Many travelers rack up airline points both on their credit cards and through membership in airline frequent flyer programs. But it can be confusing to know when it’s worthwhile to make a withdrawal from your “bank of points” or use your credit card to pay for tickets and accrue additional points. recently released a study (April 2017) with advice to help travelers make prudent airline ticket purchasing decisions. The findings are based on an examination of 20 popular routes among the four largest U.S. airlines: American, Southwest, Delta and United. It averages the results of 320 individual trips, 160 one-way tickets and 160 round-trip tickets.

One caveat: Airline point programs change all the time so consider the findings a “snapshot” of the current market.

The study results in a nutshell

  • If you are flying domestically, your miles will be worth more in Economy Class. Pay cash for Business or First Class.
  • If you want to fly Business or First Class, your miles will be worth more for longer flights (over 1000 miles). Pay cash for shorter flights.
  • Because one-way tickets tend to be more expensive than round-trip ones, especially for international flights, your miles will be worth more when you use them on one-way rather than round-trip flights.

The article reporting on the study also includes some helpful hacks for using points

If you aren’t sure about whether to pay cash or points, determine their value. Take the ticket price, divide it by the required points to pay, and calculate the value of each point.

“As a simple rule of thumb, if the value of each point is less than 1 cent, use cash and keep your points for a higher-value opportunity,” says Sean McQuay, NerdWallet’s credit and banking expert.

It may be worthwhile to use points worth less than 1 cent under certain circumstances – if your airline points will soon expire or you think you are likely to have to cancel or change your flight.


For more information, you can read the article in its entirety on Nerdwallet: