Are points-and-cash redemptions worth it? Everything you need to know
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Many airlines have rolled out points-and-cash rewards over the years. On paper, they’re simple enough: You can combine points and cash to score a discount on a flight. It’s usually branded as a way to still redeem airline points and miles when you don’t have enough of them to book an entire award ticket.
But whether or not points-and-cash redemptions are a good deal is a different question. How these redemptions work varies by airline, as does the value of these redemptions. So in this article, I’ll walk you through points-and-cash redemptions on some of the major airlines and discuss whether or not they’re a good use of points.
I’ve broken it down by airline. You’ll find a brief overview of each airline’s points-and-cash redemptions and the value you can get from them. I’ll also discuss whether or not they’re a good use of your airline points or miles.
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Are points-and-cash redemptions a good deal?
Air Canada Aeroplan
Air Canada introduced points-and-cash redemptions when it revamped Aeroplan in late 2020. You can pay for a flight with points and cash if you have at least 60% of the Aeroplan points needed for a ticket in your account. The program lets you use between 60% and 100% of the award ticket’s points cost and pay the rest with cash.
For example, Air Canada charges 3,000 Aeroplan points and $48.43 Canadian dollars ($38.61) in taxes and fees for a ticket from Montreal (YUL) to Toronto (YYZ) on some dates. Alternatively, you can use 2,400 points and CA$61.54 ($49.06) to book the same ticket, saving you 600 points for $10.45. This means you’re effectively buying Aeroplan points for 1.7 cents apiece.
Alternatively, Air Canada has business-class flights from Montreal to Paris (CDG) for 58,700 points and CA$66.15 ($52.74) in taxes and fees on some dates in October. You can also use 35,300 points and CA$510.75 ($407.20) to book the same ticket. This means you’re spending 1.5 cents per point, which is the same as TPG’s valuation of Aeroplan points.
Aeroplan is an example of a program where it might make sense to use points-and-cash redemptions depending on the award ticket. The numbers vary widely, though, so run the numbers and see if it makes sense for your specific booking. Only use points and cash if you’re comfortable buying miles at the price you get from paying fewer miles for your ticket.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
Air France and KLM’s joint Flying Blue loyalty program lets you combine points and cash if you’re short on points for a specific redemption. The program enables you to use cash to cover up to 25% of an award ticket. That said, you can’t use cash to cover an award ticket if you have enough points in your account to book or if you need more than 25% of the points required to book.
Here’s an example booking. This business-class flight on Air Europa from New York-JFK to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA), via Madrid (MAD) costs 68,500 miles and 20.50 euros ($24.38) in taxes and fees one-way.
I only have 56,123 miles in my Flying Blue account, but I can book the same flight for 51,400 miles and 277.11 euros ($329.62) one-way with miles and cash. This means I’m effectively purchasing 17,100 Flying Blue miles for 1.8 cents apiece. This isn’t a terrible deal per se, but it is higher than TPG’s valuation of Flying Blue miles at 1.2 cents per mile.
Like Air Canada, do the math and see if it makes sense for your specific redemption. It can make sense when you need to book a specific ticket but don’t have the miles required. That said, if you can transfer points from a transferable points program or book a cheaper flight on a different date, it makes sense to skip.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways Executive Club has long offered points-and-cash redemptions for award tickets. You can choose how many Avios you’d like to use for any British Airways award ticket. It’s typically been one of the better points-and-cash redemption options, especially on economy flights.
For example, this off-peak economy flight from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to London Heathrow (LHR) costs 13,000 Avios and $229.20 one-way. Alternatively, you can choose to redeem as few as 4,550 Avios and spend $329.20 on the same ticket. This lets you buy Avios at a cheap 1.2 cents each, which is a great deal. It’s actually lower than TPG’s valuation of Avios at 1.5 cents apiece.
But you won’t always get this great of a deal. A business-class ticket from New York-JFK to London costs 60,000 Avios and $729.20 one-way in taxes and fuel surcharges. Or, you can use as few as 30,000 Avios and $1,594.20 to book the same ticket. This means you’re spending roughly 2.9 cents per Avios.
Again, do the math and see if using Avios and money when booking British Airways award tickets makes sense. Also, be sure to compare the cost of a cash ticket. The ORD-LHR ticket discussed earlier can often be booked for under $800 round-trip on off-peak travel dates. In this case, you’re better off saving your Avios for a more valuable award.
