Booking Flight Deals vs. Redeeming Points for Award Travel

It is important to decide whether you want to focus more on booking flight deals or using airline points to travel. Flight Deals are easy to book and you can earn valuable points, but you will be likely flying in economy. Whereas booking with points allows you to book a luxury travel experience with lie-flat beds, multi-course gourmet meals, and high-end drinks, sometimes for less than the price of economy, but it does require some effort to read all of our points pages and implement a credit card strategy for yourself.  

Advantages of Flight Deals

Earn Points– Instead of spending points, you can earn points towards a free flight. I recommend using the website Where To Credit to find the best airline to credit your miles to. (e.g., if you fly ANA on a flight deal, you can credit your points to ANA or 27 other airlines such as United, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, etc.).

Living near a Major City– If you live near a major city such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, you will most likely see several good flight deals per week. You can be less reliant on points when you live in these cities.  (If I lived in New York and only wanted to go to Europe, I would always do flight deals since it’s a very cheap and only about a seven-hour flight. But if I wanted to fly New York to Asia, I would highly recommend using points for business class since it is a 16+ hour flight)

Low Effort- If you subscribe to our premium email list, we do all the research and send you the best deals directly to your email. Once you get an email, it should take less than twenty minutes to book the whole thing.

Earning Elite Status- In addition to earning points by booking a flight deal, you can also earn credits towards elite status even if you are flying an airline you will only fly once or twice. For example, if you flew Chicago to Seoul twice roundtrip on Korean Air, that almost earns you Delta Silver elite status if you “credit” the flight to Delta (flights would satisfy the Medallion Qualifying Miles requirement for Silver (you would have 26,204 MQMs), but you would need to spend another $380 dollars with Delta to meet the $3,000 EQD requirement). We suggest that you use the Where to Credit tool to determine the programs you can credit your elite status to.  

Disadvantages of Flight Deals

You have to be quick- Good flight deals usually only last a day, and great flight deals only last a few hours. You have to know your potential dates, and be able to pull the trigger. If you wait for your travel partner to agree to the trip, the deal might disappear. If you do book directly with the airline starting in a US city, you do have 24 hours to cancel. So you can book now and talk to your travel partner later. However, many travel agencies, with the exception of Expedia and Priceline, charge a fee to cancel your flight within 24 hours. So only use a travel agency, which can save you money, if all parties agree on the destination and dates. 

Living in a medium to small city- If you live in a city like Kansas City, Nashville, Albuquerque, etc., you might only see two good flight deals a month from your city. If you see another great flight deal in another city, you would have to spend money to travel to start your international flight. (e.g., a great $350 flight deal from Chicago might actually end up costing $550 when you factor having to travel from your medium size city to Chicago).

Long Layovers- Sometimes a flight might be a really good deal, but there is a very long layover in a city. You just need to double check this when looking at flight deals. The last thing you want after being on a plane for 10 hours is to have a 6-hour layover in an airport (unless they have a very nice lounge). Whereas with points, you have more control over your flights and you can do a stopover in a city with some programs. If you are stuck with a long layover, certain cities or airlines offer free hotels or tours

Very few business class deals. Occasionally there will be a few a year to Europe in the $1500-1900 range, but it is very rare to see a business class deal to Southeast Asia, India, Africa, or Australia.

Focusing on Flight Deals

If you want to focus primarily on Flight Deals, there are still ways to save money when traveling by earning and using points. 

Hotel Credit Cards/Points– Unless you plan to stay primarily at hostels, having a large stash of hotel points can be very beneficial to save a lot of money on your trip. Additionally, many credit cards usually offer a free night every year you renew your card. 

Fixed Redemption Cards– Credit cards such as Chase Ultimate Rewards cards or the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve allow you to cash your points in for a fixed amount. For example, you could book a flight deal via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal using your Sapphire Reserve points for a fixed rate of 1.5 cents per point (you could book a $450 flight deal for free using 30,000 points) 

Advantage of Points

Flexibility– The great thing about points is that you can cancel or change your flight in most cases for a small fee if there is award space. Flight Deals require you to pay a large fee plus the difference in airfare at the current market rate. 

