Skip to content

What to do if the airline offers you a choice of cash or miles for your trouble

July 10, 2022
7 min read
a plane flies above the clouds at sunset
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

While cancellations during last weekend’s Fourth of July travel frenzy did not reach the level they had in previous summer weeks, it still wasn’t a clean weekend by any stretch, with thousands of delays on top of hundreds of flights canceled. In the midst of it all, TPG reported U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took to social media to remind customers of the importance of weighing the options when it comes to points, miles and cash.

Buttigieg reiterated U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) policies, which entitle flyers to refunds whenever their flight is canceled if they ultimately do not fly. The rules also require refunds for passengers who choose not to rebook when their flight is significantly delayed — though the policies don’t specifically lay out what constitutes a significant delay.

Buttigieg went on to point out that occasionally, in the midst of flight disruptions, airlines may offer you a choice of compensation in the form of cash or miles. It’s important, he wrote, to carefully consider your options.

“When deciding whether to accept miles, it’s helpful to know their value,” Buttigieg explained.

He’s not wrong.

Want your TPG news delivered straight to your inbox each morning? Sign up for our daily newsletter.

An American Eagle jet waits at the gate at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Know the value of an airline mile

TPG calculates the value of a mile from major airlines’ loyalty programs in our Points and Miles Valuations, which are updated monthly. The page — which also includes points valuations for major hotel and credit card loyalty programs, too — tells you how many cents a single point or mile is worth. It's a page you may want to bookmark before your next trip, in case you end up having to make a decision like the one Buttigieg outlined.

You can see, for instance, that TPG values a single mile in the American Airlines AAdvantage program at 1.77 cents; a Delta SkyMiles mile at 1.41 cents and a United MileagePlus mile at 1.21 cents.

Related: This is how TPG is changing points and miles valuations for the better

Sign up for our daily newsletter

So, if your flight on Delta got canceled, for example, and the airline is offering you a choice of $100 or 10,000 SkyMiles, you'll need to figure out how much those miles are worth.

Grab your calculator. You’ll want to multiply 1.41 (cents) times 10,000 (miles) and you get 14,100 cents. Divide that by 100 for the dollar amount, which is $141. That means you may be better off taking the miles in this case, as they have a higher value.

Related: How I decide whether to redeem points or pay cash

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Important considerations for booking, too

As you consider booking a flight on miles (or a hotel stay on points) you’ll want to weigh the same factors in deciding whether to use your miles, points or pay with cash. No need to pull out your own calculator in this case, though — we have a handy online tool.

With TPG’s Awards vs. Points Calculator, you can plug in what the award price is in terms of points or miles along with any fees you’ll have to pay on top of your award booking. You’ll also input the cash cost.

The calculator, which uses TPG's valuations as a benchmark, will then tell you what your best option is for that booking.

For instance, let’s say I was booking a flight for next month on American Airlines from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). The cash fare for this itinerary is $190.

(Screenshot from americanairlines.com)

A round trip booked on AAdvantage miles comes to 16,000 miles plus $11.20 in fees.

(Screenshot from americanairlines.com)

Enter each of those numbers into the calculator, and you’ll see that you’re better off paying in cash, as the miles are worth about $90 more than what you’d pay for the cash fare.

(Screenshot from TPG's Awards vs. Cash Calculator)
(Screenshot from TPG's Awards vs. Cash Calculator)

When weighing whether to accept cash or miles from an airline, you could also plug in the numbers – just know that for that situation, you’ll want to take the opposite of whatever the calculator is suggesting. That is to say, when you’re booking, you’re looking for the lowest amount; when you’re accepting something, you want the highest value.

Planes wait at the gate while others taxi at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

A wide range of scenarios and choices

Of course, the cash-versus-miles choice Buttigieg outlined is just one scenario that can play out when it comes to flight disruptions and compensation, and it’s not necessarily a choice you’ll encounter.

There are any number of ways your trip can get disrupted, and plenty of ways the airline may try to compensate you for your trouble (if it does at all).

Airlines may (but won’t always) compensate you for expenses incurred when you have an unexpected overnight stay somewhere because of a delay or cancellation. You can always ask.

The carrier also might cancel your flight and offer you a refund, but no miles.

Sometimes you might get an offer from the airline for a certain cash amount to move to a later flight. That’s likely the airline trying to preemptively account for oversold flights. If taking a later flight is an option for you, you might see if you can get even more money out of the airline than its initial offer.

From time to time, as TPG’s Andrew Kunesh recently found out, you might even get both money and miles for your trouble.

I once even received miles from an airline as an apology because the air conditioning on a flight back from the Caribbean wasn’t properly working and it was hot on board.

Bottom line: Whether you’re weighing an offer from the airline for compensation or considering whether to book a flight, be sure to know the value not just of the cash but of the loyalty currency involved.

Featured image by (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

5X points
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 Points
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees