My Updated Analysis on What a Mile/Point is Worth: Credit Card Points

Introduction
Credit Card Points
Airline Miles
Hotel Points


With the introduction out of the way, here are my valuations of Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest points. Yes, I realize SPG points aren’t technically “credit card points,” though I still consider them to be one of the “big three” credit card points currencies due to how easily they can be transferred.

American Express Membership Rewards – 1.6 cents/point

Going back a year I would have said American Express Membership Rewards points were worth at least two cents each, though a lot has happened since then to change that:

So the four things that made Membership Rewards points so valuable either aren’t possible or being offered anymore.

Still, there are some positives:

  • American Express is offering a 50% bonus on transfers to British Airways through the end of the month. This seems to be a fairly regular occurrence, though let’s see if it still happens in the future given that British Airways’ co-branded credit card is with Chase. While Avios points aren’t especially valuable, I think it’s tough to value them at under a cent each, regardless of how critical you are of the program.
  • It has become possible to redeem Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles for saver first class on Singapore Airlines. As I discussed in great detail in this post, it’s now finally possible to redeem for Singapore Airlines’ new first class at the saver level, which wasn’t previously possible. This remains the only reliable way to redeem miles for Singapore Airlines first class.
  • Through Aeroplan business class to Europe roundtrip costs only 90,000 miles with two stopovers (in addition to the destination). So if you don’t mind flying a US carrier for the transatlantic flight, you can’t beat visiting three places in Europe for just 90,000 miles in business class. There are still bargains to be had with Aeroplan, they just take more effort to find than before.

Anyway, the program isn’t nearly what it used to be, but it’s still not worthless. I sure hope they’re talking to either Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan or US Airways Dividend Miles for a potential partnership, as either would greatly improve the value proposition of the program.

Best credit card(s) for earning Membership Rewards points: American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card, which offers 3x points on airfare purchased directly with the airline, and 2x points on gas and groceries


Transfer Membership Rewards points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Chase Ultimate Rewards – 1.9 cents/point

As the “new kid on the block,” Chase has quickly made Ultimate Rewards points one of the most valuable points currencies out there, especially since it’s possible to earn more than one Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent with several of their cards.

Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to British Airways, Korean Air, United, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, and more. So they have lots of transfer partners, though the only “mainstream” partners where a 1:1 transfer is a great deal would be to United and Hyatt, in my opinion.

So while I value Hyatt points at slightly less than 1.9 cents per point and United miles at around 1.9 cents per mile, there’s a key aspect to Ultimate Rewards points that makes them more valuable than the individual points currencies they can be transferred to.

Specifically, the miles can be transferred to an account in anyone’s name in either program. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it allows you to “top off” an account to have enough points for an award. For example, say you’re trying to book two business class awards from the US to Asia and you and your spouse each have 110,000 United miles. The ability to transfer those 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points to two different accounts gives them some premium over just having 130,000 miles in one account and 110,000 miles in another account, for example.

Furthermore, the ability to transfer to anyone’s account means you can transfer to an elite member’s mileage account (if you have a friend that’s an elite member with United, for example), which gets you ticketing fee waivers, free changes, etc. These are all things that add up and have to be considered, in my opinion.

Best credit card(s) for earning Ultimate Rewards points: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which offers double points on dining and travel and a 7% annual points dividend, and the Chase Ink Bold Business Card, which offers 5x points on office supply stores and 2x points on gas and hotels


Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United for Lufthansa first class

Starwood Preferred Guest – 2.2 cents/point

While I’ll cover Starwood again later with other hotels, I did feel like including them here since many use Starwood points in the same way they would use Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards points, using them for transfers to other mileage programs.

Starwood points can be transferred 1:1 to many airlines, and for every 20,000 points you transfer you earn a 5,000 point bonus, meaning you’re essentially earning 1.25 miles per dollar spent.

Unbundling that, my valuation makes each transferred mile worth 1.76 cent, factoring in the 25% bonus, which I think is pretty fair given that points can be transferred to American, US Airways, etc.

But the further added value is that sometimes SPG offers an even further transfer bonus. Earlier in the year US Airways offered a 50% bonus for transfers from SPG, meaning that 20,000 SPG points would net you 37,500 US Airways miles. Using the 2.2 cent per point valuation, that lowers the cost per US Airways mile to just 1.17 cents each, which is a pretty spectacular value. While a transfer bonus like that isn’t guaranteed, we seem to see at least one great transfer bonus each year.

