Why I’m Choosing to Pay Cash Instead of Miles and Points – This Time!

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My wife and I decided randomly that we want to check out the Travel & Adventure Show in Denver.  It’s a short 1.5 hour flight from Salt Lake City, so it makes for a perfect weekend trip.  However, against everything I believe in when it comes to miles and points, I decided to pay cash for the entire trip for both of us.

Some would rather redeem miles and points from travel credit cards no matter what to avoid paying for airfare or a hotel.  But here’s a perfect example when you should use cash rather than burning too many points.

Sometimes, It Makes More Sense to Pay Cash Than Redeeming Miles and Points

Here’s why I paid cash for this trip, and why you might consider doing the same in some instances.

Using Cash Instead of Miles and Points

The key principle to using your valuable miles and points is to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck.  While some people just see the face value of traveling for free, it is becoming even more important to use them wisely.

Loyalty programs are becoming devalued across the board, so it is advantageous to earn smart and burn smart.  Redeeming loads of miles and points for a flight or hotel room that would otherwise be relatively cheap can hurt you later when you wish you had those rewards for a more valuable redemption.

Saving My IHG Points

We are staying at the Crowne Plaza in Denver right across the street from the Colorado Convention Center.  I picked this one strategically as I am a Platinum Elite member with IHG because of my IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.

The final cost for 2 nights, including taxes, is ~$240, which isn’t horrible considering we are right in the heart of downtown Denver.  Also, I will be earning 3,106 IHG points from the room with my elite status.

However, had I booked an award stay, I would have paid 70,000 IHG points, and gotten a measly ~0.3 cents per point in value ($240 / 70,000 points).  That’s below average for IHG points.

Yes, I could have obviously saved $240 if I booked an award stay and kept the money in my pocket, which is the ultimate goal of points.  But with the financial investment I made in earning these points, I’d rather wait to make it really worth it.

Saving My Delta Miles

I value Delta miles heavily as I am based at a Delta hub.

We looked into flights, and they were in the ~$280 range, which is extremely expensive for this route.  For award tickets, they were asking 26,000 Delta miles, or a value of ~1.1 cents per point ($280 / 26,000 points).  That’s pretty low and not worth it in my book.

We figured it is a quick 1.5 hour flight, so we weren’t needing anything fancy.  We ended up booking a cheap Frontier flight there and a Southwest flight back.  For each of us, it was only $100 round-trip.  And I was able to earn 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points by booking the flights direct with The Platinum Card® from American Express, which are worth ~$20.

Bottom Line

The whole purpose of miles and points is to be able to travel for pennies on the dollar.  However, it is sometimes in your best interest to take a deeper look to see if you are actually getting the best deal.

With the thousands of dollars I have saved through miles and points, I’m willing to pay cash every now and again to earn even more points and save my rewards for more valuable redemptions.

Do you ever pay cash instead of using your points to make the most of them?  Let’s hear it in the comments below!

Million Mile Secrets is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Gwen
1 year ago

Absolutely it’s always worth doing the math to see if it makes sense to pay cash or use points . It also depends on travel plans and points balances – I have taken a sub optimal redemption at times but at least I knew I was not getting a great redemption .

Andrew W
Reply to  Gwen
1 year ago

Hi Gwen!

Agreed. I’m guilty of taking less-than-optimal redemptions myself, usually when I’ve already earmarked my cash for another big purchase, but at the same time I really want to splurge on a vacation haha!