What Miles & Points are Worth: Credit Card Points

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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 Starwood points aren’t typically thought of as one of the major fluid credit card points currencies, though I still put them into this category given how easily they can be transferred.

American Express Membership Rewards – 1.8 cents/point (previously 1.6 cents/point)

The past couple of years have been really rough for the value of Membership Rewards points. Back in 2010 Membership Rewards points were the golden standard of points currencies, though a lot has happened over the past several years to devalue them, including:

But Membership Rewards points are on the rebound, in my opinion. In November of last year Singapore Airlines began making their famous “Suites Class” available to KrisFlyer members at the saver level, and Membership Rewards points transfer to KrisFlyer at a 1:1 ratio. This is hands down the most aspirational airline product out there, so the ability to redeem for this at a reasonable rate is certainly a big score for those with Membership Rewards points.

Double bed in Singapore Suites

Furthermore, last year we saw several 30-50% transfer bonuses to British Airways Avios. While the program has remained the same for the most part, there are some real gem redemptions, like 50,000 Avios for roundtrip business class between Boston and Dublin with no fuel surcharges, 80,000 Avios for roundtrip business class between New York and Berlin/Dusseldorf on Air Berlin with no fuel surcharges, and the option to transfer points to Iberia’s Avios program and redeem for travel on them without fuel surcharges. Factor in a 30-50% transfer bonus on the above, and you’re looking at flying business class for less than coach.

Great use of Avios without fuel surcharges

The relative value of Delta SkyMiles has also gone up, in my opinion. They’re hands down the best way to get to Australia, given that they partner with Virgin Australia which releases which releases more saver business class award space between the US and Australia then any other airline. Best of all they eliminated fuel surcharges on these redemptions last year, which saves about $800 per ticket.

Membership Rewards points also remain the most “transferable” points currency out there. You can transfer your Membership Rewards points to a mileage account in someone else’s name, which I find to be a great feature when topping off an account that’s a bit short on miles.

Best credit card(s) for earning Membership Rewards points: American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card, which offers 3x points on airfare, 2x points on gas and groceries, and 15,000 bonus points for any year in which you spend $30,000 on the card.

Chase Ultimate Rewards – 1.8 cents/point (previously 1.9 cents/point)

Chase Ultimate Rewards is a great program given that points transfer to some of my favorite loyalty programs, including United MileagePlus and Hyatt Gold Passport. They also offer 1:1 transfers to Korean Air, Southwest, Marriott, Priority Club, Ritz-Carlton, and more.

Hyatt charges just 22,000 points per night for their top end properties, including the Park Hyatts in the Maldives, Paris, Sydney, and Tokyo, for example. Those are some of the most reasonable redemption rates in the hotel industry for properties that otherwise go for $800+ per night.

Revenue rates at Park Hyatt Sydney

Similarly United MileagePlus gives you access to the Star Alliance, and they have extremely generous routing rules as well. For example, you can route from the US to Asia via Europe, or from the US to Australia via Asia. They don’t do any blocking of partner award space and allow one stopover and a double open jaw, so there’s no mileage currency I value more than MileagePlus miles.

Great use of 67,500 MileagePlus miles in first class!

However, the one reason I slightly lowered my value of Ultimate Rewards points is that in the past they could freely be transferred between Ultimate Rewards accounts, and you could also transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to a mileage account in anyone’s name. Nowadays that isn’t possible anymore, so that takes away the option of topping off a mileage account using Ultimate Rewards points. At the end of the day points can only be as valuable as their best use, and in this case it’s what I value MileagePlus miles at.

Best credit card(s) for earning Ultimate Rewards points: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers double points on dining and travel, the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card and Ink Bold® Business Charge Card, which offer 5x points on office supply stores, cable, TV, phone, and internet, and 2x points on gas and hotels, and the Chase Freedom® Card, which offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories.

Starwood Preferred Guest – 2.2 cents/point (previously 2.2 cents/point)

This one really pains me. As I started writing the post I decided to value Starpoints at 2.0 cents each. Earlier in the month the value of Starpoints for hotel redemptions did drop given that Starwood devalued cash & points by about 20-25%, which was the best use of Starpoints for hotel redemptions prior to this. Furthermore, 150 more Starwood properties went up in price than down in price with the recent category shifts, and when you only have a bit over 1,000 properties, that’s a pretty substantial number of properties going up in price.