Best credit card(s) for earning SPG points: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Personal Card and Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Business Card, which offer one SPG point per dollar spent on all purchases, and two SPG points per dollar spent at SPG properties


Redeem SPG points for Westin Siray Bay Phuket

Next up will be my valuation of airline miles…

Full disclosure: I earn a referral bonus for anyone that signs up through the above links. It’s the best available offer, and of course I’m very appreciate of your support, regardless of whether or not you use my links.

Comments

  1. So, all things being otherwise equal, 1x spend should always go on SPG? With the Chase and Amex used only for their category bonuses?

  2. I’m a big Avios apologist. With upcoming trips to Australia and South America, Avios are very valuable to me for getting around. Last night I got my parents 4 cents per Avios on some intra South America flights. I got 2 cents per point on some intra-Aussie flights recently too. If I had a 1,000,000 MR or Avios, I would value them very little because I’d have to use them on high surcharge redemptions. But below 100,000, I can comfortably value them at 1.7 cents. So for now my MR valuation is 2.55 cents, although it will fall when the 50% transfer ends.

  3. It seems like you’re going backwards here. If you want to analyze credit cards in terms of their worth when you transfer points to another program (as opposed to cards like Cap One where they get redeemed in place), you have to first determine the worth of the point in the destination program.

    You should first analyze what a SPG point is worth on a hotel redemption, what an Avios is worth on BA, etc. Until you’ve done that, any attempted analysis of what an Amex MR point is worth seems futile.

    (I’m sure you’ve actually done the analysis; my quibble is with the order you’re presenting things.)

  4. My biggest problem with the analysis here is that it is predicated on volume. What card offers the best “protection” from point devaluation for those of us that, out of necessity, only charge a relatively small amount?

    When I left my last position I stopped being able to meet the spend levels most of these cards have. I only met the Chase Sapphire Preferred because I had a major purchase already planned. Beyond that I don’t hit the annual triggers for points bonuses.

  5. Ben,

    What are the chances that the Citi Thank You points will be transferable (per rumors) to BA, AA, or SA?

  6. LOL. This winter, it was “Chase Sapphire Preferred: One Card To Rule Them All.” Now’s it’s oh, by the way, SPG points are actually more valuable. No mention of the fact SPG points can take a relatively long time to post-longer than you can have an award ticket on hold, in many instances-while CSP transfer automatically.

    Amex must be paying you well. Well, I guess they are, with the US Open and Fashion Week.

  7. Oh, you also failed mention other cards that aren’t paying you, like Citi Thank you Points and US Bank’s Flexperks.

  8. Ben, I definitely agree with the relative values you gave here (i.e. SPG > UR > MR). Can you elaborate on what you mean by “value”? For example, is 1.9 cents the amount that you would be willing to buy UR points for, or is it the value you expect to get from redeeming the points, or something else?

    Ann: valuing SPG points higher than SPG points doesn’t mean that he values the SPG card higher than the Sapphire Preferred card. With the SP card it’s much easier to earn points quickly. And with the Ink Bold, even easier…

  9. I think lucky was specifically focusing on cards that can be used to transfer points to other airline/hotel rewards programs, which you can’t do with citi ty points. I do agree that the transfer time is important and should be factored in to how one values the points

  10. Nice picture of the Westin Siray in Phuket. Was definitely a nice place, though I didn’t like that general part of Phuket and it was more expensive to get things like a taxi around the area.

  11. Diners Club is another card that competes with American Express, so what are the Club Rewards points worth? Diners is doing a 1.5 per point into British Air and I value these points at two cents a point. What say you?

  12. Since you plan to cover Hilton HHonors points, I wish you had included the Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass card in your credit card assessment. Can you add a short statement about that card?

  13. @jmd001 – Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass earns HHonors points directly so their value will be covered in the hotel points section. The reason he includes SPG here is because SPG points are useful to transfer to airline programs, just like UR and MR points. HHonors points cannot be transferred in any useful way to other programs.

  14. Lucky,

    I’m looking forward to your spg coverage when you do hotels. I hope you value them higher for hotel redemptions than you do for transfers, so I’ll way to dump on you then 🙂

  15. Lucky this is again an excellent piece. My personal evaluation is pretty close to yours – i value a UR at 1.8 and SPG at 2.25 – i m still not very sure about MR. This thing is highly personal since everyone’s travel plan and value is different – no wonder every time this is brought up there are controversies. Keep on bringing in the good stuff!

