The goal should always be to redeem points for your flights. But sometimes, it can be difficult to decide which points to use, so how do we go about doing that?
Credit Cards Family Travel Miles and Points

Choosing which point option to use for a domestic flight

So I’ve been working on clearing out earned miles and points (my shame list). I’ve got points lying around in all sorts of programs that I’ve decided to prioritize getting rid of. That creates an interesting scenario when you have multiple trips coming up. Do you burn the points you want to get rid of, or do you redeem points for best value? In my case, that question turned what should have been a ten minute booking into a two hour internal debate. Mo Points, Mo Problems as Diddy said. 

I thought it might be useful to go through my thought process as I debated which points to use (like I’ve done before). I’ll keep this post focused on only one of the flights I booked, Newark to Charlotte. The other flights I’m booking factored into my decision making but not enough to blab about all of those. I also learned a few things along the way which I’ll share as well. Let’s dive in.

Flight Parameters and Non-negotiables

Before I started looking for airfare, I had to figure out my flight parameters. Since this will be our first flight as a family of five, I wanted:

  • Nonstop flights
  • Morning flight times
  • Everyone on the same itinerary

Also, since I’m trying to ditch miles and points in all the various programs I’ve earned, I had one more parameter: Use up some of these random miles, even if it might not be the best value.

Various Options and Prices

So I had various options to try:

  • AA award flights via British Airways Avios
  • UA award flights (out of Newark)
  • Cash flights booked with Ultimate Rewards
  • Cash flights booked with Flexperks
  • Cash flights booked with Merrill Lynch points
  • Cash flights booked with BofA Premium Rewards points

Here’s what I found and what I felt to be the pros and cons of each.

AA award flights using Avios

As always, I found Avios to not be as useful as advertised (in my personal situation, relax everyone). While there was bountiful award space on AA in economy, at 15,000 Avios round trip per person I didn’t find the redemption to be a great value vs. the $177 cash price. Now, if I had a ton of Avios, I probably would have pulled the trigger since it would have fulfilled my “use random miles” parameter. However, I would have had to transfer from Chase or AMEX – I could do better by either using the 35% rebate on my Business Platinum (AMEX) or booking for 1.5 cents per point (Chase). So, no Avios for me.

The goal should always be to redeem points for your flights. But sometimes, it can be difficult to decide which points to use, so how do we go about doing that?
It did not feel worth it to transfer points over when the cash flight is so cheap

UA award flights out of Newark

The next thing I checked was UA award flights. Saver flights were only available at inopportune times (6 in the morning or 8 at night), so I quickly moved on.

Cash flights booked with Ultimate Rewards

Since I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I knew I could get 1.5 cents per point if I booked through Ultimate Rewards. Since the cash flight cost around $177, that came out to a favorable number (especially compared to transferring to Avios). The whole itinerary priced out at around 47,000 Ultimate Rewards points, as opposed to 60,000 Avios + $44.80. I put a pin in this one to think about later.

The goal should always be to redeem points for your flights. But sometimes, it can be difficult to decide which points to use, so how do we go about doing that?

Cash flights booked with Flexperks

Since Flexperks offer the same 1.5 cents per point rate, I knew that it would cost the same number of points as Ultimate Rewards. Pinned this option as well. However, at this point I had been farting around for so long that space had dropped from 4 seats in the fare bucket I needed to 3, so the new cost (in either UR or FP) was around ~50,000. Analysis paralysis! (If I didn’t have the all people on same itinerary parameter, I could have booked two separate itineraries. But 3K points are worth avoiding the hassle for me).

Cash flights booked with Merrill Lynch

The next thing I did was see if I could book business class with Merrill Lynch. The best way to maximize Merrill Lynch is to book flights that cost almost $500, you can get those for 25K Merrill Lynch points. I was trying to see if I could get a couple of one ways in business, but as you can imagine with such a specific parameter, it was too difficult to make the numbers work. Each leg cost around $300 in business, too cheap to book a one way and too expensive to bother booking a round trip. Doing this also would have violated my one itinerary parameter so it ended up being a non starter. Curse you Merrill Lynch points I must be rid of you!

The goal should always be to redeem points for your flights. But sometimes, it can be difficult to decide which points to use, so how do we go about doing that?
These Merrill Lynch prices just weren’t working out

Cash flights booked with BofA Premium Rewards points

At this point I wanted to look at BofA Premium Rewards, one of those cards that I just got for the sign up bonus because of the hype. Guess what I learned that I probably should have already known? Points can be redeemed for 1 cent per point for travel (no uplift) or for straight cash, homey. Since my goal was to get rid of miscellaneous points if possible, I immediately redeemed my Premium Rewards points for cash and kicked myself for not doing it three months ago.

Choosing what miles and points to redeem

In the end, I decided to go with Flexperks. I figure Chase Ultimate Rewards points are more flexible (I can even use them to buy Disney tickets), and Flexperks offered the best combination of value and “random points I want to get rid of” status. Better yet, I was able to charge the ticket to my US Bank Altitude and test out mobile rewards redemption. It’s pretty nice to just redeem points with a text! Which gave me an idea for a #veryshortblogpost which you’ll see if you follow me on Twitter.

The goal should always be to redeem points for your flights. But sometimes, it can be difficult to decide which points to use, so how do we go about doing that?
Easy.

Final Thoughts

I find it useful to go through various miles and points options when booking tickets. Honestly, it’s a little annoying to have so many options but I guess that’s #firstworldproblems. Make sure you go through all your options to find the best value for yourself and your situation, and redeem according to your parameters! In the end I was happy to be rid of a bunch of Flexperks and to save my Ultimate Rewards. Now to get rid of those Merrill Lynch points…

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Joe
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less
http://www.asthejoeflies@gmail.com

7 thoughts on “Choosing which point option to use for a domestic flight”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It’s great to see your thought process and get a bit of procedural learning on potential paths taken. Not that many travel blogs I follow these days really go through this anymore, they simply highlight the final choice, rather than discussing the options considered.

  2. I assume you’re in NJ, as you mentioned preference for Newark. Have you considered Trenton airport on Frontier?

  3. I often go through a similar routine when booking tickets and often wonder what I’m doing to myself…but then I’m happy I have so many choices. I just love this hobby!

  4. Great post, Joe. Your post is a perfect example of why I am not enamored with the “burn” part of “earn ‘n burn” and probably why I too have random points in too many places. But as you say, definitely #firstworldproblems.

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