So on the hotel redemption front I was ready to drop the value down to two cents a piece. But I can’t do that because you can still transfer Starpoints to many airline currencies at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transfered. That means you can convert 20,000 Starwood points into 25,000 American miles. At a valuation of 2.2 cents per Starwood point, that means you’re valuing an American mile at 1.76 cents per mile, which is pretty close to my previous valuation of 1.8 cents per American mile.

Some of Starwood’s airline transfer partners

So what can I do here? Previously I thought cash & points and airline mileage transfers were an equally good use of Starwood points. Now cash & points isn’t as good of a value, while the value of mileage transfers hasn’t changed. So I guess I can’t lower their value?

On the plus side in one way the value of Starwood points did go up on the mileage transfer side. Japan Airlines changed their award chart in October whereby redemptions on Emirates became cheaper in many cases. For example, New York to Dubai roundtrip is just 85,000 miles in business class or 135,000 miles in first class. That means you need to transfer just 70,000 Starwood points for business class or 110,000 Starwood points for first class. Starwood is Japan Airlines’ only major transfer partner, so you can’t beat Starwood points for redemptions on Emirates.

Emirates first class

Best credit card(s) for earning Starwood points: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express, which offer two points per dollar spent at Starwood properties and one Starwood point per dollar spent on everything else

How do you value Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood points?

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  1. Great post! I actually disagree that points can only be valued as highly as their best use and Ultimate Rewards points value should be equivalent to the value of United miles. Given a choice between Ultimate Rewards points and United miles, I am sure you would invariable choose Ultimate Rewards points and may even pay a small premium for the privilege of not having them locked into United miles. This liquidity benefit should definitely be factored into the value of Ultimate Rewards.

    It’s the reason we get a higher premium interest rate for locking our cash into CD’s rather than storing them in a liquid bank account. The liquidity for holding it in a bank account should theoretically compensate you for the premium you’re forgoing so money in a bank account should be worth as much as in a CD.

  2. I love this post as it puts something relatively complex into simpler terms.

    However I tend to agree with The Miles Professor – I would value a Chase point higher than a United mile, though not much higher.

    Also, just wondering if you believe that these points are only worth their best use then I’m a little confused as to how an Amex point = a Chase point. Out of all the transfer partners they have, I would easily value United miles the highest. Finally, you value an AA mile as the same as a United mile? How come?

    Thank you again for putting this post together!

  3. @ Points Surfer — The best use of American Express points would be Singapore Airlines Suites Class, and I think in terms of “value” that’s on par with just about any redemption.

    I do indeed value an American and United mile equally. United miles are great if you like to plan last minute, but for those planning in advance it can be tough to plan aspirational awards. American gives you access to Cathay Pacific, which hands down has the most award space between the US and Asia in first class, not to mention one of the best products.

    When it comes to Star Alliance award space, Lufthansa only releases first class award space ~15 days out at most (and even then they’re stingy lately), and Swiss and Singapore no longer relase first class award space. How many truly aspirational first class products does that leave? I’d say only ANA, Asiana, and Thai, really.

  4. @ The Miles Professor — That’s a good point. There’s some value in flexibility. I guess the question is how much less valuable the next most valuable redemption option would be. In my case I do value United miles considerably more than Hyatt points, so even if United miles were devalued I’d probably still consider that redemption option on par with Hyatt.

    And in a way valuing miles and points is little more than throwing a dart at a board. It’s a tough exercise in relative value. Last time I valued them at 1.9 cents each, and I feel like I rightfully lowered their value a bit since they’re no longer transferable. But there should be at least some premium over the value of United miles, given that they’re more flexible. So perhaps I should start using units of 0.05 when estimating their value. :p

  5. @ lucky – thank you for you response. I see your point of view. I am a great fan of United, but I see tremendous value in AA miles as well.

