41

I just received an offer on my credit card (Barclays Aviator, if needed to verify). The offer (Flight Cents) is as follows:

  1. I can choose a limit every month ($1 to $500)
  2. Every transaction during a billing cycle will earn points (American Airlines miles) as usual
  3. In addition the cents will be rounded up to the nearest whole dollar (For ex, on a $3.20 purchase, 80 cents will be rounded
  4. At the end of each cycle, the total cents rounded up thus will earn 0.5 American Airlines miles per cent up to a max limit set in #1
  5. I'll be charged the rounded cents as a purchase

So let us say I set the limit as $500 and I bought one cup of coffee in the whole month, costing $3.20, I'll earn 3 miles (since it is not an American Airlines purchase I'll earn 1X) and for the 80 cents that are rounded I'll earn 40 miles. So the total AA miles I'll earn = 43

My bill for the month will be $3.20 + $0.80 = $4. This is an amazing conversion (~10 miles per dollar) rate but I am skeptical. What's the catch? How is the airline/card benefiting from this?

I am thinking if I use this card for every small transaction generating a lot of cents that will be rounded up that will be the best way to extract value from this. If I end up rounding even $20 I'll end up with 1000 miles and so roughly $10 to $12 in AA value. Likewise $100 will mean 5000 miles. This will be on top of X miles for $X.

  • 9
    One point to always consider for ANY “offer” is that while it may (or may not) benefit you, that is not their motive. Their motive is to get more of your money into their pockets. Sometimes it’s win-win; sometimes it’s win-lose. You have to be smarter than the average victim to make it the former. – WGroleau May 30 at 19:46
  • 1
    Interestingly the "catch" here seems to be that they're making the complicated enough that a sufficiently large number of people don't figure out what is happening... – Mehrdad May 31 at 6:29
  • 8
    If I end up rounding even $20 I'll end up with 1000 miles and so roughly $10 to $12 in AA value. Reread your own sentence and you'll that it's a bad deal. – ruohola May 31 at 14:56
  • @ruohola Not if those $20 were dollars that were already going to be spent. In fact, so long as at least $12 of them were already going to be spent, he's coming out even. – Cullub May 31 at 21:54
  • 1
    @Cullub The customer would not spend the 20$ if they reject the offer. 20$ refers to the sum of all cent transactions that have been made to the Credit Card com[pany along with a transaction made to a retailer. If the offer is rejected, the transaction is made to the retailer, but the cent transactions wouldn't be made. – Tomas Zubiri May 31 at 22:34
85

The catch is that you are paying the extra cents for nothing but miles. If you want to "boast" that you earned 10 miles per dollar, you have to also note that you paid $4.00 for $3.20 worth of coffee.

While 1-2 miles per dollar is a decent rate for a kickback when you are spending money on other things, if you are outright buying miles you should expect to get ~50 miles per dollar (which is what you're getting on the round-up amount). Most airline miles are worth ~1.5 cents each in typical redemption value, and they can often be purchased in bulk from the airlines for 2 cents or a little less, using promotions (or you'll pay about 3 cents "retail" with no promotion). Effectively, your card allows you to buy miles in small amounts at a not-terrible price of 2 cents. But it's no screaming deal.

See also my comments here.

  • 49
    @perennial_noob: No. You didn't spend the same $4. You spent $4.00 instead of $3.20. The extra 80 cents of round-up are more than the 40 miles are worth. – Ben Voigt May 30 at 5:10
  • 31
    @perennial_noob No, what they're saying is that with any other card, you would have gotten 3 miles, then at the end of the month, you would pay 80 cents to get 40 extra miles. So at the end of the day, you didn't gain anything except that you always have to buy those extra miles. – pboss3010 May 30 at 11:34
  • 11
    @pboss3010 And that is exactly how the Airline are benefitting from this... – Chronocidal May 30 at 13:17
  • 6
    @perennial_noob Why do you keep talking about a "multiplier"? There is no multiplier, you are buying random small amounts of miles for $.02 each, which is more than they are worth. – John K May 30 at 20:48
  • 6
    As a side note, I find it interesting that this annyoing "gamification" already has people aiming for the game points by spending more money. It's funny how easily we are tricked to waste time AND money with bullshit schemes. – Frank Hopkins May 31 at 10:15
57

Imagine that you pay cash for everything and every day you come home and put your change in a jar. Say you have a month's spending:

3.40, 2.60, 7.10, 8.90

Now you have 22 dollars spent (gone forever) and 2 dollars of loose change sitting in your jar.

What will you do with that two dollars: (a) spend it to buy 100 airline miles, or (b) literally anything else that you can do with two dollars?

If your answer is always (a) for purchases on this card, then this is a reasonable (but not astonishing) deal. If your answer is ever (b), then this is not a good deal because it locks you in to (a).

  • 4
    I'd just add that the other half of this is deciding how much the airline miles are worth (in general, and to you personally)? $2 for a million miles is probably a great deal, $1 for one mile is probably horrible. You can look at experts who have established valuations (around 1.4 cents/mile for American) and also determine what the miles are worth to you based on how you plan to redeem them (and the rest of your situation; can't pay rent with miles). That will help you decide whether you'd use that $2 to buy 100 miles or not. – Zach Lipton May 31 at 5:23
  • @ZachLipton yes agreed. I understood that this is a way of offering miles for purchase at smaller numbers. Typically buying points is in multiples of 1000 and so this is buying at numbers like even 2s and 3s. – perennial_noob May 31 at 21:18
31

If I end up rounding even $20 I'll end up with 1000 miles and so roughly $10 to $12 in AA value.

