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Should I Pay With Cash or Frequent Flyer Miles?

Dear Tim,

My boyfriend and I are thinking about visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Los Angeles this Christmas. We are thinking about December 24 to December 29. I have about 30,000 miles in a Northwest WorldPerks account and would like to go with their cash + miles option, which costs 25,000 miles for one way plus cash for the other way, currently between $200 (a red-eye flight) and $300 (one-stop, total nine hours).

Would you recommend this kind of purchase? American offers $555 for nonstop and $468 for one-stop flights for the same dates.


Dear Sue,

From a purely financial standpoint, I’d recommend jumping on the $468 [[American Airlines | American]] ticket, and saving your [[Northwest Airlines | Northwest]] miles for another time, when you can redeem 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket worth $500 or more.

As a [[The Value of a Frequent Flyer Mile | very rough rule of thumb]], I always suggest aiming to get at least 2 cents in value for every mile redeemed. Applying that rule to the Northwest scenario, you’d be paying $500 (25,000 miles at 2 cents each) plus $200 or $300—a total of $700 to $800 for the round-trip. Why pay that much when the American tickets are significantly cheaper?

On the other hand, the Northwest deal isn’t terrible, considering it’s during the holiday travel crush, when bargains are typically harder to come by. So if you don’t foresee another opportunity to use your miles in the near future, cashing them in now might make sense.

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