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Should I Use Points and Miles to Book Wedding Travel?

Sam Kemmis

You have no excuses now that the holidays have ended: It’s time to book travel for the wedding(s) you agreed to attend in 2020.

Whether visiting an exotic destination wedding or just flying back to Cincinnati for your awkward cousin’s nuptials, wedding travel can get expensive in a hurry. A weekend trip can easily cost over $1,000 in airfare and lodging — or much more if you’re (shudder) traveling with family.

These costs get so exorbitant because many weddings are:

  1. In the summer.
  2. On weekends.
  3. Near smaller airports.

Any one of these factors drives up the cost of flights and hotels, but all three combined can create a perfect storm of expenses. Short of asking the betrothed to move their ceremony to a less-pricey time and location, there are a few options to offset these wedding travel costs.

To pay or not to pay…

The sticker shock of weekend summer airfare can be so great, it’s natural to wonder if credit card points and airline miles can come to the rescue. The short answer is an unsatisfactory: “it depends.”

Always compare

Many airlines (including American, Delta and United) now offer “dynamic pricing” for their award flights, which is a fancy way of saying they can change how many miles a given flight costs however and whenever they want. That means it’s extra important to compare the cost of a cash ticket to the equivalent cost of an award ticket you’re buying with miles.

To do this, either use a calculator like this one, or do the calculation yourself:

  1. Get the cost of the flight or hotel room in cash. For example, let’s say a round-trip flight costs $450.
  2. Find the equivalent cost using points or miles. For example, let’s say an equivalent round-trip award ticket costs 40,000 Delta miles plus $50 in taxes and fees.
  3. Subtract the fees from the cash ticket. In this case, $450 minus $50 equals $400
  4. Find the value of the points or miles (e.g., 1.1 cents each for Delta miles). Multiply this by the number of miles needed, then divide by 100. In our example, 40,000 Delta miles times 1.1 divided by 100 equals $440.
  5. If the number from Step 4 is lower than the number from Step 3, then using points and miles is a good way to save money. If it’s much higher than the number from Step 3, you might want to save the points or miles for a better redemption.

Get creative

If you decide the use points and miles to book your wedding travel, then things start getting fun (if your definition of “fun” is as limited and lame as mine).

One of the biggest benefits of booking award flights is the flexibility and options they afford. For example, some airlines like Alaska and United (sorta) offer free “stopovers” on award flights. Technically, this means you can extend your layover, but it’s also an opportunity to get creative and nerdy.

For example, let’s say you’re flying from LAX to a wedding in Seattle. You can use Alaska miles to get a one-way ticket for 7,500 miles plus $5.60 one-way:

That’s actually a pretty good deal for summer travel. But you can make it even better. Using Alaska’s “multi-city search tool,” you can add an extra leg to Portland (or elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest) for free:

In reality, this is a flight from Los Angeles to Portland with a “stop” (for the wedding) in Seattle, but it effectively acts as two separate tickets for the price of one.

Of course, your own travel needs will vary, but consider extending or fiddling with your itinerary to get more bang from your wedding buck. Rather than treating wedding travel as an expensive use of cash, miles and vacation days, you can treat it like the start of your real summer trip.

Say “I don’t” to baggage fees

What’s the worst part of attending weddings? Not the half-drunk speech from the maid of honor — those are kind of fun. It’s the checked bag fees you weren’t expecting to pay until you realized your dress shoes wouldn’t fit in a carry-on.

The simplest way to avoid bag fees is to use a branded airline credit card. Many of these offer free checked bags to the cardholder, and some even extend this benefit to other shoe-laden passengers on the same itinerary.

Another sneaky way to avoid the hassle and cost of packing formalwear? Don’t. Rent a suit or dress from a service like The Black Tux or Rent The Runway and have it delivered to your hotel. Believe me, there’s no better feeling than flying to a wedding with nothing but a backpack.

Have your cake

Blowing your summer vacation fund to attend your awkward cousin’s wedding is a drag. So don’t do it.

First, consider using points and miles to get you there. Second, see about extending your trip for cheap or free. Third, avoid those bag fees that can cost more than the clothes themselves.

And remember to look on the bright side. At least you’re not the one getting married.

Feeling overwhelmed about how to use your points and miles? I’m here to help. In this column, I answer your questions about the baffling world of travel rewards, cutting through the jargon to provide clear answers to real problems. Send your questions to skemmis@nerdwallet.com.

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Sam Kemmis is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: skemmis@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @samsambutdif.

The article Should I Use Points and Miles to Book Wedding Travel? originally appeared on NerdWallet.