    So I imagine you will be increasing your valuation of AA miles about United’s once the former can be used to book Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways award tickets? I’d say the latest additions to oneworld leave Star in the dust in terms of aspirational products (not to mention SkyTeam)

  6. Two thoughts:
    1) I’d take UA miles over Chase UR points any day. Reason being, you have to do something pretty bad/fraudulent for UA to shut your account, but Chase can arbitrarily try to bounce you (perk abuse, reevaluation of your banking relationship, reevaluation of your credit worthiness) and you’re SOL.
    2) I think your value for SPG is right this year, on par with the devaluation of C&P. Last year you lowballed the value. “Let me for a moment play devil’s advocate and downplay the value of SPG points. The reason I’m doing this is because everyone knows SPG points are the most valuable points currency out there…Value them at 2.5 cents each? I can see that. 2.8 cents? Fine, I’m with you.”

  7. A weak point to UR is the transfer value to Marriott. Redemption seem to be rarely at better than 1c/point compared to the cash rate. i.e Ritz Carlton or JW Marriott are 50k a night. You can often get the same nights for $399 or so, which makes the point spend really expensive and not 1.8cent / point.

  8. @ russell — Totally agree, the only hotel transfer partner worth considering is Hyatt. Marriott, Priority Club, and Ritz Carlton really should all have more than a 1:1 transfer ratio.

  9. Great post Lucky. Love this series. I think these “what are points worth” posts are by far the most important posts you do. Wish you would do an updated one every 6 months! IMHO putting a value we are comfortable with on each type of point is THE key to making good decisions. Once you decide what points are worth to you then you can easily value each relative earn or burn decision.

  10. Lucky, sorry for the OT, but am eagerly awaiting the Malaysia F trip report when you get a chance, am also curious how you redeemed for first class on Malaysia as well, thanks!!

  11. Also, any update on what level of award space Virgin America has access to at Singapore? Thanks!

    ETA: Completely agree with your CC points valuation here as well, excellent analysis as usual IMHO….

  12. For me, Chase UR stands above Amex and SPG in terms of vakue for the very simple fact that they are MUCH easier to accumulate in a hurry.

    You even said so in this post, notice that you mention at least 4 great cards available for racking up UR points, with much better category bonuses within a strong variety of categories, while you only mentioned one card for Amex and 2 for SPG.

    Along the same lines, while Amex has basically discontinued its awards mall shopping portal, Chase’s I find adds quite a bit of extra opportunity for earning lots of UR points after signup bonuses have come and gone…

  13. @ Amir — Totally agree with you Chase points are MUCH easier to rack up nowadays than Membership Rewards and Starwood, though I’m not sure I follow how that makes them more valuable? Doesn’t it make Starwood and Membership Rewards points more valuable, given that they’re more difficult to redeem?

  14. If it works for you, a great value of either chase or amex points can be BA for short haul domestic tickets. ORD-CLT is generally about $350 round trip, but you can frequently find available award tickets (on AA)for 9,000 avios – over 3.5 cents. Factor in an amex bonus of 30 – 50% and you are over 5 cents per point. So the value of points and miles is really very different for each of us depending on how we use them, eg, I have gotten over 3 cents per Hilton point in London (old award chart).

  15. Excellent post as always!

    Thank you for this analysis. Bookmarked and stored.

    Just a small request. If possible, it’d be great, once you do the newer posts in the series, you could edit the older ones and update the links, so that Hotel points and Airline miles would be clickable.

  16. @ Jay — Thanks for the suggestion. I currently do that once all the posts are published (for any series of posts, including trip reports), though will do it with each installment from now on.

  17. Thanks for the Virgin/Singapore update in the other post Lucky! Look forward to hearing about your experience with Malaysia F as well…

  18. Is there different versions of the Amex Premier Gold card? I called AMex to inquire about add’l 15,000 points bonus after $30,000 spend and the rep said that’s not part of my T&C. Is it calendar or membership year?

  19. Starwood points can be worth much more than 2 cents/each for Cat 5 hotel stays in New York and London. For example, a 5 night stay Sept 28-Oct 3 at the Park Lane in London costs 48,000 points (with 5th night free). The lowest revenue rate is 1495 GBP, or $2227, which works out to 4.64 cents/point. Even without 5th night free, the “exchange rate” is still 3.71 cents/point. For me (and many other travelers who want to visit these cities) this represents honest value – not an artificially inflated point price.

