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You can view all posts in the Monthly Valuation Series here.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is “How much is a point or mile worth?” The answer varies from person to person and depends on how well you can maximize a particular currency for your needs. Still, some points are worth more than others.
To give readers — both old and new — some context, I’ve included my valuations from one year ago and from February. I didn’t make any changes this month, though one airline program is doomed to take a hit in April. I also expect a healthy debate on several hotel programs that I left alone despite recent adjustments to their respective award charts. As always, you’ll find plenty of program-related news noted in the What Changed/News column.
There isn’t a mathematical formula at work here. At some point I’d like to create a system that could calculate a precise value based on award availability, fees, award levels and ease of accrual, but for now these valuations are based on a combination of how much I would pay to buy points if given the opportunity, and the overall value I could get from redeeming them.
I encourage you to share your thoughts where you think I’m off base (and on point, no pun intended), and I’ll take TPG reader feedback into consideration when I update the list next month. This list doesn’t include every currency under the sun, and I’ll work to add more moving forward, so let me know which you’d like to see featured.
|PROGRAM||March 2015 (cents)||February 2016 (cents)||March 2016 (cents)||What Changed/ News?|
|American Express Membership Rewards||2.0||1.9||1.9||Targeted 50% points bonus for Platinum Business card. Targeted 50% transfer bonus to Virgin America.|
|Barclaycard Arrival Miles||0.5-1.1||1.0||1.0|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||2.1||2.1||2.1||New Freedom Unlimited card on the way.|
|Citi ThankYou||1.6||1.6||1.6||New (and not very valuable) in-app redemption option.|
|Diners Club Rewards||2.1||2.1||2.1|
|Alaska||2.0||2.0||2.0||Up to 40% bonus for buying miles.|
|American||1.7||1.7||1.7||Reduced Mileage Awards for April-May. Complimentary status for Hilton elites. New Flagship lounges on the way.|
|British Airways||1.7||1.5||1.5||Service coming from Stansted Airport, and from London to Tehran.|
|Flying Blue||1.3||1.3||1.3||$200 off KLM flights with Amex Offers.|
|JetBlue||1-1.7||1-1.4||1-1.4||Barclaycard announces new JetBlue cards. Earn up to 20 points per dollar with ScoreBig.|
|Miles & More||–||1.4||1.4||Triple miles on Lufthansa flights from Germany.|
|United||1.5||1.5||1.5||Family boarding returns. Website now displaying complex awards. ORD-SFO service on 747-400 this spring. Up to 75% bonus for buying miles.|
|Virgin America||1.5-2.3||1.5-2.3||1.5-2.3||Up to 2,500 points for referrals. New daily service from LAX to Hawaii.|
|Choice Privileges||–||0.6||0.6||New, more favorable points expiration policy and other updates.|
|Hilton||0.5||0.5||0.5||2x points for stays in early 2016. Save up to 10% for booking directly. 75,000 points with Citi Hilton Visa.|
|Hyatt||1.8||1.8||1.8||Buy points with a 30% bonus.|
|IHG||0.7||0.7||0.7||Award category changes at 400 properties. New list of Pointbreaks hotels.|
|Marriott||0.7||0.7||0.7||Award category changes announced for 2016. 80,000 points with Marriott Rewards Premier Card. 25% bonus for converting points to United miles.|
|Starwood||2.4||2.5||2.5||Award category changes announced for 2016. Double points on stays in early 2016.|
Movers and Shakers
I opted not to alter the list this month. While changes to the AAdvantage award chart are looming, I decided to wait until April to drop American Airlines, since readers still have a few weeks to book at the lower mileage rates. I also chose not to lower my valuations for any of the recent category changes made by various hotel programs.
American Airlines AAdvantage
February Value: 1.7 cents. March Value: 1.7 cents. Valuation: The new AAdvantage award chart goes into effect on March 22, spelling a substantial increase in the cost of many awards, fewer dates available for off-peak travel and the switch to a revenue-based earning system. While the news isn’t entirely bad — some awards are actually going down in price — there’s no question this is a downgrade for frequent flyers overall. However, I decided to wait until April to lower my valuation, since there are still a few weeks left to snag awards at current prices.
If you do plan to book flights prior to the change, I recommend you avoid waiting until the last minute. I suspect AAdvantage phone reps will be flooded with calls from people trying to redeem at the lower rates, so be prepared for long hold times (even if you get priority phone service courtesy of your elite status).
Check out these posts for more tips on locking in the current, lower rates for future travel:
- 6 AAdvantage Awards to Book Before the Devaluation
- Can I Still Change AAdvantage Awards After the Devaluation?
- How to Book Awards with American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
Hotel Category Changes
The last few months have seen the usual spate of hotel category changes that take place around this time of year. Updates from Hilton and SPG were pretty innocuous thanks to the low number of affected properties and the fairly even distribution of category increases and decreases. Changes from IHG and Marriott seemed less friendly to award travelers, as the rate at hotels in popular destinations tended to go up more than down. However, I didn’t think a change in valuation was justified.
For one thing, the majority of hotels in all of these programs were unaffected. It’s always disappointing to see rates go up, but unless you frequently book award stays at one of the properties that went up, the net impact is marginal. There are plenty of new opportunities to save at properties that went down, so I’m not sweating these changes much. In addition, Marriott Rewards is making some improvements in March, like counting award stays toward elite status and adding a Cash + Points booking option. I think those additions offset any harm done by the hotel category changes.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards