This blog post was updated on July 18, 2019.

Finding cheap flights can feel akin to striking gold. You have been dreaming of seeing Machu Picchu and the perfect award ticket has presented itself to Peru. You start to second guess if giving up tens of thousands of miles is really worth it and then the ticket disappears. It’s now double the miles. Deciding whether to buy a ticket outright or use your precious miles is not always easy. In order to not feel like you just made a deal with the devil by giving up all your miles or on the flipside, like you have no money for your trip now that you paid in cash, we have come up with some essential questions to ask to determine whether to book your ticket on miles or with cash.

What Is the Difference in Value between Using Miles and Buying the Ticket?

Even if you find a mileage flight, don’t book straight away. You first have to figure out what the ticket will cost in cash and then cross compare. Travelers should find out roughly what the cost per mile is based on how your airline has structured their mileage program. Once you figure out the price of the ticket versus the actual value of those miles, you can compare which is the best deal. You also have to factor in the value of miles you would receive on that cash ticket when determining its overall value.

Are You Likely to Cancel or Change Your Ticket?

Some travelers frequently change their travel plans or unpredictable schedules force them to cancel flights. If you tend to fall into this category, you might want to go with the mileage ticket. Generally, it is easier to change or cancel an award ticket than it is if you paid with cash. You will often have to pay a hefty change fee for that cash ticket or worse, you won’t be refunded when you cancel the reservation. If you want to have more flexibility in terms of canceling or changing tickets, go with the mileage ticket to avoid the headaches.

So what will it be? Miles or cash? Whatever you choose, start your search right here with cheap flights for your next trip!

What Are the Taxes and Fees Attached to the Award Ticket?

There is always a catch and in the case of award tickets, the catch can be the taxes and fees tacked on to the flight. In addition to the miles, award tickets can come with some pretty hefty taxes and fees. In some cases, these fees can add up to a couple hundred dollars. When this happens, you might be giving up tens of thousands of miles and a couple hundred dollars when the cost of buying the ticket outright is actually less. It is not always worth using your miles if you have to give up tens of thousands of miles and a nice chunk of change to get those cheap flights.

Do You Care about Elite Status?

Many frequent fliers are chasing elite status. To make elite status, you usually need to fly a certain amount of times a year and/or spend enough with an airline. Elite status can come with valuable perks like free upgrades, expedited security, and lounge access. However, when you do use your miles on a ticket, you aren’t going to be accruing those elite status points. Before you use an award ticket, you have to decide if reaching elite status is a priority. Weigh the value of those elite perks against the value of the ticket. Also, pay attention to what you’ll lose by cashing in those miles.

Are You Flying a Long Distance?

Using miles for short distances isn’t always a good idea. For example, you might have enough miles for an international ticket to Europe. The same amount of miles can get you to New York or all the way to Greece. It is usually more worth your miles to go as far as you can as these tickets are often more costly. Also, on longer flights you might want more comfort. On a mileage ticket, it is often feasible to upgrade to business or just a better seat for extra miles than it would be to pay for the upgrade outright.

Is This a Last Minute Trip?

It is no secret that booking a last minute flight can be expensive. With fewer seats left on such short notice, airlines often raise the cost of the ticket. They know you are in a bind and will often pay up because you have no choice. If you have to book a ticket last minute, be sure to check if you have the miles to book an award ticket instead. Mileage tickets will usually be more appealing than paying that inflated cash ticket price.

Deciding whether to give up your miles or just pay with cash is one of the traveler’s great booking dilemmas. However, if you ask yourself a few simple questions and with a little math, you can often figure out quite easily which choice is right for you.

How do you decide between mileage tickets and cash tickets? Share your tips with us in the comments below.

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About The Author

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at