"Should I purchase an airline ticket or redeem frequent flyer miles?" How many times I hear this question asked. Unfortunately, there is no single right answer. But let me offer some thoughts:
-If you are booking the trip "last minute" such as within a few weeks of travel: Some airlines may charge up to $100 for redeeming miles last minute.
-If your travel plans might change: Often you are allowed free date/time changes on award travel tickets (but not city or routing changes). Few purchased tickets allow fee-free changes.
-If you are flying to/from smaller regional airports: These fares often, though not always, cost more than through larger cities with more competition. It might make more sense to redeem miles if there is availability.
-If you want to earn banked and/or elite qualifying miles for your flight: Then you should buy your ticket. Typically you don't earn miles on award travel flights.
Then there is the cost factor. This will vary by person. Some people think 25,000 miles (the amount required for a free roundtrip domestic flight) is worth around $300, and will therefore use miles if the cost of a ticket is ~$300 or more. On the other hand, if the family budget is running a little tight this month, maybe redeeming miles makes good sense, regardless the price of the ticket. Again, this is more an individual/situational decision.