Are Cards That Earn Double Points Automatically Better?
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TPG reader Ron sent me a message about how to value credit card rewards:
"I mostly use my Capital One card because I get two points per dollar charged. It doesn’t seem like a bad deal, and I don’t want to go through the math every time I make a charge. Am I missing something?"
There are a lot of options out there when it comes to travel rewards. I always say that points and miles are not created equal; that's why I put out my monthly valuations to help readers keep track of what those rewards are worth. As programs change the value of their rewards — for example, by increasing or decreasing the number of miles needed for an award — I adjust the valuations up or down as needed. That's how we know that no matter how you slice it, AAdvantage miles are more valuable than SkyMiles under most circumstances (although SkyMiles are far from worthless).
In essence, Ron is saying that the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is the best because it earns two miles per dollar, and I often get that sentiment from readers in the monthly valuations. People frequently comment that one point or another is better because you can earn two, three, or four times as many, but that isn't quite accurate.
First, let me point out that the monthly valuation series only pertains to redemptions. The goal is to peg what one point or mile is worth when you use it. There are hundreds of credit cards offering different earning rates (not to mention other factors like elite status that also affect your earnings), and we couldn't possibly account for every variation — the annual fees, the amount of spending, etc. Instead, we take a single point of reference (the value of a single point or mile) so that you can do the math on your end.
Ron is right — the Venture Rewards card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard earn two points per dollar on everything, but that doesn't make them inherently better. For one thing, those miles can't be transferred to airline frequent flyer programs. You can use 67,500 AAdvantage miles to fly one-way in First Class to Asia. With Venture Rewards or Arrival Plus, 67,500 miles is worth about $675. Now I ask you: could you find a Cathay Pacific First Class ticket for $675? How about double, or even six times that amount? Depending on the route, the answer is probably no.
The point is, frequent flyer programs with traditional miles do force you to jump through some hoops, but that's what pays off. I just had an amazing Lufthansa First Class experience for 62,500 miles and less than $500.
On the flip side, fixed-value points are valuable if you're flying at peak times or with several family members. If you're flying in economy on cheaper routes that are popular with award travel, such as New York to Orlando, you might sometimes have to pay 50,000 miles when the ticket would only cost you $400 outright. In that case, you'd want to use your fixed-value points, especially you'd be eligible to upgrade and earn miles on that flight, which should factor into the calculation.
To answer Ron's question, there is no one right card for everyone; what's best for you depends on how you spend your money. Simplicity has been one of Capital One's biggest selling points, and the rewards program is simple for sure. I have a Venture Rewards card, and I love to use it for travel expenses like bed-and-breakfasts where I can't redeem hotel points. However, just because you're earning double miles on every purchase doesn't necessarily mean you're coming out ahead.