Thanks in great part to record low oil prices, air travel is generally extremely cheap at the moment, regardless of destination. Roundtrip fares to Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa for $600 or less have almost become the norm. For domestic travel, roundtrip fares for under $200 for short-haul and medium-haul flights have become common, while it is easier than ever to find cross-country roundtrip fares for under $300. As a result, I have noticed a new phenomenon while working on several award booking requests over the last few weeks: cashing points for travel makes more sense in more cases than ever and here’s why.
Let’s say you want to use Chase Ultimate Reward points to book economy class awards to Europe this summer. There is saver-level availability with United, which requires 60,000 miles for saver-level roundtrip awards to Europe. It almost used to be a no-brainer that the next step would be to transfer said points from your Chase account to your United account. However, the roundtrip itinerary you want to book can currently be purchased for $700, which means that you can purchase said fare via the Chase travel portal for 56,000 points or 4,000 points less than the United award would have required (assuming you have either a Chase Ink Plus or Chase Sapphire Preferred). Additionally, by cashing your points you would be purchasing a reservation eligible to earn miles and elite credit.
Now let’s say you want to take your family of four to Hawaii for Spring Break and you have a Citi Prestige Card. There isn’t any award availability for your dates. However, instead of selling for $700+ as in previous years, the American Airlines itinerary you want is selling for $500. Because you have the Prestige Card, you can actually purchase said fare for 31,250 Citi ThankYou Points per passenger via the Citi travel portal. That is actually 3,750 miles less than American would have required for an off-peak roundtrip award to Hawaii and 13,750 miles less for the same award outside of off-peak dates. And as was the case for the previous example, you would be earning miles and elite credit, which adds even more to the value of casing points.
Unfortunately, it is still not that common to find cases where it makes sense to cash points for premium cabin travel. Nonetheless, the difference will often be extremely small, so if you value earning elite credit, the few extra points required if cashing the points might make sense to you.
It is no longer safe to assume that booking conventional awards is the most efficient way to use your points. Always double check the revenue fare for the itinerary you want to book to see if you are better off cashing the points for travel instead.