My Updated Analysis on What a Mile/Point is Worth: Introduction

Introduction
Credit Card Points
Airline Miles
Hotel Points


At least once a year I try to make a post with my valuations of miles and points across various programs. I’d say over the past year more so than ever before the value of miles and points has been shifting, which I suspect is why I’ve gotten so many requests for an updated post on this. The last time I posted my valuation of miles was in November 2011 in this TravelSort post (the one before that was in June 2010), though I focused exclusively on airline miles.

This time around I figured I’d post my updated valuations of the three major credit card points currencies (Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest points), airline miles (Aeroplan, Alaska, American, British Airways, Delta, United, US Airways), and hotel points (Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, and Starwood).

The reason I’m making an introduction post is because I want to explain the basis of my analysis. First let me make one important point, and I’ll make it in bold: I’m not for a second claiming everyone should value their miles/points the way I do, and you’re more than welcome to provide a million counter-examples of how I’m wrong.

We all fly for different reasons, with different goals, and with different valuations on comfort.

For example, say I value American miles more than British Airways points (which I do). Surely someone can come along and say “that’s hogwash, with British Airways I can book a one-way flight between Los Angeles and San Diego for only 4,500 Avios, while the revenue ticket would be $500 one-way. I value them at over 10 cents each.”

Therefore I’ll try to maintain a balanced approach to my analysis, though it’s worth noting my potential biases. For example, I often travel alone, so am sometimes only looking for one award seat when redeeming miles. Furthermore, I greatly value the ability to redeem miles for premium cabins, in particular first class. On the hotel side, I value the ability to redeem points for high-end properties that I otherwise couldn’t afford.

But my main point is simply that everyone’s valuation is going to be different, both in absolute terms and in relative terms. Disagree with my analysis? That’s great, and please let me know. This is just my opinion, and at the end of the day there’s no right or wrong answer. Some will say I’m valuing miles double as high as they should be across the board, while others will say they value them twice as high across the board. Some will say they value British Airways points double as much as American miles, while others will say they value American miles double as much as British Airways points.

Hopefully that’s sufficient disclosure (though I know it won’t stop at least some of you from tearing my numbers apart). 😀

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for doing this Lucky. It’s certainly a difficult task to undertake, especially when trying to be as objective as possible. I look forward to see how drastically things have changed since the last time you did it!

  2. “at the end of the day there’s no right or wrong answer”

    At the end of the day, some programs are objectively better than others. Have the stones to say so man!

  3. Since we all have different needs, there is no clear answer. I do value the time and effort you’re going to put in to your analysis. Besides all this info making me (us) crazy, it helps in evaluating my needs.

    Thanks Coins.

  4. Looking foreard to it…I’m especially curious about cc valuation as i consider signing up for a card earning those points

  5. I think you also need to add the caviot that just because one might value currency ‘A’ more over currency ‘B’ that doesn’t mean the value proposition of having a ton of ‘B’ points is necessary worse unless the cost to acquire each was the same.

    Sure UA miles might be worth 1.6 cents to some while Delta come in around 1.0. The thing is getting a pile to 100k with Delta has historically been much faster and cheaper than getting 60k UA miles. Through 250k Skymiles for 2 checking accounts, 1.5miles/ $ on smart CC spend, MR transfer bonuses, 25k for buy and reselling $500 of stuff on Skymall or being able to outright “buy” Skymiles at 1.1cpm through transfers directly from Delta the cost to acquire huge amounts quickly is much faster with Delta. Same is true of US Air as well vs competitors.

    And if people are smart enough to read this blog then they are smart enough to never redeem points for any amount above the baseline ‘low’ level so the myth that Delta awards are more expensive can be put to bed. More time consuming, limiting and frustrating -yes. More expensive -the contrary is true and I would argue they might provide one of the highest rates of return to a savvy redeeemer.

  6. @mac, note that while always preferable to redeem at that level it is not always possible or practical. For example, I only ever redeem for ‘ low’ level premium cabin international awards to maximize value. However I recently chose to use them for a ‘ high’ level domestic coach ticket (and two tickets at that) because the alternative was paying close to 1000/tkt which wasn’t happening. So for a true representation of worth you can’t assume only low level, but instead based upon your experience over the current period top arrive at a weighted average.

  7. It’s interesting how people value miles and points because for example, many value United around 2 cents or less but that confuses me when you can book first class tickets that bring up the value to 15 to 20 cents…I wonder how it gets down to 2 cents?

  8. Looking forward to the analysis. I’m predicting that I will disagree with how you value Starpoints (as a currency for hotel reward stays, not in terms of transferring to airline miles, for example) 🙂

  9. @Ryan from MA: If you do the math for redeeming X points for a Y dollar ticket and get 15-20 cents per point, that only represents the value of those points to you if and only if you would have readily actually paid Y dollars for that ticket. This is a very common misunderstanding of how to value points. Lucky alluded to this with his example of a British Airways redemption for a SAN-LAX flight but didn’t spell it out. Many of us look at economy versus business class versus first class tickets and figure that we would never pay the published fare for business class or first class, but if the airline was willing to sell us that first class ticket for merely twice the economy ticket price, we’d actually pay cash out of pocket for that. Then the correct number to use to figure out value per point is the price we’d be willing to pay in cash divided by the number of points needed for the redemption. The same is true for hotel program points. Some people look at the published price for a suite in some fantastically nice hotel in a popular exotic location and come up with some phenomenal number of cents per point. Valid if and only if you would have seriously considered paying that cash price.

  10. Ryan,
    Would you pay cash for a 15-20 cpm redemption ticket, complete with limits on availability? If so, then value the miles thusly.

    Value to you should be based on what you’d realistically pay otherwise, not what the airlines charge.

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