Delta has two types of points-and-cash redemptions: Miles + Cash and Pay with Miles.
Any Delta SkyMiles member can use Miles + Cash redemptions. Like other points-and-cash redemptions mentioned here, the value you get from Delta’s Miles + Cash redemptions depends on the award you book. This award flight from New York (LGA) to Detroit (DTW) costs 10,000 SkyMiles and $6 in taxes and fees.
Or, you can book it for 5,000 SkyMiles and $96 with Miles + Cash. This lets you effectively buy SkyMiles for 1.8 cents apiece, which is significantly higher than TPG’s valuation of 1.1 cents per mile.
Beyond this, the actual cents-per-mile value you get from some Miles + Cash redemptions may be significantly lower when compared to the cash price of the ticket. The same one-way ticket from LGA to DTW costs $139, bring the true cents-per-mile value of this Miles + Cash redemption all the way down to 0.9 cents per mile.
Further, Delta SkyMiles members with a Delta cobranded credit card can use the carrier’s Pay with Miles feature on select flights. This feature lets you redeem your Delta miles at a set value of 1 cent per point toward a paid ticket. You can use this to cover the entire cost of a ticket or a portion in increments of $50 (5,000 points). Pay with Miles redemptions are rounded to the nearest 5,000 points.
That means this one-way ticket from Chicago to Salt Lake City (SLC) that costs $148.40 can be booked for 15,000 SkyMiles.
Pay with Miles tickets are treated as standard Delta tickets. So, you’ll still earn Medallion Qualification Miles, Medallion Qualification Segments, Medallion Qualification Dollars and redeemable miles on the cash portion of the ticket. Remember, Delta award tickets earn MQMs, MQSs and MQDs through the end of 2022.
Redeeming SkyMiles at 1 cent per mile is slightly less value than TPG’s SkyMiles valuation of 1.1 cents per mile. That said, it provides more flexibility in how you redeem your SkyMiles if an award ticket happens to be more expensive. Regardless, it’s in your best interest to compare the cost of a SkyMiles award and Pay with Miles redemption to see if it makes sense to use this feature to redeem your points.
Personally, I skip both of these points-and-cash options and only redeem SkyMiles for award tickets. It almost always provides a higher cents-per-mile value.
Like British Airways, Iberia uses the Avios currency. You can select how many Avios and how much cash you’d like to spend on an Iberia-operated award ticket. It can sometimes make sense to utilize these redemptions, too, if the numbers work out.
For instance, you can redeem 17,000 Avios and $88.01 for a one-way ticket from New York-JFK to Madrid (MAD). Or, you can redeem 4,250 Avios and $238.01 for the same ticket. This means you’re buying Avios for just 1.2 cents apiece, which is an excellent deal when compared to TPG’s Avios valuation.
Run the numbers and see if it makes sense for you to use Avios and cash on your next booking. The value you get depends on the route and cabin class you choose to fly. Plus, the value proposition may change whether you book peak or off-peak tickets.
JetBlue launched points-and-cash redemptions in 2020, and the process is pretty straightforward. You’re now greeted with a slider at the bottom of the checkout screen when you search for award tickets on JetBlue’s website. You can select how many miles you’d like to use toward an award ticket. You can do this on all JetBlue flights and can use any amount of points toward your ticket.
But you won’t get a great value with this redemption. For example, you can book this flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Newark (EWR) for 11,800 TrueBlue points or $173.56. If you used 6,500 TrueBlue points toward the ticket, you’d still pay $115.50 out of pocket. This means you’d save just $58.06 and get just under 0.9 cents per point in value. This is an extremely poor use of TrueBlue points.
The same goes for this flight in Mint business class from New York-JFK to London Heathrow (LHR), which costs 247,500 points or $2,500.20. If you applied 137,500 points to your purchase, you’d still owe $1,267.20. This means you’d get the same sub-0.9 cents per point value on this redemption.
Needless to say, you should avoid cash-and-points redemptions with JetBlue if you want to maximize the value of your points.
As you can see here, points-and-cash redemptions are a mixed bag. Sometimes they can be a great deal, especially when you book with British Airways and Iberia. The moral of the story is to always run the numbers and find how much you’re paying per point with these redemptions. Then, ask yourself if you’d buy points outright at that price.
Featured photo by Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock.com.
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