Smart Ways to Spend Miles

Are frequent flyer miles still worth collecting? How much are they actually worth? It all depends on how you spend them. Many people blow 50,000 miles on an economy class ticket that they could have bought for $200, $300, or $400. But that's not the way to go. Instead, use them on a splurge. We did some research and found some "high value" ways to cash in your miles. And yes, we made sure that seats were actually bookable (accurate as of Mar. 1, 2013) at these point levels. Airfares were found using various sources includng airline websites and third-party sites such as

Date Class Airline Round-trip Fare Miles Value in cents per mile Taxes/Fees on your miles Our take
Denver (DEN) to Beijing (PEK) Jan. 7-21 First Air China & United (w/ United miles) $17,281 140,000 12.34 $39.40 Pricey ticket makes this a good use of points.
Charlotte (CLT) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) Dec. 22-30 First US Airways $5,300 100,000 5.30 $107 Christmas in Rio for half the usual point spend.
Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo (NRT) Aug 15-22 First Japan Airlines (w/American miles) $5,493 
125,000 4.39 $47.60 Round-trip on a busy route in First for half of what it can run you, miles-wise
Houston (IAH) to London (LHR) Aug. 6-13 First British Airways nonstops, using American miles $11,630 125,000 9.30 $1,225 Great, but those brutal fees charged by the Brits kind of queer the deal.
New York (JFK) to Honolulu (HNL) Dec. 17-29 First American & Hawaiian (w/American miles) $3,830 (JFK-LAX) + $1,959 (LAX-HNL) = $5,789 75,000 7.71 $10.00 Christmas in Hawaii for less than you might expect.
Philadelphia (PHL) to Frankfurt (FRA) 
Dec. 24-Jan. 7 First US Airways $4,732 100,000 4.73 $175 A decent Christmas option, but shorter flights like this aren’t always the best use of miles.
Washington (IAD) to Sao Paulo (GRU) Dec. 3-17 First United $5,876 135,000 4.35 $58.96 A little on the high side, but United is like that.
New York (JFK) to Buenos Aires (EZE) June 12-27 Business Avianca and Copa, with United points. $3,816 100,000 3.82 $78.57 Coach on the same dates can run you as much as 110,000 points.
Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) Aug 24-Sep. 14 First
American & Hawaiian $2,699 (LAX-HNL) + $3,750 (HNL-SYD) = $6,449 125,000 5.16 $135.60 Australia with a pit stop in Hawaii? Not a bad Labor Day deal.
Seattle (SEA) to Rome (FCO)  Nov. 7-15 First United & Lufthansa $5,851 135,000 4.33 $90.90

A very long haul – in comfort – at an okay value.