For families that travel, miles and points are often overlooked. But should they? There is real value in miles and points when they are used properly. Many families only think of cash when they build their travel budget, but are they missing out on valuable opportunities to save money on travel? Let’s take a look at when to use miles and points vs cash on common travel expenses.
What are Miles and Points
First thing’s first, what are miles and points? Everyone understands what cash is. Cash, at least in the past few centuries, has been the main means of payment transaction. Miles and points have been around for several decades, but many people do not fully grasp the value that can be found when used properly.
In the 1980s, airlines started rewarding passengers for their loyalty in the form of miles. Hotels followed suit with points. Credit card companies have also provided their card holders with rewards for using their card instead of cash.
Miles and points vary in value depending on the program used. To simplify the description, airlines have award charts and hotels have categories. There is typically a set number of points needed for different regions in award charts and different hotel categories. These award charts and hotel categories are usually not impacted by the cost of a flight or hotel night, as they are set ahead of time. A quick example: a category 4 Hyatt hotel is always going to be 15,000 points per night regardless if the cash rate is $50 or $700. Now that we have the definition of miles and points, let’s see when you should use them to save cash on travel.
Using Miles and Points on Flights
When should you use miles on flights? When using miles on flights, it is key to plan ahead. Airlines limit the number of seats on each flight that can be used with miles. The more people traveling and time of year (holidays and peak travel) can limit your ability to use miles. If you plan ahead, you can save a bunch of cash on holiday travel by using miles. If you’re looking to treat your family and travel in style, use miles on booking premium cabin flights. Since airlines use award charts, you can count on a set number of points needed for premium cabin flights, which can save you tens of thousands of dollars. You can also look at using miles on upgrading certain flights that you pay for with cash.
So, when should you use cash for flights? If you have a last-minute trip or a trip that is confined by certain dates, cash may be your friend. Yes, you probably will have to pay more, but you may not find any flights available to book with miles. Cash will probably be your friend on domestic flights, but you will more than likely save money by using miles on international flights. The key is, if you know you are going to travel and can plan early enough, you will most likely always save cash when using miles!
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Using Miles and Points on Hotels
When is it best to use points on hotels? Points are almost always the best option when booking hotels. Especially in big cities or far away destinations. A benefit of using points for hotels is that you can break up the cash cost by using points and cash for a stay. This can save you some serious money on a trip. It is also great if you do not have enough points to cover the whole stay. Another tip is to use points to upgrade cash stays. You can sometimes find suites and club / lounge access for very few points. Great way to save money on food and drinks!
Hotel availability differs from flight availability. You can often find rooms available on points up to the last minute. Although booking in advance is always recommended. If you know you’re going to be traveling during the summer beach season or going skiing in Colorado, you should book as early as possible.
You should use cash for hotel bookings during non-peak season where the standard nightly rate is low. This would be a bad use of points. Also, cash should be used if you are having a tough time finding availability because of your travel dates. If traveling to destinations in Asia, Africa, or South America, you may be better off using cash. Other than that, points earned from hotel credit cards should always beat out cash for hotel bookings (in the United States).
Using Miles and Points on Experiences
When people think points and miles, they think airlines and hotels. An often overlooked way of saving cash while traveling is using miles and points for experiences. Things like tours, museums, events, and entertainment can be paid for with points.
My wife and I used British Airways Avios miles to book a double decker bus tour of London last year. This was during our “babymoon” and Vicki had some back issues, so instead of walking around the city, we opted for the bus tour. It saved us about $60 total.
If you have always wanted to take your family to the World Series, for example, Starwood often runs specials where you can “purchase” tickets with your points. The point is, you can either save cash or experience things you wouldn’t have experienced with the use of miles and points.
When planning family travel, do not discount miles and points. While many people view them as “nice to haves”, they can save you some serious cash on your next trip. Whether your family is planning a visit to Grandma’s for the holidays or is planning an international trip, take a look at miles and points to help ease your travel budget.
Looking to earn more miles and points? As long as you responsibly pay off your balances, consider using credit card points to help save you money on travel. Check out some of Traveling Dad’s favorite offers credit card miles and points offers here!