  20. So if you and a partner are traveling together on Singapore do you need two suites or just one with another first or business ticket? Cause otherwise it looks like you could get island fever inside on a 20 hour flight…………

  21. @ Teri — It’s based on calendar year and is definitely a benefit. I assume you have the personal Premier Rewards Gold card?

  22. @ UAPhil — If you were actually willing to pay that I’d agree. I certainly would never pay over $400 a night to stay at a truly mediocre hotel. For that price you could probably book a much nicer Virtuoso property with fourth or fifth night free and end up paying the same. So if you’d actually be willing to pay that then it’s perfectly fine to value it there, though I doubt many of us would pay that much.

  23. Have you investigated air berlin any furthet? I.e., which routes have the newer business seats or actually flown any of their products since your post last fall?

  24. @ Rich (arizona) — To the best of my knowledge only the Abu Dhabi route features the new business class. Haven’t flown them longhaul yet, unfortunately.

  25. Lucky: you leave out the fact that AMEX Membership Rewards charges a free for transfers to US airlines whereas Ultimate Rewards doesn’t. I don’t remember how much the fee is, but it’s certainly not peanuts, especially for large transfers of points.

  26. @Lucky @RJ Brown – I imagine Singapore Airlines allows you to entertain guests from other cabins in your seat. Couldn’t you put a friend/spouse in coach and then have them join you in your suite? If you wanted to get crazy you could even hot-bunk it, trading out who sleeps when the first person wakes up.

  27. @ Shawn — The policy is that a guest from a lower cabin can’t go to a higher cabin (though the guest from the higher cabin can go to the lower cabin).

  28. I’ve actually transferred my Chase points to others’ FFPs lately (3 times so far in 2013) and haven’t heard a peep from them.

    Also, I really think anything under 2 cents per UR is undervaluing them significantly. You can get 2.5cpp without even trying on an expensive economy ticket on UA, or basically any Park Hyatt hotel. Obviously you have to account for the fact that you’re not earning points on these redemptions, but I don’t think I’ve ever redeemed a UR point for less than 3.5-4 cpp and I’m by no means a hoarder–I’ve earned and burned over 200k UR already this year.

    This is obviously glossing over the 15+ cpp redemptions available when booking first class seats, so while it’s intellectually dishonest to value them based solely on those, I think one would be remiss not to consider it in the overall valuation.

    Those of us living in the NE corridor can actually get decent value out of Amtrak redemptions as well.

    I’d say the same thing for SPG as well–with the caveat that you have to be willing to pay cash if the redemption value isn’t there.

  29. @ Justin — Agree you can get 2.5 cents per point compared to the cash cost of many flights/hotel stays, though that gets into a discussion of what “value” really is. If you’re talking about getting 2.5 cents of value per point out of a Park Hyatt stay, assume the hotel is 22,000 points per night, which is what the top Park Hyatts cost. At 2.5 cents per point that’s $550. Would you really otherwise pay $550 per night for a Park Hyatt stay? While some certainly would, I suspect most of us aren’t in a position to do that.

    That’s why I’m basing my valuation pretty subjectively around what I’d be willing to otherwise pay for a hotel stay or flight, and not the retail costs of things. And that’s really what causes there to be no right answer here.

  30. I have to disagree (usual) with your methodology. By your reasoning, you are indifferent whether or not you have 100,000 MR points or 100,000 UR points, since you value them the same way. I think, without a doubt, UR are at least 15% more valuable…

  31. @ LR — That’s correct, especially given how much tougher Membership Rewards points are to come across nowadays than Ultimate Rewards points. Definitely don’t think you can say that Ultimate Rewards points are “without a doubt” more valuable than Membership Rewards points.

  32. Since membership rewards are so hard to come by, I do not have any chance to go for any of the aspiration all or first class redemptions, but with ultimate rewards I can get a really hi value redemption. For this reason I have closed out my Amex and am earning through chase (and occasional Amex spg) instead.

