a seat in a plane

People love to shout about “free” this, or “luxury” that, and it’s all lovely. Who doesn’t love sipping bubbly, or enjoying an airline trip, all from using points. But there’s also a highly practical part of using your points, rather than cash, to book airline tickets.

It’s not “sexy” like a private suite in the air, vintage champagne — or a shower in the sky — all of which points can unlock, but it’s transformative in a way cash tickets rarely are. It’s the travel flexibility that points offer.

If you’ve ever looked at what a “flexible” business class ticket costs, you’ll certainly have a great appreciation for being able to book a ticket with miles that has the same flexibility. If you haven’t, it’s really worth a look. You might never undervalue your points and miles again!

a seat in a plane

Flexibility Is Worth Literal Thousands

We all know bloggers love to show the retail value of tickets to showcase their points exploits. To each their own.

The reality is that business class tickets are rarely as expensive as the screenshots people grab just hours before the flight leaves to inflate the price, but there’s a very real exception, which actually makes the blogger comparisons more legit.

Someone booking a ticket with most mileage currencies isn’t actually buying the equivalent of the lowest retail ticket at the time of booking. They’re really buying the equivalent of the lowest “flexible” ticket.

This applies in all cabins, too. Economy can be a steal, as can premium, business, or first. Let’s use business as an example…

A Circa $4,900 Premium!

A Los Angeles to Madrid might go for $2500 on a standard “sale”, but if you can’t fly it, you mostly eat it, or if you need to change, you may end up paying that big amount all over again in change fees.

screens screenshot of a black screen
Never underestimate the value of the flexibility which points offer.

The “refundable” version of that ticket, which you could cancel and receive a refund for, would be circa $7,000 and up. And that’s the truly underrated part of using miles.

Some airlines are starting to charge more miles for this flexibility and benefit, but many still allow you to cancel up to 24 hours before the flight and get all your miles and cash back, minus either a minimal circa $35 fee, or nothing.

People constantly inquire about whether they should book this “flight they just found” and the answer when using points which still offer this flexibility should always really be “yes” — do it. It locks in something which may go away, and if you need to change to a different date, you keep looking.

If you need to cancel, you get your miles and money back. Need to change, you just need availability, and a free swap can be made. That’s far from the case when you pay cash!

Sadly, This Will Change Over Time

We’ve already seen some airlines introduce “fare products” like they do with cash, into their points options. With some airlines such as Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, booking a ticket at the lowest miles rate comes with reduced flexibility to cancel without penalty.

a bed in a plane

American’s “Web Special” Award tickets are a small foray into reducing ticket flexibility. Currently you can still cancel and receive all your miles back, but unlike other awards at the “SAAver” level, you cannot make any changes. If you want different flights, you’ll need to cancel, get a refund and start over.

Others, like Air France and KLM’s Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have yet to make any such changes to the flexibility you automatically receive. If you need to cancel a ticket, you can. All your miles are returned, and all the cash, minus the tiny fee. Changes can also be made.

Borrowed Time?

This is such a “good deal” with using miles, that it’s fair to say, unfortunately, it’s most probably on borrowed time. Not that it’ll go away, it’ll just likely become an “add on” at a cost, either in points or cash. Make hay while the sun shines, as they say!

Airlines won’t all want to offer this outstanding flexibility that allows someone to not only get around buying a $2,500 ticket, but gives the equivalent flexibility of a $7,000 ticket, for a set price in miles. Programs are already proving that people will pay more miles to retain that flexibility.

Many are, and more will, find ways to charge that extra bit of miles on top of the redemption price to offer that. There’s a business opportunity to extract more miles for that ease of use, and more airlines are flexing that opportunity, by the year.

For now, this is easily the most highly underrated feature of using points to book tickets, versus cash. Long may it last — and the amazing card welcome bonuses that help unlock the points to go along with it!

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Good points. I’m changing a SQ Suites from JFK to LHR to close speculative date from SYD JFK all suites after Equipment change 🙁

  2. Hadn’t really considered this, even though I just used this flexibility: had to change a Qatar Air biz ticket for 2. The only cost was $25/each which, since you mentioned it, is a crazy deal. I won’t be “repricing” the ticket in my head or when I tell friends about it, but it really is underrated!

  3. try cancelling a BA award ticket, miles are returned , the fee is no longer
    or if you prefer
    it is returned minus a charge which amounts to the original fee paid !
    “minus the tiny fee” in my last 3 experiences has been the full amount I paid.

  4. I think you have highlighted a valid point.
    But does that justify charging even more miles? Don’t forget earning is going to be dramatically reduced given taxes and airline surcharges won’t be counted. It’s a double edged sword.

    Like your comments on how hotel loyalty is rapidly eroding (esp in the Western world) I feel airline tickets are also slowly moving to ‘cash is king’.

    Virgin has some good low cost semi flexible fares for eg. Surely more airlines will follow. Maybe some have as well.

    1. As if I single handedly change the course of the airline industry! This is an example of a blog noting a trend that’s growing, and advising blog readers to make hay while the sun shines, as I state.

    1. How is it a backdoor devaluation. Can you eloquently, and using basis in fact illustrate how people in the US & UK are worse off from this? Don’t be a parrot of points and miles blogs that don’t see value outside of gaming systems.

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