  16. I have 171,000 Amex MR. I was vacillating between BA (with 50% bonus) and Singapore. I already have over 800,000 Avios and Singapore looks interesting if I could get some saver Biz award seats. Would have enough for 2 one way Biz. Any advice would be appreciated.

  17. @ Swag — Fair enough, though I wrote it all at once and I promise the rest is coming too, and has been factored in. But yeah, I thought about it backwards. Sorry!

    @ Jason H — I’d say the beauty of all three of these programs is that they’re pretty inflation proof, since you have several partners to transfer to. With miles it’s a different story, but with these “pooled” accounts I’d say they’re all safe from serious inflation.

    @ Dave Op — It seemed pretty certain a while back, though it seemed to completely drop off the radar. At this point I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere close to a guarantee. I wouldn’t be surprised if something is in the works, though wouldn’t count on it either.

  18. @ Ann — Citi ThankYou points and FlexPerks are both fixed value currencies. I’m not sure what you want me to analyze there? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a great card, though as I’ll discuss in the next section, the value of United miles has gone down a bit for me over the past few months, and United is their most valuable transfer partner.

    @ Frequent Miler — That’s a toughie, and I’m not even sure I have a good answer. I’d say it’s the “fair market value.” Of course since points can’t be bartered or sold there is no market, per se. It’s certainly not referring to the “cash value” I get out of the points, since that assumes you’d otherwise be willing to pay retail for the product you’re redeeming for.

    And it’s not necessarily the amount at which I’d buy either, because I’d only buy at a discount given that I can earn interest on money but not on miles, at least without short term redemption goals. So I guess the only decent answer I can give is that I consider it to be the “fair market value, a rate at which points could be exchanged and both parties would be getting a fair deal. If I could theoretically buy points, I’d probably do so at 5-10% under the values I give.

  19. @ jmd001 — I promise I’ll cover the value of Hilton points in the hotel section. This wasn’t supposed to be a thorough section about credit cards, but rather only the programs that make it easy to convert points to mileage programs.

    @ av — I’ll explain it in more detail in the section on hotels. Ultimately like I said there’s no absolute correct value, and my valuation hasn’t actually changed. I was just trying to establish some reasonable, relative values, and given the value of other points I couldn’t give SPG 2.5 cents per point.

    @ john — I value them at around 1.8 cents per point, given that they can be transferred to American. Stay tuned for the next section for my valuation of American and BA miles/points.

    @ Papa Smurf — Fixed, thanks!

    @ Dan — Hah, pray tell, what do you value them at?

    @ sean — Thanks!

    @ PatMike — That’s enough for two one-way tickets in first class to Asia, so given that you have 800,000 Avios points already, I’d consider transferring them to Singapore.

  20. If you get the Chase Freedom, you can get 5x points on rotating categories each quarter. If you open a Chase checking account and maintain a $1500 balance, you get 10 bonus points per purchase (even if it is $1) plus 1.1x points per purchase. The rewards are in a separate account than the Sapphire but you can transfer them 1:1 for free.

  21. @Lucky

    Well, since you tapped danced around what “value” means, so will I 🙂

    I won’t redeem SPG points for less than 3 cpp. Generally, I can get more than 4 cpp.

    Much like every program has a sweet spot (hey, Avios are actually good for short flights, if that’s your thing) SPG’s sweet spot is low and mid-range hotel redemptions. IOW, SPG really sucks for Category 6 and Category 7 (and many hotels are creeping in that direction) but for Cat 1-5, there is really good value, particularly for C&P and many times on the 5th night free award.

    Given what I just said, I won’t buy SPG points at the retail price because there is a holding cost (and opportunity cost) to them. That, and points never appreciate in value.

    However, I think I can safely say that if I could buy SPG points at 2 cpp, it would be extremely rare for me to pay cash for a standard hotel room.

    I think the larger point is that a real miles geek should have points in a variety of programs — BA for short haul, UA for Europe or Asia, AA for Asia or South America. On the hotel side, SPG for low-mid range hotels and Hilton/Hyatt for higher end redemptions.

  22. Lucky, does the apparent addition of CX to Membership Rewards affect your estimation of their value?

  23. Lucky-

    I’m fairly new to the mileage game and recently started a blog as well (mostly to try to get my friends and family interested!) I created an analysis to determine what card to use based upon the amount of the purchase and category of the purchase using your values. Came back with some interesting results. I also included the Excel file I used to create the analysis if you want to toy around with it using other values.

    http://milecollector.com/is-the-0-annual-fee-chase-freedom-card-the-best-credit-card-for-virtually-all-day-to-day-spending/

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