Every time you apply for an airline credit card, there is usually a nice sign up bonus included. The miles you can obtain from that bonus is usually enough for a domestic award ticket on a return trip. An example is the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express where you get 30,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in the first 3 months. You can get Delta award tickets for as low as 25,000 miles.
It is tempting to use those miles right away. However depending on your next flight, it could be better to purchase a ticket and save the miles for a later flight. The value of each mile can vary drastically depending on the route and if you are flying in coach or first class. When you have an airline credit card, there is really not much of a chance that the miles will ever expire. Any time there is account activity in your frequent flyer account, then your miles expiration will be extended, which means any credit card purchase extends your miles.
Value Per Mile
It is always a good idea to calculate how many cents each mile is worth on the flight you are redeeming an award ticket for. Settling for 1 cent per mile is not good enough. That only equates to a $250 airline ticket if it is a standard redemption. When you can achieve 1.5 cents per mile redeemed in economy, then you are getting a lot out of your miles. For anyone traveling first class, then the miles are going to be worth a lot more. First class tickets are easily priced 4 times higher than a coach ticket, however the mileage requirement is somewhere between double or triple the amount of miles needed for coach.
Taxes and Fees
Promotions offering discounts on award tickets does not necessarily mean it is a great deal. Virgin Atlantic is currently offering 25% of award tickets on economy reward seats valid until February 5th, 2013. That sounds like a great offer, but Virgin Atlantic charges taxes and fees on those tickets, and those are outrageous on transatlantic flights. You can end up paying around $600 in taxes and fees for tickets that are available for not much more than $800. This is not only terrible value for your miles, but you also miss out on the opportunity to earn miles for that flight, as award tickets does not qualify for miles to be earned.
Luckily you can choose to redeem your Elevate points earned at Virgin Atlantic, with several airline partners. Currently Elevate points are redeemable at Virgin America, Virgin Australia, and Hawaiian Airlines. Their website is promising more partners to come in the future, but at least you already have a choice to redeem with airline partners, where award tickets are available domestically for a minimal charge. No matter which frequent flyer program you have the miles accrued at, always check their airline partners for better redemption offers before you book.