  33. Do any of these points allow for redemption on Qatar? I know the UA partnership is over, but my buddy wants to fly to ATQ and Air India is not in an alliance, leaving Doha as the only other external connection.

  34. @ DBest — Pretty soon you can redeem OneWorld miles on Qatar, though they haven’t joined the alliance yet. The best option right now for Qatar redemptions is ANA, which is both a Membership Rewards and Starwood transfer partner.

  35. Does anyone have other recent data points like @Justin regarding transferring UR points between accounts or to other family member accounts? I have been consolidating all my UR points from various UR accounts into my Sapphire UR account, and I also want to help my brother and his GF get to Asia this summer by gifting him a few points.

    Maybe it’s time to rethink that idea!!

  36. @ Adam — Anecdotally people are definitely getting away with transferring Ultimate Rewards points to others mileage accounts, at least when not to multiple people in a short period of time. That being said it can be pretty risky.

  37. @ lucky – Thanks. I was only going to top off my brother’s account with about 30k points, but maybe it’s not worth the risk.

  38. This is a great analysis, lucky! Do you know how long it takes for point transfers to complete from Chase Ultimate Rewards to, say Avios, Korean Air, and United? Thanks

  39. lucky, this is a great post that garner much interest. Do you know how long it takes for transfers complete from Chase Ultimate Rewards to say, BA Avios, United, and Korean? In the past, I transferred some American Express Membership Rewards points to ANA, which took about 1 week. When the points arrived at ANA, the award seats I wanted that had been available disappeared. 🙁

  40. Lucky – in response to your comment #24 – my goal in NYC and London is to stay at clean, comfortable, quiet, centrally located properties for not more than $250-$300/night all in with flexible (no penalty for cancellation) bookings. If I consider SPG points to be worth 2.5 cents each, I can do that at Cat 5 hotels (low season) using points. Are there other hotels or transparent booking channels where I can obtain equivalent value paying with cash?

    (Also, is there any way to receive EMAIL notification when a specific blog post receives a new comment?)

  41. I have loads of Amex MR and I feel their value is a little lower than what you have pegged at especially for me. I understand your reasoning but Singapore does not fly from many cities in the US. I wish to fly every year to India in Biz and I feel my only worthwhile option for Amex is to transfer it to DL (less taxes) and if in a pinch – AC or BA (although pay through the nose for fuel charges). So not sure if I value them as high as you do.

  42. I have the business premier gold card. Can you link me to AMex’s website showing this bonus 15,000 pts for $30,000 spend? Thanks!

  43. @ WT — All Ultimate Rewards transfers are instant as far as I know. Most with Membership Rewards are as well, with a few exceptions (including Air France, ANA, and Singapore).

  44. @ UAPhil — Not sure why I don’t have that, working on adding that capability right now.

    And I totally agree with your logic. It’s just the 4.5+ cents per point that I think most of us wouldn’t be willing to pay. 🙂

  45. @ Narayana S — Totally agree, to India, for example, Ultimate Rewards points are much more valuable. At the same time to Tahiti and Australia, for example, Membership Rewards points are much more valuable in my opinion (given the Delta SkyMiles partnership).

  46. @ Teri — The benefit only applies to the personal Premier Rewards Gold card, and not the personal Gold card (which is marketed differently).

  47. Hi OMAA

    Is it possible to redeem tickets via redemption department from UA for another person rather than myself?

  48. @ Oliver — Yes, as long as you have the Mileage Plus number and four digit PIN you can redeem an award in anyone’s name from anyone’s account.

  49. This is such a wonderful reference……I had trouble going back and finding it so I think it is worthy of its’ own tags along the category bar to the right……….really a great service you are providing……….and a lot of insightful posts from all my fellow readers…….

  50. Does United’s recent chart gutting affect your valuation of your valuation of Ultimate Rewards, and if so, by how much?

  51. I don’t really understand why some people don’t think a flexible point such as Chase UR or MRE can’t be higher than whatever you value the top transfer partner offered.

    I often need a few hundred miles for an award flight and having that flexibility has saved me thousands.

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