Double Take: Should You Save Your Miles and Points or Spend Them?

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With the coronavirus pandemic bringing travel to a startlingly sudden halt, many travelers are wondering when they will get on a plane again. And when they do, how they’ll pay for it.

Although it’s too early to know when air travel will resume, it’s not too early to begin considering strategies for how to accumulate and spend rewards points and miles. We asked two of our resident miles and points Nerds, Elina Geller and Sam Kemmis, to present their views on earning and redeeming travel rewards in these uncertain times.

Elina: Generally, my strategy is to have a lot of miles and points with different programs. I think of travel rewards like different types of currencies, and the more I have, the better my opportunities are for maximizing value. With that said, I always make sure to not only earn points but burn them, too. As we’ve seen often, so they should never be hoarded. However, this is a fine line.

Should you have 1 million Southwest points that you haven’t touched in five years? Probably not. Although I truly believe there is no right answer, I tend to err on the side of saving slightly more miles than I spend. I like to have lots of liquidity in miles so that when I don’t want to use cash, I don’t need to.

The economic uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of people to tighten their purse strings. I am no exception. I’ve been watching my spending and cutting out expenses as much as I can. This is why I am so thankful to have a reserve of miles and points during this time.

When , I used 5,240 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to book a $79 flight on American Airlines. Since I have the card and I booked through the Chase travel portal, my points were worth 1.5 cents each. Not only did I maximize points because of the good redemption rate, but I also earned American miles on this flight because it was considered a revenue ticket. Though $79 isn’t an expensive ticket by any means, this is an example of when the miles I saved up provided me with an opportunity to conserve my cash.

Sam: At the end of 2019, I to burn through my accumulated stash of travel points and miles in 2020. The best-laid plans, as they say…

Even though my travel schedule for this year, like everyone's, has been thrown into complete disarray, I still think it’s a good time to dig into travel rewards for booking future travel. Why?

That all said, I agree with Elina that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and everyone’s travel plans will require different award solutions. 2020 could be a great year to replenish or reinforce your trove of travel rewards through credit card sign-up bonuses, with the hopes of traveling more in 2021. It all depends on your own situation and goals, as well as the future unfolding of the pandemic.

And, of course, my recommendation to use points and miles assumes it is safe and responsible to travel again sometime soon. We still don’t know when that will be, so this recommendation carries a big asterisk.

During times of economic uncertainty, people tend to reevaluate their spending habits. Deciding whether you should pay with cash or use your miles/points is a personal decision and depends on many factors.

However, one thing is for certain: Using your miles/points for award tickets to conserve cash can make a lot of sense, even if those redemptions aren’t “optimal” by previous standards.

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