We are all in this hobby to take free vacations, whether its solo travel around the world, a family trip to Disney World, or anything in between. But when should you use points, and when should you pay cash?
With a few notable exceptions, you should almost always use your points whenever you can. Here are two major reasons why:
Airline and hotel programs can and will regularly devalue your points, highlighted by my post a few weeks ago on Marriott’s annual assault on your point values. This is just the most recent change, but every program will do this, with changes ranging from simply raising the number of points required for a redemption, all the way to rule changes that eliminate some of their best usages. Why would you want to hold on to and hoard a continually devaluing asset? It makes way more sense to spend the points now while they are worth more than they conceivably will be in 6-12 months or more.
2. Expiration Dates
Nearly every program, except for JetBlue and Delta, has an expiration policy on their points. This means that if you don’t earn or redeem points during a set period of time (generally between 12 and 36 months depending on the program), you lose all of your points. These may seem like generous windows, but people rarely use their points immediately, and rather often save them up for something big. If you’ve got a lot of different point currencies, that’s a lot to keep track of, and the last thing you want to do is lose them. And on top of that, they often don’t remind you of the impending expiration – you’re usually on your own to know it for yourself. Points are just like cash, so if you lose them it’s like losing money. Use them while you can!
When To Use Cash?
Occasionally it does make sense to pay for a flight or a hotel stay, especially when the point value required is disproportionate to the cash price. For example, it will almost never make sense to redeem 25,000 miles for a domestic round-trip ticket if you can buy it for $300 or less, since most point currencies are worth far more than 1.2 cents per point. Another good time is with hotel stays, where you can often find great values through sites like booking.com, or use an alternative like AirBnB or VRBO, allowing you to save your hotel points for aspirational properties which couldn’t be afforded otherwise – as long as your points don’t expire first!
Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel