Is it Better to Travel Using Reward Points, Cash, or Both?


Illustration for article titled Should You Travel Using Points, Cash, or Both?

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While you may still be wary about flying, you might also be eager to go somewhere—particularly if you have a stash of travel rewards to burn. So what’s the best way to redeem them: points, cash, or a combination of both? Here’s how travel rewards experts recommend stretching your points and miles to realize the best possible redemptions.

How to book hotels

The value of points and miles varies by program—and those values change based on where or when you are traveling—making it tough to know how much they are really worth. Luckily, NerdWallet has assembled a points valuations guide for each program that you can use to calculate the best redemptions options available for various hotels.

Points needed to book travel * dollar value of points = X 

1. See how much the booking costs in cash.

2. Plug your numbers into the above formula.

3. You are getting a better value in points if X is less than paying in cash.

(Points needed for booking * dollar value of points) + cash for booking = Y

If you’re considering points and cash, you need to add one extra factor to the formula:

1. See how much the booking costs in cash and points.

2. Plug your numbers into the above points and cash formula.

3. You are getting a better value for points and cash if Y is less than paying only in cash.

How to book airfare

You may still feel nervous about traveling by plane, but you can save NerdWallet’s miles points calculator for future bookings. The calculator does the math for you and shows whether you’re better off paying for a flight with cash or miles.

Points and cash probably won’t offer the best value

Whether you’re doing the math by hand or using a calculator, you will usually find that points and cash isn’t the best redemption option. Still, NerdWallet says there are a few reasons why you may consider it.

If you don’t have enough points or miles to cover the entire booking, points and cash may be your next best option. You may also prefer to conserve cash by spending less on the trip overall, regardless of redemption values.

The third reason is you may not want to hoard travel rewards. There’s always the risk of rewards program devaluations or other changes that could make your rewards less valuable in the future.



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