So you'll be spending $20 to get $10 to $12 worth of miles?

You seem to be confusing earning mile as a bonus versus outright buying miles. If you spend 80 cents to get something that costs 80 cents, and you also get 40 miles, that's 40 bonus miles. If you spend 80 cents and get nothing but miles in return, that's buying miles. 10 miles per dollars is a great rate for bonus miles, but a terrible rate for buying miles.

  • Ye, it is basically a subscription plan. There are similar savings and investment schemes (and charity scams) that round up for aggregation over time. – mckenzm May 31 at 0:05
12

You're getting miles for 2 cents per mile on the round-up portion (80 cents -> 40 miles). The travel blog I most often read for miles hobbying estimates American's value at 1.4 cents per mile, based on redemption value and availability/ease of getting an award. If you are otherwise close to a reward limit or status, then this could be a great deal for you, but within the grand scheme of travel miles, this is OK but doesn't seem like I'd call it "too good to be true".

  • Nitpick: Miles earned in the way OP describes do not count toward airline status, only toward redemptions. – nanoman May 30 at 4:28
  • 1
    @nanoman I took a deeper dive, and to nitpick the nitpick (lol) the 3 cheap tiers of Barclays Aviator Card (the OP didn't specify their specific tier) will work as you state for older cards, but if you signed up for any of these in 2018 you will get elite qualifying dollar benefits through 2019; Silver and Business appear to continue to earn EQD toward status in all cases: thepointsguy.com/news/aa-cuts-eqd-earnings-aviator-cards – user662852 May 30 at 4:37
  • though to your nitpick, the miles are not to status, it's a separate benefit based on total annual spend. I guess I wouldn't know if the fine print treats the round up program as part of the annual spend or a category that does not add up to the EQD limit - so this is absolutely a detail the OP should look for in their fine print. – user662852 May 30 at 4:39
  • 1
    Yes, this answer is exactly what I was about to post. +1. Buying airline miles at 2 cents each is very rarely a good deal. Basically only if you have a particular redemption you're about to make and either you know you'll get more than 2 cents/mile on that redemption or you just need to pad out the last few miles for an otherwise-good redemption. – reirab May 31 at 21:14
8

I don't think any of the other replies mentioned it, but the value of an 'airline mile' is also being intentionally obfuscated by many carriers today in what is a rather obvious way to devalue them. This radio show covered it just 2 days ago: https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-morning-report/05282019-markets-edition/

In short, several airlines have already eliminated their miles chart (i.e. a publication that stated how many miles it would take to get from point A to point B in their network) and several more will before the end of the year. After those charts go away, to redeem miles, you will be subject to surge pricing and basically the whims of the airlines as to what they charge.

This needs to be taken into account in attempting to evaluate the worth of this perk.

  • 1
    Yeah that is a good point. That said, if you are bought into the idea of miles, then you are already signing up to be able to use with a * - conditions apply. – perennial_noob May 30 at 20:47
  • 3
    Which makes it even more important not to "lock into" buying miles (which you would do with this card). If you get the miles for free as a bonus, then you are not locked in. – Lichtbringer May 30 at 21:30
  • 5
    ...of course, they aren't really "free" even on the standard purchases. They have an opportunity cost of whatever you would get from a plain cash-back card. – Dan Pritts May 31 at 4:45
  • 1
    Making this answer even more relevant, American Airlines just announced that it's switching to dynamic award pricing (i.e. eliminating its award chart) on the same day you posted this answer. – reirab May 31 at 21:18
6

Other answers have corrected your misconceptions about the offer. Here is a blog post considering the offer under its actual merits:

https://onemileatatime.com/barclaycard-aviator-card-flight-cents/

In addition to considering whether paying 2 cents per mile is worth it, you also should consider whether it is worth the opportunity cost of earning the base 1 mile per dollar on the actual purchase. You could instead use a credit card that offers 1.5% or 2% cash back, which is worth more than one AA mile.

I received the same offer and made the same choice as the blog author: I didn't bother opting in.

  • yes indeed. But I have a few cards for that purpose. One that gives a flat 1.5% (Capital One), One that gives good rate for Groceries/supermarkets, Travel specific ones etc. This particular quest would be to improve the value through a specific card. I'd still get 2% for AA purchases on this card and for the miscellaneous, I was evaluating if this would be a good add-on. – perennial_noob May 30 at 20:49
3

Short answer:

The extra 80¢ you spend on coffee doesn't pay for the 40 miles you earn.
In the US, the average mile price is 1.4¢, but you paid .

  • For the 80 cents, OP would get 40 miles, not 10. Still more than 1.4 cents but not as bad as 8 cents per mile. – stannius Jun 2 at 17:25
  • @stannius You're right, I'll update my answer to reflect your comment. Thank you. – Pedro Lobito Jun 2 at 19:03

protected by Ganesh Sittampalam Jun 2 at 9:23

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.