator, but the redemption is clearly listed as a “non-pilot simulator visit”. So, it’s unclear how realistic the experience will be.
Qantas used to give travelers the option to redeem points for a flight in a Boeing 747 simulator. However, since the retirement of its 747s, it seems that Qantas has retired this redemption option as well. But not all is lost Down Under, you can still redeem 31,130 Qantas Frequent Flyer points for an hour-long Boeing 737 flight simulator experience.
You can also look to credit cards that include Qantas a transfer partner, and transfer your credit card points to pay for the experience.
Other airlines require elite status to score a flight simulator experience. For example, both EVA Air (100,000 Infinity Mileage Lands miles) and Japan Airlines (30,000 JAL Mileage Bank miles) offer members the chance to experience a real flight simulator—but only if you have elite status
2. Make Your Own Wedding Rings
Over the past few years, loyalty programs have added plenty of “experiences” that you can book with points and miles. And perhaps the most unique of these that I’ve come across is a seminar to make your own wedding rings.
For 65,620 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, you and your significant other will participate in a three-hour workshop. Your private instructor will walk you through what you need to know about metalsmithing and jewelry making to create a set of silver bands. You can then cast those bands into gold or platinum at extra cost.
Don’t have any Asia Miles? No worries. You can transfer points from several major transferrable point currencies to Asia Miles.
Just make sure that you have enough miles (or cash) to travel to Hong Kong for the session before you book the experience. This sounds like a wonderful idea for a surprise proposal, assuming you know she will say yes.
3. Overcome Your Fear of Flying
If you have a fear of flying, you’re not alone. Tens of millions of Americans have some anxiety or fear of flying. For some people, this fear can be crippling. The good news: therapies can be very successful in reducing your fear of flying. Ironically enough, you can redeem frequent flyer miles to help reduce your fear of flying. The bad news: you will have to fly to the UK to take the course. At least the flight home will be less stressful because you will have conquered your fear of flying.
Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Without Fear program boasts a stunning 98% success rate. The day-long course even includes a flight where one of the pilots gives a running commentary of what’s happening at every stage of the flight. The cost: £267 ($365)—or 40,000 Virgin Points. Whichever way you pay, you’ll get a certificate of competition and 2,000 Virgin Points to help you toward your next flight redemption. If you don’t have Virgin Points handy, you can transfer points from various programs.
4. Get a Spa Treatment
It’s been far too long since most of us have gotten a proper spa treatment. Thankfully, your points and miles can come to the rescue here too.
Etihad’s frequent flyer program gives Etihad Guest members the chance to redeem miles for a wide range of spa services at Etihad’s Six Senses Spa locations. Members can redeem as few as 3,700 miles for a 15-minute Back Massage, The Realignment, Head Massage or Eye Retreat treatment. Or, you can splurge 15,500 miles for a 50-minute Holistic Massage.
In Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge locations in London and New York, Flying Club members can enjoy a 10-minute express facial for just 3,000 points or a 25-minute stone foot and leg treatment or back massage for just 7,000 points. Before a long flight across the Atlantic, men can opt for a clean shave with a hot towel, cleanse and moisturize for just 4,000 points.
If you’re in Hong Kong, you can redeem 27,260 Asia Miles for a 1.5-hour massage in the comfort of your home (or hotel room). Choose between six different massage modules—from aromatherapy to Swedish massage.
Several hotel programs also allow guests the opportunity to use points for spa services, and you normally don’t have to be a hotel guest to book a service at the spa. This could be an easy way to take a mini-break if you can’t leave town.
You can redeem 12,000 Hyatt points for a 60-minute massage or facial at Exhale locations. Or, at participating Hyatt locations, you can redeem World of Hyatt points for dining or spa services. For example, you can redeem 8,000 Hyatt points for a $100 credit.
Similarly, you can redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for spa services—as well as dining, cocktail, golf and other onsite purchases—at a rate of 0.4 cents apiece through Instant Rewards.
5. Fly to Space
You only need to fly 62 miles to get to space, but the hard part is that you have to go straight up. Only one mileage program allows you to take such a flight. However, you’ll need both luck and patience.
If you have 2 million Virgin Points, you can enter a raffle to fly on Virgin Galactic to space. But, there’s a catch. You’ll need to earn all 2 million points through Virgin Atlantic Airways flights so only the highest of flyers can bid for the highest of flights. Miles can’t be transferred in from other member accounts or partner programs.
Also, you’ll need to wait until Virgin Galactic launches commercial flights to space before the drawing is held. In the meantime, you’ll want to maintain the 2 million point balance to be eligible for the raffle. After all, you can’t just transfer points in at the last minute.
Only the winner will have the 2 million points deducted. All of the members not chosen will then have a lot of Virgin Points to use for flights that don’t go as far up.
6. Score Hotel Elite Status
Usually, you earn hotel loyalty points by earning elite status. However, you can flip the script and redeem points to jump yourself to elite status. For 40,000 IHG Rewards points, you can purchase a 12-month InterContinental Ambassador membership.
As an InterContinental Ambassador, you’ll get a guaranteed upgrade, a $20 food & beverage credit, guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout and other perks any time you stay at an InterContinental property. Plus, you’ll get a complimentary weekend night (minimum two-night stay) at an InterContinental, Kimpton or certain Regent Hotels each membership year.
In addition to InterContinental-specific benefits, this membership guarantees you IHG Platinum Elite status—which you can utilize at any IHG property.
7. Spend a Week on Richard Branson’s Private Island
Virgin Atlantic’s Virgin Points program offers some of the most unique redemption options available, as you have seen above. Another example: You can use 1.5 million Virgin Points to book an all-inclusive one-week stay for two on Richard Branson’s private island.
Fortunately or unfortunately, you won’t have the place to yourself. This 1.5 million redemption gets you a room on the 74-acre island during a “Celebration Week” with up to 17 couples. While he’s not guaranteed to be there, Richard Branson primarily lives on Necker Island. So, you may even be able to hang out with the eccentric billionaire.
To take advantage of this opportunity, you’ll need to have Silver or Gold elite status through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club. However, unlike the Virgin Galactic option, you don’t have to earn all 1.5 million Virgin Points through flights on Virgin Atlantic.
If you’re otherwise eligible, you can top off your Virgin Atlantic account by transferring points from credit card partner programs.
As you can see, your points and miles can take you much further than you probably expected. With enough points (and some luck), miles can even book you a flight to space!
On the more practical side of things, you can use points for unique experiences such as making your own wedding rings to flying in a flight simulator. Or, you can redeem miles to make your travel experience better—whether that’s reducing your fear of flying or getting a spa treatment.
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