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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 December. There were no changes this month, but I added one new program to the list, while several others remain on notice due to upcoming changes. 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||January 2015 (cents)||December 2015 (cents)||January 2016 (cents)||What Changed/ News?|
|American Express Membership Rewards||1.9||1.9||1.9|
|Barclaycard Arrival Miles||0.5-1.1||1.0||1.0|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||2.1||2.1||2.1||Chase Freedom announces 2016 bonus categories, including Uber and Lyft in Q1.|
|Diners Club Rewards||2.1||2.1||2.1|
|Alaska||2.0||2.0||2.0||MVP Gold and 75K members can now select a holiday gift and buy up to next status level|
|American||1.7||1.7||1.7||New list of reduced mileage awards. Citi Executive card authorized users get lounge access. Low-level award space to Sydney.|
|British Airways||1.7||1.6||1.6||BA Visa 10% discount extended through 2016.|
|Delta||1.3||1.2||1.2||Use SkyMiles for top-shelf drinks at Sky Clubs. Jet Airways partnering with KLM and Delta.|
|JetBlue||1-1.7||1-1.4||1-1.4||Free booze for elite flyers. Bonus points and discounts on Emirates.|
|Miles & More||–||1.4||1.4|
|United||1.5||1.5||1.5||PQM earning rates increasing in 2016. Dubai service ending. Complimentary snacks in economy.|
|Virgin America||1.5-2.3||1.5-2.3||1.5-2.3||20% flight discounts this winter.|
|Hilton||0.5||0.5||0.5||2x points for stays in early 2016.|
|Hyatt||1.8||1.8||1.8||Check your statement after the recent data breach.|
|IHG||0.7||0.7||0.7||Rumors of loyalty program merger with Kimpton Karma Rewards. 2016 Accelerate promotion revealed. Earn bonus points with Priceless Surprises.|
|Starwood||2.4||2.5||2.5||New transfer partner Aegean Airlines. Double points on stays in early 2016.|
|Wyndham||–||1.2||1.2||Earn up to 15,000 AAdvantage miles on stays.|
Movers and Shakers
There were no changes to existing valuations this month. American Airlines is on notice after the airline recently announced major changes in store for the AAdvantage program. So is British Airways, due to the new short-haul award chart planned for US flyers beginning in February.
By request from a number of readers, I added Emirates Skywards to the list this month. The quality of the loyalty program does not match that of the airline and its services, but there are ways to get decent value out of it, as you’ll see below.
I also continue to get many questions about my valuations for Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Both loyalty programs are likely to be impacted by the merger down the line. However, it’s way too early to know what future changes will look like, so I’ll leave both valuations alone for now.
December Value: not listed. January Value: 1.2 cents. Valuation: As an airline, Emirates offers an excellent product. The first-class cabin on the A380 is my favorite way to cross the Atlantic, and you’ll find first-rate service in business class even if the seats aren’t the most luxurious out there. Even the economy cabin is among the top offerings on international carriers.
On the other hand, Emirates falls a bit flat with its loyalty program, Skywards. The airline isn’t part of a major alliance, and its roster of partners is a bit thin. In addition, Emirates charges a premium for one-way awards and is notorious for tacking on hefty surcharges, resulting in a truly dismal return on your miles for economy flights. You can get good value from premium awards purely on a cents-per-mile basis, but that’s partly because those tickets are so expensive to begin with. You’re generally better off using Alaska Mileage Plan instead.
Probably the best use of Skywards miles is for upgrading Emirates flights. Unlike many other airlines, you don’t have to deal with surcharges and there’s no co-pay for cheaper fares. You can expect to pay a good chunk of miles to upgrade, but there’s definitely value to be found if you’re paying for economy on a long-haul itinerary.
Ultimately, while I like Emirates as an airline, I don’t have much interest in the Skywards program. I would rather bank Emirates flights to Alaska Airlines or another partner, but if you have miles already on hand, you can put them to some use. For more info, check out Jason Steele’s posts on earning and redeeming Skywards miles, how to find sweet spots in the Emirates award chart and options for earning and redeeming with airline partners.
Associated Credit Cards: Emirates is a 1:1 transfer partner of both Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can earn points that transfer to Skywards miles with cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.
British Airways Avios
December Value: 1.6 cents. January Value: 1.6 cents. Valuation: After British Airways devalued the Avios program earlier in 2015, short-haul economy awards were left as one of the few bright spots. Unfortunately, in October the airline announced that the lowest-level awards (4,500 points for flights less than 650 miles) will no longer be available on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines flights that begin or end in the United States. Those awards will increase to 7,500 Avios, and both business and first-class awards will also increase along those routes.
There’s still plenty of value to be found from British Airways’ distance-based awards: You can continue to redeem at the lowest level outside the US, and level 2-4 awards remain good options for domestic flights. However, the Avios program is sure to drop in my valuations when the change goes into effect in February.
Associated Credit Cards: British Airways Visa Signature Card
American Airlines AAdvantage
December Value: 1.7 cents. January Value: 1.7 cents. Valuation: American dropped doubly bad news in November, announcing not only that the cost of many AAdvantage awards will increase in March, but also that the program will switch to a revenue-based earning system. Furthermore, American is shrinking the range of available dates for its valuable off-peak awards.
The news isn’t entirely bad: Some awards are actually going down in price, and the new system for earning elite miles will be more generous than its Delta and United counterparts. But with some awards increasing by more than 60%, there’s no denying this is a devaluation of the AAdvantage program overall. I haven’t decided how far AAdvantage miles will fall in my estimation, but they’ll definitely take a hit as these changes go into effect.