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Cash or Miles? New Google Flights Plugin ‘Points Path’ Helps You

It's the question that dogs many everyday travelers: Should I just pay cash or use my airline miles? And how many miles will this flight cost, anyway? Now they can get some easy answers … without even navigating away from their Google Flights search.

It's all thanks to a Google Chrome browser extension called Points Path, and it really is as simple as it sounds. Search for any flight on Google Flights and within a few seconds, Points Path pulls in how much it'd cost to book that same flight using miles from American, Delta, or United – and points you to which is the better deal.

Decide to use miles? The plugin lets you click through to the airline and brings up the award ticket you searched for within just a few clicks, just like when booking a cash ticket. And it's all free to use.
 

points path 

After a soft launch late last year to a limited waiting list, Points Path is ready to go fully public. All travelers can now head to Points Path and sign up to install the Chrome browser. It's also available for Microsoft Edge browsers, while the company promises a Safari extension is coming soon.

Compared to the rise of next-level award search tools like point.me, Roame Travel, and countless others that help you hunt down hard-to-find business class award availability and maximize your credit card points, Points Path is quite basic. You won't find convoluted workarounds to book Delta flights for fewer points by using a partner airline program or niche airline miles to use – at least not yet.

But for Points Path and its founder, that simplicity is … well, it's the entire point.

It's designed for the average American traveler who has 10,000 or 20,000 miles stashed away with a major U.S. airline and has no idea when or how to use them. So long as you use Google Flights to search for airfare – and if you ask us, you should be – you're set. There's no additional interface to learn, browser windows to open, or yet another account to sign up for.

“The tools that are out there that are covering 40, 60, 100 airline programs … that’s not what Points Path is, and that’s not what Points Path will ever be,” CEO and founder Julian Kheel said in an interview. “Points Path is designed for a user who doesn’t think about frequent flyer miles every day – which is most people.”
 

points path 

As of mid-January 2024, Points Path works for roundtrip domestic and international searches redeeming miles from the big three U.S. carriers – though that includes some international tickets on foreign airlines that you can book with your U.S. airline miles.

Points Path is really just getting off the ground, though. Even more features and additional airlines are on the way.

Kheel said folding major international airline programs like Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, and British Airways into Points Path are the top priorities. While Points Path is free and always will be, Kheel said the company is playing around with the idea of a paid version with exclusive features like the ability to fine-tune how much you value your miles – helping the plug-in give you a personalized recommendation for whether to use cash or miles.

But that's the ceiling. There are plenty of other tools and services that cater to advanced travel hackers looking to squeeze every cent out of their credit card points and airline miles. Points Path won't be one of them.

“I want Points Path to be used by everyone who doesn’t really understand what kind of value they’re getting for their points and miles – and that, by my estimation, is literally millions of people,” Kheel said. “They just want to know: Am I getting a good deal or not?”
 

points path sfo to atlanta 

While the mission is different, Points Path could eventually confront the same problem as many other tools: Getting the data to show travelers what they can book with miles is easier said than done. And airlines don't always love it.

It's a constant game of whack-a-mole, as the smallest change on the airlines' back end can result in errors for the next search. And as award search tools have proliferated, airlines have cracked down on some of them. One is even getting sued.

Kheel sounded confident Points Path won't encounter the same issues because it's built differently than many of its predecessors.

Rather than scraping mass amounts of data from the airlines, Points Path individually duplicates the routes you're searching via Google in the background, pulling in the mileage rates it finds from sites like United and Delta. And as an alum of both The Points Guy and leading CNN's travel coverage, Kheel has connections that some other tools don't to keep the platform running smoothly.

“We’re trying to be very respectful of airline resources,” he said. “We don’t want to cost them more money than a regular user would cost them anyway.”

 

How to Use Points Path

First things first, you need to install this browser extension on Google Chrome – or Microsoft Edge.

You won't find it directly on the Chrome Web Store just yet. For now, just head to PointsPath.com, click “Download the Extension,” and fill out your information. Within a minute or two, you should receive an email to install the browser plugin. Points Path is free to download and use. 
 

points path chrome 

Then, just head to Google Flights and start searching! A few quick things to keep in mind to get the most out of Points Path:

  • You'll currently only see results for American, Delta, United, and some of their foreign partners – always using miles from those U.S. airlines.
  • After initially only working for American Airlines, roundtrip searches now work for both Delta and United, too.
  • Points Path doesn't have a tidy way to factor in basic economy fares: While all the big U.S. carriers sell basic economy when using cash, only Delta sells basic economy award tickets when redeeming miles. Since you're always getting a standard economy ticket when using United and AAdvantage miles, those will always be a bit better than Points Path's math might suggest.
  • Both domestic and international flights work, though some international searches can be hit or miss

Let's start with an easy example: A one-way flight from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Boston (BOS) in March. Within about 10 seconds of hitting search, Points Path had pulled in the mileage rates for each option, placing it right next to the cash price.
 

points path boston chicago 

In this example, Points Path's arrows suggest you're better off paying cash for every flight. How'd they come up with that? It's based on the value the company has assigned to each airline's miles. As of publication, Points Path considers:

  • American AAdvantage miles worth 1.3 cents apiece
  • Delta SkyMiles worth 1.1 cents apiece
  • United MileagePlus miles worth 1.25 cents each

Since you can book that $134 Delta flight for 18,000 SkyMiles, you'd be getting just .7 cents of value out of your SkyMiles: $134 minus the $5.60 you pay in taxes and fees, then divided by the 18,000 SkyMiles you'd redeem. That's far less than the 1.1-cent figure, so Points Path tells you using cash is the better deal.

One tip for Delta flyers: Points Path also doesn't factor in the automatic 15% discount you get when redeeming SkyMiles if you have a co-branded Delta Amex card like the *delta skymiles gold card*.

But in other cases, Points Path will tell you booking with miles is a far better deal, like using just 9,000 or 10,000 American miles to book these $214 flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). That gets you almost twice the 1.3-cent value Points Path gives to American miles.
 

msp to dallas points path 

No matter how you want to book, just click the flight as you normally would with Google Flights. You'll get to the normal screen with all the usual fare options and links to book with the airline … but then there's something new: An option to book with miles, thanks to Points Path.
 

pointspath book option 

Click that option, then click through a dedicated Points Path page and the plugin will pull up the flights you found. With Delta, you'll even watch as the plugin fills out your search at Delta.com.
 

aa fare from points path 

It's a remarkably smooth and, in my experience, error-free process. And in every case, Points Path is pulling live award rates into Google Flights – exactly what you'd find if you searched the airline's site yourself.

 

Bottom Line

Points Path is an exciting new browser extension that makes Google Flights even more powerful, pulling in mileage rates from the major U.S. airlines so travelers can decide whether to use points or pay cash without opening a dozen different windows.

Is it the most powerful award search tool on the planet? Hardly. It works for just a small subset of flights currently, though that should only improve over time. And its calculations for whether to use cash or redeem miles are fairly basic, so it likely won't move the needle for the points and miles aficionados out there.

But there are plenty of other tools out there to that crowd find award availability and redeem miles. Points Path excels where those fall short: Helping everyday travelers with a few thousand miles remember to put them to use and the best ways to do so – all in one familiar screen.

 

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