Award Flights vs. Cash bookings

by Anshul
a table with chairs and a city in the background

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One thing I learnt pretty quickly in this hobby is the “Earn and Burn” philosophy.  Unless I am saving for a unique trip, I try to earn and use my points within a 8-12 month cycle. Summer plans were pretty much decided when we learnt that my brother would travel from Australia to San Diego for an internship in June. I wanted to fly him on points from Melbourne and back. Having never been to Los Angeles myself, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to tag it as city 2 on our trip. So two sets of booking: MEL-SAN; LAX-MEL  for my brother and YOW-SAN; LAX-YOW for Priya (partner in crime) and I. Aim was to spend as little $$ as possible and hopefully do this entire trip in some form of points/point+cash redemption.

A quick look at one of my favorite travel tools ( suggested that the best redemption in Economy was on TAM (60K return) followed by American Airlines AAdvantage program – AA (pre devaluation, 75K return). I had enough points sitting in my Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) account to use the AA award pricing  as long as I got in before the March 21st devaluation (was 80K after that). SPG transfers to AA 1:1 and the 5K bonus on every 20K transferred is one of the strongest features of the SPG program. A quick 60K transfer from SPG to AA fetched me the needed 75K for the award tkt.  The SPG transfer took 2-3 days, points posted in my AA account on March 17th and I was able to confirm the award tkts on March 20th, a day before the devaluation. Talk about cutting it close! The first leg MEL-BNE-LAX-SAN set me back 37500 points and $126.9 USD, while the return leg LAX-MEL was 37500 + $26.70.

Total: 75K AA points + $153.6 USD

Not bad for summer travel between Australia and USA, which would otherwise be ~$1700 USD in cash.

This one was not as straight forward. Cash value for 2 tkts  would run me upwards of ~1200 CAD, which I obviously didn’t want to spend. The award itinerary on AA and Delta were expensive, with extremely long layovers etc., not what I was looking for. Over several days Aeroplan was showing YOW-SAN at 17,250 points (Market Fare vs 12,500 Fixed Milage), 4750 points more than fixed redemption value. There was no way I was shelling out an extra ~10K points (2tkts) for that segment.

One way YOW-SAN or LAX-YOW fixed mileage award tkt price at 12,500 + Tax (or RT at 25K+tax ).

LAX-YOW 12,500 + $75.5

Standard Award: LAX-YOW 12,500 + $75.5


Back in April at the time of booking this trip, I stumbled upon an Aeroplan award sale on LAX flights.  LAX-YOW fares were fixed at 11,400 each (1100 lower than the fixed mileage) with taxes of $12/tkt..SCORE!! Savings of 2200 points over 2 tkts. Knowing that these fares are likely limited seat release, I quickly booked our return trip LAX-YOW: 11,400 + ~$12 USD each.

AP award sale 11,400 + $12

AP award sale 11,400 + $12

Back to YOW-SAN segment of this trip, I was not willing to spend an extra 10K in Aeroplan points or compromise with crazy layovers with AA. I started looking for the best cash tkts around. Searches on Google flights and ITA matrix were pricing at ~$250 CAD each. Priya is registered with the Air Canada Altitude student program ( ) which allows a one-time 15% off (only base fare) code. We used this code to bring down the price of the tkt to $244.67 each.

I value Aeroplan points at 1.9 CAD Cents Per Mile (cpm), so 17250 points was ~$327 CAD vs Cash price of $244. I saved ~$83/tkt by buying cash tkt for this leg.


Total: 2 tkts, YOW-SAN (cash); LAX-YOW (AP award sale) = 22800 AP Points + ~$518 CAD

Take Away:

Did I save a ton of $$ or extract the “best value” of AP miles? No. But sometimes it’s about using the miles in bag and keeping $$ in pocket, that I was able to achieve. When booking award tkts, always check one way fares and do your math to make sure you are not overpaying in points/miles!

Did you redeem any miles for this summer travel?


Anonymous June 2, 2016 - 7:04 pm


Randy Petersen June 2, 2016 - 12:46 pm


Meg June 2, 2016 - 10:36 am

I got a trip to NL, flying into and out of different airports for 990 Airmiles + $71 each way. I was relatively pleased with this, since the prices are a bit higher than normal at the moment, and Airmiles are not that great for out of country travel anyhow.

Bling June 2, 2016 - 2:07 pm

Taking a guess, 990 with a 25% disc on award redemption right? Regardless, that’s incredible value! Nicely done. YOW-YDF one way fare on AC is ~275 CAD. I value AirMiles at 10 CPM, so you are getting close to 27 CPM value on your award redemption. Sweet!!


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