A Common Booking Dilemma for Cheap Travel: Use Points or Pay Cash?

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We receive lots of reader questions asking whether redeeming points for a specific flight or hotel stay is a “good deal” or if it makes sense to just pay cash.  The answer isn’t always straightforward.

If you’re like me, you probably got into the miles & points hobby to save money on travel.  But once you start applying for rewards credit cards, it’s easy to develop a tendency to watch your points balance grow instead of using your rewards.

We like to remind folks that it’s never a good idea to hoard points.  Loyalty accounts don’t earn interest!  And points values can change without notice!  So if you have miles & points available to help you achieve your travel goals, redeeming them for cheap travel can still make sense!

Deciding Whether to Use Points or Pay Cash Can Be a Common Struggle for Award Travel Enthusiasts!

Personally, I try to always use points to cover airfare and hotels when I’m traveling for leisure.  Even if my award bookings don’t have the most impressive “cent per point” value, I know I’m still saving cash.  And I’m not worried about depleting my points balances because I can apply for the top rewards credit card offers to replenish my accounts!

I’ll share some tips to help you decide between paying cash or using points.

3 Tips When Deciding Whether to Use Points or Pay Cash for Cheap Travel

1.   How Many Points Do You Have?

I’ve helped my mom with her rewards credit card strategy over the past few years.  She’s earned hundreds of thousands of miles & points.  But when it comes time to book a trip, she never wants to redeem her rewards.

For example, she is visiting Miraval Resort & Spa at the end of August.  She took advantage of the 50% points rebate promotion at the wellness resort.  After her stay at Miraval, she’s spending a night at the Hyatt Place Tucson Airport so she can catch an early morning flight.  The nightly rate at this hotel is ~$100.  Or you can book with 5,000 Hyatt points.

In my mom’s mind, 5,000 points is a lot of points and she’d rather pay the $100.  But she has half a million Chase Ultimate Rewards points!  So transferring 5,000 points to her Hyatt account to book an award stay will save her $100 and won’t put a dent in her points balance.

Not Every Hotel Award Booking Has to Be at a 5-Star Hotel.  Low-Level Redemptions Can Still Save You Cash!

On the other hand, if you don’t have many points or are saving them for a bigger redemption, paying cash for a cheap hotel might make sense for your situation.

2.   Is Your Redemption Value Better Than a Cash Back Alternative?

Whether I’m transferring flexible credit rewards points to an airline or hotel partner or booking through a bank travel portal, I always do the math to check the value I’m getting vs. a cash back redemption.

For example, you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for 1 cent each as cash back.  So 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth $100 cash back.  So I would never transfer 10,000 points to a Chase airline or hotel partner if I wasn’t getting at least $100 worth of travel.

And Chase makes it easy to get more than 1 cent per point toward airfare, hotels, and rental cars.  Because just having certain Chase Ultimate Rewards point earning credit cards boosts the value of your points when you book through the Chase travel portal.  For example, points linked to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card accounts are worth 1.25 cents each toward travel booked through the Chase portal.  And Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can get 1.5 cents per point worth of value!

Credit card travel portals are a popular way to redeem points because:

  • You can buy a ticket or book a room even if award seats or nights are not available (no blackout dates)
  • You’ll typically earn frequent flyer miles for airfare booked through travel portals
  • If you don’t have enough points to pay for a ticket (either an award ticket or paid fare), you can combine your points with cash

Here’s a step-by-step video guide to redeeming points for travel through the Chase portal.



3.   How Long Will It Take to Replenish Your Points?

I mentioned earlier that I always try to redeem miles & points for travel.  In part, that’s because I know I can replenish my points balance pretty easily with my ongoing spending and by earning new cardmember sign-up bonuses.  Having a strategy to earn points will make spending them easier.

For example, last year I redeemed more than 1 million miles & points for a family trip to New Zealand and Australia.  I didn’t have many points left after this trip.  But since then, my wife and I have applied for several lucrative card offers, including the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card.  And my eBay drop shipping business is a huge help in allowing me to continuously earn points each month.

Redeeming 1+ Million Miles & Points for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip to New Zealand Emptied Most of Our Balances!  But Our Credit Card Strategy Allowed Us to Stock Back Up on Miles & Points

Be sure to take a look at our monthly top credit card offers post to learn about the best deals available!

Bottom Line

Deciding whether to pay cash or use points for travel can sometimes be a struggle for miles & points enthusiasts.  Every award booking doesn’t have to be a luxury redemption.  Using miles & points for cheap travel can still make sense if you want to save money!

If you’ve been building up a stash of points, using a small amount to book airfare or hotel stays can save you from having any out-of-pocket expenses.  And if you collect flexible points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can redeem points through the Chase travel portal without having to worry about blackout dates.  And having certain Chase Ultimate Rewards point earning credit cards automatically increases the value of your points when you book airfare, hotels, and rental cars through the Chase portal.

Just remember, points balances in your loyalty and credit card accounts don’t earn interest.  So if you have available rewards that can help you achieve your travel goals, it can make sense!

And having a strategy to collect miles & points might make you more likely to use points instead of paying cash.  Because you can replenish your points balance quickly by earning a lucrative sign-up bonus on a new card!





Million Mile Secrets features a team of points and miles experts who have traveled to over 80 countries and have used 60+ credit cards responsibly to accumulate loyalty points and travel the world on the cheap! The Million Mile Secrets team has been featured on The Points Guy, TIME, Yahoo Finance and many other leading points & miles media outlets.

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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