International Business or First Class– For most of us, the only way we would ever get to enjoy international business or first class is using points. A single sign up bonus, like 100k American Express Platinum, could get you a great round-trip business class redemption to Europe, Asia, or South Africa. Once you fly one of the top business or first class products, you may never want to go back. 

Control- When you use points, you are more in control of your routing. You can decide if you want to get there quickly via non-stops or take your time and take advantage of a program’s routing rules such as stopovers or open-jaws. For more information, check out each points program’s using points page. 

Short, but Expensive Flights- Sometimes the most expensive flights are the shortest, especially to remote destinations. Luckily, many points systems are based on distance flown. (e.g., Hong Kong to Okinawa is only 906 miles away, but a $900+ direct flight. You can book that same flight using British Airways Avios for 15,000 points plus about $42)

 Disadvantage of Points

High Effort- It takes a good deal of effort to manage all of your credit cards, meet the minimum spend, manage credit card applications, credit card news, and points redemptions. We try out best to simplify the process as much as we can and keep you up to date with points news via our Daily Points emails, but you still have to put in the effort to learn. (It is very lucrative once you learn the basics) 

Finding Award Availability- Finding award availability, with the exception of revenue based programs such as Southwest and JetBlue, has become quite difficult in the past few years. Airlines are shrinking the number of seats available for points since airlines are finding it easier to fill planes to capacity, and they can make more money via cash bookings.

Taxes and Fuel Surcharges- In using points, taxes and fuel surcharges will be your enemy. It all depends on the airline and the points system you are using.  If you plan to fly to Europe in economy, you can easily spend $200-400 in taxes and fuel surcharges plus points. With frequent flight deals to Europe in the $300-450 range, the taxes and fuel surcharges make Europe one of the least lucrative redemptions.

Focusing on Points

If you want to focus primarily on Points, there are still ways to save money subscribing to our flight deals.

Non-Points Travel Partners– Not all people are savvy enough to earn and use their points. If you don’t have enough points for them, send them one of our flight deals and double check premium cabin award space on a similar flight around the same time. If you end up business class for less than economy, that might help convince them to read our points content.

No Award Space– Some routes such as LAX to Tahiti rarely have business class award space. Sometimes the best option for those routes is to book one of our flight deals instead of hoping that award space might eventually open up. 

Sometimes It is Not a Great Value- Some awards have very expensive fuels surcharges and fees. Some awards are too short to take full advantage of business class. For example, if you live on the east coast and want to fly to Europe in business class, you may find that 8 hours in business class is too short, when you factor in the large number of points and potential fuel surcharges based on what airline you are flying and what points program you are using (e.g., Chicago to Frankfurt on Lufthansa could either cost 88,000 ANA points plus about $1,000 in fuel surcharges or 140,000 United points plus $130 since United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges). However, if you live on the west coast, using points to Europe can be a great value since it generally costs the same even though it is an extra 3-4 hours of flying. 

My Strategy

I earn more points that I can use. I have an eight-hour rule. If the flight is more than eight hours, I will use points to fly business class. If the flight is less than eight hours, I will book usually book a flight deal. The exceptions are:

  • JetBlue, Southwest, and occasionally Delta points for domestic or Carribean flights, since those points systems are tied to the cash price of the ticket. If I find a great flight deal with JetBlue, it will cost less JetBlue points to book that flight (cash price/1.4 cents= Number of JetBlue points, on average)
  • British Airways Avios- I use these for short direct flights. For example, I used 25,000 points plus $11.20 to fly from Los Angeles to Hawaii roundtrip. 
  • Intra-Regional Travel outside the U.S.- You can find some great deals using points for travel within a region outside of the United States. For example, many points programs have a large definition of Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, and many small islands. Travel using points is generally very cheap within a region but can be very expensive when using cash. (Perth to Auckland is about the same distance as a flight from Boston to London, but it will cost about half the number of points)
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