What’s the best way to maximize the value of points and miles? There are many different approaches, and the answer depends on which points or miles are available.
First, let’s look at how to compute value. It’s easy—simply divide the actual dollar cost by the number of points or miles. If a hotel room with a cost of $200 can be booked for 40,000 points, the value per point is one half cent, or .005. Likewise, if the airfare to your favorite destination is $500 or 40,000 miles, the value per mile is 1.25 cents.
For airline miles or hotel points, it’s as straightforward as the examples above.
With very few exceptions, those points and miles can’t be transferred or used for anything but that particular loyalty program. Hyatt is by far the most valuable points currency for its hotels. Despite a minor devaluation earlier this year, values of two to four cents per point are relatively easy to find.
Wyndham Rewards points are a distant second, with potential values (at a far smaller collection of properties) of one to two cents per point. For most of the other hotel loyalty programs, expect value in the range of one half to one cent per point—a Marriott or Hilton redemption of more than $0.60 cents per point is a decent value.
When it comes to airline mile values, most airlines actually use a pretty consistent factor to establish the number of miles needed for any particular fare. Southwest has the highest factor, at about 1.4 cents per point, but other airlines are close behind, such as Air Canada, Alaska, American, Avianca, JetBlue, Lufthansa, United and Virgin Atlantic.
Additional analysis and potential increased value come into play when you’re looking at the value proposition for credit cards with their own unique transfer partners. All of the major transferable currencies set a base rate when booking travel through each bank’s travel portal.
For American Express Membership Rewards points, Capital One Miles and Citi ThankYou points, it’s a flat one cent per point. For the Bilt Rewards card, a relatively new card that offers the ability to earn points on rent payments, it’s 1.25 cents per point. The value for Chase Ultimate Rewards points depends on the primary card being used—for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, it’s 1.2 cents; for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, it’s an industry best 1.5 cents. These values establish a minimum threshold for each card family.
The best point values for airfare can be unlocked by transferring points from one of the above programs to a transfer partner for booking air travel. Each of the cards has their own unique set of airline and hotel partners, some of which overlap. The best transfers usually involve business or first-class travel on international routes, where seats that are priced from $3,000 to $7,000 or more may require 100,000 points or less. These values start at around 3 cents per point and can go as high as 10 cents per point, depending on the airline and the route.
While it’s easy and usually only takes 0-24 hours to make a transfer to most partners online through the issuer’s website, it’s difficult to find seats available and the booking process can be time consuming and frustrating.
The price in points changes frequently (just like cash airfares), and it’s usually not straightforward: most of the time, you’ll be booking a flight with a particular airline through the website of its airline alliance partner.
Sound crazy? It is, but there are some great values to be found if you have the patience to hunt for them and the flexibility to travel based on when those values are available. There are several tools available online to help search for the best value. We like www.point.me best.
Here are some quick pointers on getting good to great value for your points:
- Join each loyalty program that offers the potential for good value. Even if you don’t have current plans to stay or fly with a hotel or airline, joining their loyalty program is necessary in order to transfer points to that program from one of the transferable partner currencies.
- Never use points if the value of those points is less than a half cent—one cent (or more) for transferable point cards. Using points to pay for Amazon purchases, gift cards and the like are not good value.
- If you don’t want to spend hours looking for that great business class deal to Paris, just book through your card’s travel portal or via the travel provider’s website using points. You’ll still get good value.
- Hyatt is the choice for hotels. In addition to earning World of Hyatt points by staying at Hyatt and using their Chase-issued credit cards, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt on a 1:1 basis. The World of Hyatt loyalty program includes several upscale brands like Alila, Thompson, Secret Resorts and Spas and The Unbound Collection, plus a partnership with Small Luxury Hotels of the World that offers access to hundreds of exclusive luxury properties.
- Most of the US based airlines and Air Canada offer decent value for booking economy or main cabin seats with their loyalty miles, and they also partner with one or more of the popular transferable points currency cards.
- Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to several major airlines at a 3:1 ratio, but an extra 5,000 point bonus kicks in for every 60,000 points transferred, bringing the ratio down to about 3:1.25, which is sometimes a better value than using Bonvoy points for hotel stays. The sweet spot in the Bonvoy transfer program is United, where the transfer ratio is 10% better, effectively 3:1.375.
- American Airlines is the toughest program with which to transfer. Currently, the only transferable point currency they partner with is Bilt. If you’re tied to using American, get one or more of their cards from either Citi or Barclays.
- Before you book a flight directly with an airline or hotel, compute the value you’re getting and compare it to the base rate available when booking through your card’s travel portal. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a base value of 1.5 cents per point. If the value of your points or miles is less than that, book through the Chase travel portal using your points to pay. This is usually the best value for hotel stays (except Hyatt) and sometimes the best strategy for airfare, depending on the base value of your card’s currency.
- For good estimates of the value of loyalty program points and miles, check out the current listings at www.frequentmiler.com and www.thepointsguy.com. Frequent Miler’s values are more conservative whereas The Points Guy is more aggressive.
One last thing to keep in mind while seeking the best point values: the value of points and miles is constantly being reduced. Because of that, a good value today is better than waiting to use points for a dream trip in the future, because the point value of that future trip is likely to decrease over time. So, it’s time to get started now, using points for the best value available today.
New to point and miles? Get started with this guide, then find out which points and miles credit card is right for you.