I don't so much believe that the airlines are out to get us, in a maniacal "Die Hard" kind of way, but I do believe they love creating confusion that leads many to part ways with their points in ways that are far from optimal. The number one way they succeed in this endeavor is options. People are just terrible with options, and when all seem good, chances are most are bad. Here's how to play Points + Cash offers...

With Airlines, Almost Always NO...

Using miles to cover part of the cost of a ticket is going to get you about the same value, if not worse, than you'd get using miles for magazines. You're going to get a very poor fixed rate of return, at one cent per point or less, overpaying for the ticket and wasting miles. With few exceptions, as an example, you'd need to use 10,000 points to get a maximum of $100 off, in most cases you'll get even less. You should never get less than $160 of value for 10,000 points (just an example) and in reality, you should do much better, more like $300, without having to pay any cash. Save your miles to book a ticket using only miles, no part cash payment. It's a terrible proposition. There's two exceptions, first, your miles are about to expire and you have no other way to get any value out of them.  Second is the off chance that an airline runs a promotion giving you double or triple the standard cash value for your miles. Once last year I was able to use 30,000 British Airways miles to cover $766 of my airfare. That's not in any way standard and very very rarely happens...

With Hotels, Most Of The Time YES...

It makes far more sense to book cash and points with hotels than it does airlines. With hotels, you can offset your cost in cash or points by combining the two, at a far more favorable, good rate. Cash and points options stabilize rates, allowing you to lock in a fixed value, versus some of the crazy prices you may find when searching just using cash. It's not always a good idea, especially when rates are in your wheelhouse, but when things are outrageously expensive, it could be a good go. For example, a room in the brand new Park Hyatt in New York might run $1,020 for the night tonight, but I could use 15,000 points + $300 to lock in the room. Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG and Starwood all offer similar, excellent Cash + Points options, and some even let savvy travelers buy the points to bring the cost down at booking, you don't even need to have any points in advance! HERE are details on that trick...